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Building LEGO creations takes big imagination - and plenty of STEM

Tuesday, April 3, 2018
Posted by
Sarah Imholte

Towers of Tomorrow: Ryan McNaught

Visitors of all ages have been loving Towers of Tomorrow with LEGO® Bricks, the Science Museum’s newest traveling exhibit that features the Willis Tower, the Empire State Building, the Burj Khalifa, the Shanghai Tower, and many more world-famous buildings – made entirely of LEGO bricks.

The scale models of famous skyscrapers that you’ll find in Towers of Tomorrow were designed and built – with stunning detail and accuracy – by Ryan McNaught, one of only 14 certified LEGO professionals in the world.

Certified LEGO professional? If you’re like us, you’re wondering how one achieves such a title. McNaught traveled to Saint Paul from his home in Melbourne, Australia to oversee the exhibit’s installation, and we sat down with him to get the scoop.

“When I was a kid, I thought LEGO was always the ants’ pants – you know like most kids tend to,” said McNaught. “Then I grew up and had a family, and I had to concentrate on a ‘real job.’”

McNaught didn’t give his favorite childhood toy much more thought until his twin sons reached LEGO age. “One day, my mom gave me my LEGO collection back and said, ‘Well, here you go, now that you've got kids!’ And there I was, back into it.”

If the towers included in Towers of Tomorrow are any indication, a certified LEGO professional must have some expertise – in design, in physics, in art. As it turns out, this crop of LEGO professionals represent all different backgrounds and content areas – and all specialize in something slightly different.

“You don't go to Lego University or Lego College to learn this kind of thing,” McNaught, who has a background in Information Systems and manufacturing, said. “All 14 of us got our jobs in totally different ways, and we all focus on different things. I do exhibitions like this one. One of my colleagues does sculpture, and one’s a mathematician. We all do something unique and different with LEGO bricks.” 

McNaught said he actually sees parallels between LEGO building and his previous careers. “My work was always very systems oriented and mathematical, and it was all about project management. I had to manage deadlines and adhere to a budget. And along with design and math, lots of basic business skills go into a successful LEGO career, too.”

He found that those skills were particularly useful in the creation of Towers of Tomorrow, where he and a team of six builders spent 2,400 hours creating the exhibition’s twenty towers with nearly 1.5 million LEGO bricks.

“All of these LEGO buildings are unique for some particular reason or another,” McNaught said. “They might be environmentally friendly, they might be groundbreaking, they might be the world's tallest. There are lots of different reasons as to why we've chosen these particular buildings.”

When LEGO building is your way of life, you’re bound to have some favorite creations, right? McNaught, whose work for other LEGO exhibits had him building wonders of the world both ancient and modern, had a hard time choosing the tower that’s closest to his heart. “Well that's a tough one, because they all have different pros and cons,” he said. “I really like the Hong Kong International Commerce Centre. Its shape is really subtle and beautiful, and the colors on it are really quite dynamic.”

When asked if he has advice for kids who dream of doing what he does for a living, Ryan smiled and said, “My best advice is to stay in school. When you go to college, study industrial design or something similar to that. You learn about architecture, you learn about engineering, you learn about mathematics. You learn about lots of really practical skills. Whilst your studies may not end in LEGO, you might end up designing the next smartphone, or you might be designing the next car.”

Towers of Tomorrow with LEGO® Bricks is a traveling exhibition from Sydney Living Museums and toured internationally by Flying Fish. It is presented locally by U.S. Bank and runs through September 3. It is included in exhibit gallery admission.


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