LEGO Master Builder Constructs His Dreams One Block at a Time

Ian Coffey builds in his office at LEGOLAND Discovery Center Boston.
Ian Coffey builds in his office at LEGOLAND Discovery Center Boston. –MEGAN TURCHI/ BOSTON.COM

Ian Coffey’s childhood home is for sale.

For many, this could bring back memories of youthful bliss, teenage angst, and a rush of nostalgia for the day they moved out for college.

But for 27-year-old Coffey, this means thinking about life without his LEGO village.

He started building it around 2003, when he was in ninth grade, and continued until he went off to college at Southern New Hampshire University. He wouldn’t let his parents tear it down.

The village sits in the basement of his parent’s home in Albany, New York, and spreads over 12, 8-foot party tables and a pingpong table. It contains LEGO bridges, a mountain, an opera, restaurants, a capital, and a Ritz Carlton. He built them without using a kit. They’re now covered in sheets of plastic, so they don’t get dusty.

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Coffey’s parents were shocked at how quickly his village took over the basement.

“My mom was like, ‘Stop!’’’ Coffey said. “She would put tape on the ground to see if there was any growth. She said, ‘No more.’’’

But it was Coffey’s passion. He said he had been building with LEGO bricks since he was 3 years old and was inspired by his older brother who built.

Coffey holds up a photo of him and his brother in 1992 after they built a fire department. —MEGAN TURCHI/ BOSTON.COM

Now, 24 years later, Coffey goes to career days at schools, talking about building with LEGO bricks, and his office is filled with hundreds of finished LEGO projects. There are millions of bricks waiting to be built¬ and he has a salary.

“This job is 180 degrees from what I was doing,’’ Coffey said, from his office in LEGOLAND Discovery Center Boston in Assembly Row.

LEGOLAND Discovery Center Boston visitors look in on Coffey as he works. —MEGAN TURCHI/ BOSTON.COM

A little over a year ago, Coffey was working for the Secretary of the Senate in New York. He had received his undergraduate degree in history and law was his focus.

But, when LEGOLAND Discovery Center Boston announced it would be hosting a two-day competition at the Boston Public Library, where the winner would be granted a salaried position with the title of LEGOLAND Discovery Center Boston’s Master Model Builder — it was a LEGO lover’s dream. The competition was in January 2014, a few months before their opening.

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“[My friend Kristin] knew how big of a fan I was,’’ Coffey said. “She just knew, and she said, ‘You are going to win.’’’

So, she signed him up to compete. Coffey wasn’t so sure.

“I had no idea I was going to win,’’ he said. “I had skis in my car and only booked one night in a hotel.’’

His plan was that he was going to lose in the first of the three rounds in the competition and then go skiing afterwards (which is one of his favorite activities other than building LEGO bricks.)

He got through the first round, which involved competing against 60 other builders and a 30-minute time limit to create something from their favorite book.

This is the Olympic ski jump that Coffey built to win the second round of the competition. —MEGAN TURCHI/ BOSTON.COM

“I was shocked that I progressed,’’ he said.

The second round task gave builders 30 minutes to build something from their favorite vacation spot. Coffey built an Olympic ski jump, and once again progressed to the next and final round.

He had 45 minutes to build something that represented him, so he made a painting of him and his dog in the sunshine.

The next day, Coffey was doing interviews for the media with the title ‘Master Builder.’

This is the LEGO painting that Coffey constructed in the third and final round of the competition. —MEGAN TURCHI/ BOSTON.COM

Now, a year later, Coffey has done a variety of projects at LEGOLAND Discovery Center Boston, including building a Hood Blimp, updating a mini representation of the Boston Common with a frozen pond for winter, and building a mural of Martin Luther King Jr., his favorite structure he has made for work. He also teaches classes for kids.

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The Hood Blimp took him three to four hours to build and the MLK mosaic took 10 hours. His workshop is a fishbowl of sorts, right in the middle of the LEGOLAND Discovery Center, with windows all around him where visitors can watch.

Coffey with is MLK mosaic he built. —MEGAN TURCHI/ BOSTON.COM

“It’s interesting, sometimes I notice and sometimes I don’t,’’ he said.

His desk is covered in LEGO bricks and finished projects, including a castle with doors that open and close, ornate decorations, torches, and drawbridges. There’s also a Ferris wheel, a tree, and a fishbowl with a sunken ship in it.

This is the castle that Coffey built that sits on his desk. —MEGAN TURCHI/ BOSTON.COM

Surrounding his (pretty small) workspace are countless blue boxes with LEGO bricks of all different shapes and sizes, with completed projects on the shelves and walls above.

Coffey also said he has a new computer program to help him built 3-D models that he is still learning to use and hasn’t employed for any of his projects yet.

So, how does he do it all from his imagination?

“People that do Rubik’s Cubes, they just imagine the colors and complete it,’’ Coffey said. “It is the same kind of idea, but I just visualize something.’’

Looking at the details and intricate designs of Coffey’s projects, it seems like there is more to it than that. He conceded that there’s some math involved.

“When we are designing things, it is all about figuring out how many you need,’’ Coffey said. “There are variations in the size of the piece. There’s a lot to it.’’

But he still said he does not have set methodology for coming up with his creations, other than a lot of Googling.

Coffey has been working as a builder for about a year now, and said he still builds at home during his free time.

“But I do have a life!’’ he added.

In response to our question about whether there was anything he didn’t like about his job, Coffey just laughed.

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