Tuesday, August 3, 2004

Lego legacy

At Drake Science Center's summer camp, kids build their imaginations

By John Johnston
Enquirer staff writer

Rome wasn't built in a day, probably because of a lack of Legos.

But that's never a problem at Architecture Lego Camp, held recently at Drake Science Center in Norwood. About half a million of the brightly colored plastic pieces are available for day-campers to assemble into bridges, dams, towers, and other structures. And yes, each project is completed in a day.

A pyramid? No problem. It's just a matter of, well, maybe if this piece goes here, and that piece goes there, and hmmm ...

Over the years, enough Lego bricks have been made to give, on average, 52 each to all 6.3 billion of the world's inhabitants.

1932: Ole Kirk Christiansen, a master carpenter and joiner, establishes a business in Billund, Denmark. In addition to wooden toys, it makes stepladders, ironing boards and stools.

1934: The company adopts the name Lego, which comes from the Danish words "Leg Godt," which means "play well." In Latin it means "I put together."

1942: The factory burns to the ground. Production of wooden toys resumes quickly.

1947: The company buys an injection-molding machine for plastic toy production.

1949: The company produces about 200 different plastic and wooden toys, including the Lego Automatic Binding Brick, forerunner of today's Legos.

1953: Automatic Binding Bricks are called Lego Bricks.

1958: The Lego stud-and-tube coupling system is patented.

1960: The company discontinues production of wooden toys.

1961: Sales start in the United States and Canada.

1967: Lego Duplo bricks are launched for younger children.

1987: The company employs nearly 6,000 workers.

1999: The Lego brick is named one of the products of the century by Fortune magazine.

2003: Lego, the world's fourth-largest toy manufacturer in terms of sales, employs 8,300.

Source: Lego

"Guys, this is not going to work. We have to destroy this wall," 10-year-old Alex Masson of Anderson Township is saying. His partners in the pyramid project, Bennett Paradis, 11, of Highland Heights and Justin Goldstein, 8, of Hyde Park, agree. But it's only a minor setback.

Four days into the week-long camp, the trio says they're enjoying themselves.

"It's fun working hard with Legos," Justin says.

"We get to use our imagination," Bennett adds.

But the campers, ages 8 to 13, can't rely only on imagination.

"The kids learn the basics of structural architecture," says Pam Bowers, executive director of the Tri-state Education and Technology Foundation, which oversees Drake Science Center, Drake Planetarium and other programs. "And then they test to see if it indeed does work."

Ah, the test. The moment of truth.

On the day campers built towers, instructors pointed a high-

powered fan at each creation to simulate "hurricane-force" winds.

Dan Lacey, 13, of Amberley Village, and Nikhil Patel, 9, of West Chester Township, were confident their tower - the tallest of all, and taller than the boys themselves - wouldn't topple.

"We used a heavy base to keep it from tipping," Dan says. "Then we made the (tower) part hollow all the way through," so it wouldn't be top-heavy. They staggered the interlocking Legos - rather than stacked them directly on top of each other - to make the structure more rigid.

The boys were a bit sneaky, too. While other teams assembled their structures on tables - where everybody could compare tower heights - Dan and Nikhil built theirs on the floor. Not until they had finished did everyone realize they had the tallest tower.

Not every structure passed the "hurricane" test.

"We built the second-biggest, but it fell over," says Austin Hughes, a 9-year-old from Indian Hill who teamed with Allan Loeffler, 9 of Anderson Township. An instructor caught their creation before it crashed, Austin says, because "he didn't want the Legos to go everywhere."

Legos might give some campers a leg up on a future career.

"I would like to be an architect when I grow up," says Emily England, 11, of Anderson Township, busily building her pyramid. "I'm learning a ton of stuff."

In fact, if campers go away mildly disappointed, it's only because they can't take their creations home. The tallest tower, the most impressive pyramid and the best bridge must, at the end of the day, be disassembled and stored in 18-gallon tubs, ready for the next aspiring architect to have at 'em.

Center reaches 30,000 annually

Nikhil Patel, 9, of West Chester Twp., builds a Lego pyramid.
(Enquirer photo/BRANDI STAFFORD)
Kids come to Drake Science Center's Lego Labs to learn and have fun.

In addition to summer camps, the Norwood-based center offers school day programs (for preschoolers through high school) and after-school programs (for grades 3 to 6) throughout the school year.

The programs are run by the non-profit Tri-state Education and Technology Foundation, which also operates Drake Planetarium. The foundation's programs, which reach about 30,000 students a year, are designed around national and state curriculum requirements. Teacher and adult workshops also are available. Outreach programs, including a portable planetarium, travel throughout Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky.

Information: 396-5578 or www.drakeplanetarium.org.


E-mail jjohnston@enquirer.com

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