Not just child’s play: Engineering LEGO Ravenel Bridge quite a feat

The Post and Courier is sponsoring a LEGO build of the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge over the Cooper River to honor the 10th anniversary of the bridge.

EDITOR’S NOTE: LEGO creators Ed Diment and Kevin Cooper of Bright-Bricks, a professional LEGO-building company in the United Kingdom, are in Charleston this weekend to oversee a public build of a 25-foot-long model of the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge. They spoke Thursday with reporter Robert Behre.

P&C: How many bricks are you using and what did they cost?

Diment: “I think we’re looking at about 40,000 to 50,000 bricks, and probably the whole bridge, when it’s finished, will weigh about 200 or 250 pounds. We’re not allowed to disclose what we buy them for.

“Put it this way, the biggest LEGO set ever made was 6,000 parts and cost about $450, so you’re looking at $5,000 if you’re looking to buy the bricks commercially. Obviously, we didn’t pay that much for it, but then again, we’re not buying the idea — the design, the idea, the instructions, the box or anything else. We’re just buying bags of bricks. ... We have 13 million bricks in stock.”

P&C: What was involved in preparing for this weekend’s building of the Ravenel bridge model?

Diment: “It was about a week to build the stanchions (steel forms for the bridge’s towers that eventually will be covered with bricks) once we got the steel, to detail up the footings, the little islands they stand on. At the same time, I was designing each of the road-deck sections because we want to have volunteers and other people help us here on site to make it a more interactive process and engage people in the build. We’ve actually designed the road in 64 identical sections, and we then used some software we have to turn that into LEGO instructions. ... It will work like a real cable-stayed bridge. You will need to put the middle two on first, then work out from each side. If not, the LEGO will fail the same way the steel and concrete would on the real bridge if you tried to build it lopsided.”

Cooper: “If you think about it, from an engineering point of view, the method we’re using is very similar to how the real one would have been built, which is what we do with a lot of our things. The only way to build them structurally sound is to follow the same engineering methods used on the real one. Because it works.”

P&C: How many of your creations are in a store, visitors center, corporate headquarters or some place, and how many are just taken apart like a child’s LEGO project?

Cooper: “It’s sort of 50-50 really. ... If the model is not glued and we don’t intend to use it again, we can break it back down into parts and put it in stock and use it on another project.”

Diment: “We’ve got a life-sized woolly mammoth and a life-sized saber-tooth tiger knocking around in our storage unit because of that.”

P&C: How did you two find yourselves in this job?

Diment: “I’ve been building with LEGOs since I was about two years old and just carried on throughout my whole life, really.... I used to have a LEGO room in my house — a whole room full of LEGOs. Then at one point, he (Bright-Bricks founder and certified LEGO professional Duncan Titmarsh) approached me and said, ‘I think this business is really taking off. I could do with a business partner to take it further.’ We sat down over a couple of beers and agreed what the company was worth and I bought half of it. Within three months, I had given up my full-time job as a consultant, and he had given up his full-time job. Within a month or two we had employed Kevin (Cooper) and now we’ve got 25 employees. ... It’s gone pretty crazy.”

Cooper: “I met Duncan when we both volunteered for a LEGO TV project. I had already been building a couple of little models for Duncan while still doing my normal job, but then Duncan and Ed approached me and said, ‘How would you feel about doing this full time?’ So I gave up my job (as a bespoke kitchen and furniture designer). I had done that for 14 years.”

P&C: What was your most ambitious construction?

Diment: “Probably the Rolls-Royce jet engine. We built a half-scale model of a gas turbine engine from the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. That was 10 feet long, 8 feet tall and 8 feet wide, and we had to make it cut away so you could see all of the compressors and turbines and the main fan in the front. And it was motorized, so it spins slowly so you can see what’s going on.”

Cooper: “We also build Harrods (department store) in London.”

P&C: Do you still have LEGO models in your home?

Diment: “No. Since I own half a company that owns 13 million bricks, I think it’s a little redundant having a LEGO room in my house.”

Cooper: “My son has a lot of mine now. My garage attached to my house was my LEGO workshop. I just don’t get the time now. It used to be my escapism with my other job. I used to get home from work, have my tea and then go out into the garage. ... When you’re doing it all day, and you’re doing it as a job, it’s sort of what we call a busman’s holiday.”

Reach Robert Behre at 843-937-5771.