Building a bridge brick by brick

Walkers make their way down the roadway during the opening of the Ravenel Bridge on July 9, 2005.

Ten years ago, the Charleston skyline was dramatically altered with the construction of the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge. To celebrate the 10th anniversary of arguably the most iconic landmark in the Holy City, a new Ravenel Bridge project is underway.

Unlike it’s predecessor, construction of the new span won’t require engineers, architects and construction crews. Instead, two professional Lego artists will lead the charge.

On July 18-19 at Patriots Point on the lawn in front of the aircraft carrier Yorktown, The Post and Courier and the city of Charleston will co-host a free community celebration featuring a live build of a 25-foot model of the Ravenel Bridge made entirely of Lego bricks.

“When we conceived this idea nearly a year ago, we knew we couldn’t do it alone,” said P.J. Browning, publisher of The Post and Courier. “Through the years, countless people have gotten married atop the bridge. It’s home to the third-largest 10K run in America. Most recently, it was the chosen site for Lowcountry residents to display their unity and resilience in the wake of the horrific Emanuel AME Church massacre. The Ravenel Bridge is an icon. To make sure this celebration was special, we had to call in the professionals.”

Ed Diment, co-director of U.K.-based Bright Bricks, and fellow Lego enthusiast Kevin Cooper, will travel to Charleston to oversee construction. Though they have never visited South Carolina, or viewed the Ravenel Bridge in person, the group is no stranger to large-scale models.

In 2012, Rolls-Royce tapped the company to design and build a half scale working model of a Trent 1000 jet engine, the engine used on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. A team of four people assembled the model over eight days with 150,000 Lego bricks. The final model weighed more than 500 pounds.

Like the jet engine model, the Ravenel Bridge project began with many photos of the bridge from various angles. Then, using the actual dimensions, the experts calculated the scaled down measurements needed to draft their design. From there, they decided which Lego bricks could be used for each of the different components.

Diment’s counterpart, Duncan Titmarsh, is one of 12 LEGO Certified Professional builders in the world and the only one in the United Kingdom. Through his partnership with Lego, Bright Bricks is able to purchase Lego bricks in bulk. In a 3,000-square-foot industrial building, the company currently stocks about 13 million Lego bricks, sorted and stored in about 3,000 drawers.

“Lego does not make custom pieces for us, so we had to find a way to use existing bricks,” said Diment. “Every piece used in this project can be found in various sets purchased from retailers, with the exception of the tubing for the cables, which we had to modify.”

Around 70 different types of Lego pieces will be used for the Ravenel Bridge model.

Using sets of instructions provided by Bright Bricks, a team of 18 local volunteers will construct 64 identical sections of road deck, which will then be attached to the stanchions by cables.

“To really bring it to life, we’re bringing along some special pieces,” Diment said “We have cars and trucks for the roadway, people for the bicycle/pedestrian lane, and even a few boats and ships for underneath.”

At the time of its construction in 2005, the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge was the longest cable-stayed bridge in North America, spanning 1,546 feet across the Cooper River. Supported by two 573-foot-tall diamond-shaped towers, the architectural feat is visible from 30 miles away.

At 1/125th the size of the actual bridge, Diment says the length of the Ravenel Bridge replica will be one of the longest projects Bright Bricks has completed. Made up of more than 25,000 Lego bricks, he estimates it will weight about 150-200 pounds.

Those interested in watching the model unfold, and enjoying a day of family fun, can check out the free celebration from 2-7 p.m. Saturday and noon-5 p.m. Sunday. In addition to the live Lego build, attendees can enjoy live local music, children’s activities and more. Food and beverages, including the adult variety, will be available for purchase.

Families who want their own mini Ravenel Bridge can purchase a limited-edition Lego set. The sets consist of more than 850 pieces and builds out to three feet in length. Each set comes with two books, the hardcover “The Bridge Builders: And Charleston’s Grand New Span” and the softcover photo book “The Ravenel Bridge: Celebrating 10 years of the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge spanning the Cooper River.” The package sells for about $353 before tax at postandcourier.com/legobridge. A limited number of sets will also be for sale at the event.

A free parking pass that will be printed in The Post and Courier every day this week. The pass also gets attendees $10 off admission to the Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum, including the aircraft carrier Yorktown. While bag chairs are welcome, tents and cooler are not allowed. Pets are also not allowed.

In conjunction with the celebration, NewBridge Bank is sponsoring a food drive to benefit Lowcountry Food Bank. To help “bridge the gap of hunger,” food donations will be collected at the celebration.

After the event, the bridge replica will be displayed at various locations around Charleston, including Marion Square and the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry.

“This project aligns perfectly with the city of Charleston’s initiative on children and education, which made them an ideal partner for this project,” Browning said. “Now instead of just learning about the math and science involved with constructing something like the Ravenel Bridge, Lowcountry children will have access to a tangible, scaled replica to see up close.”