Notre-Dame rises again… in Lego

Arnaud Gaudillat, a history teacher in France, recalled breaking down in tears as he watched television coverage of the flames that swept through Notre-Dame Cathedral in 2019. “We could do nothing but watch it burn,” he said.

Now, five years later, as hundreds of architects, engineers and metalworkers race to finish rebuilding the cathedral's roof coverings and electrical cables by the end of the year, Gaudillat will not stand on the sidelines. He will build his Notre-Dame. One made up of 4,383 Lego pieces.

Lego, the world's largest toy company, launched a model of Notre-Dame Cathedral on Saturday, complete with rose windows, bell towers and a central spire surrounded by statues. The set, designed for adults, will be part of the company's collection of sets based on architectural feats, including Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater and his Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

“I just want to have this wonderful thing in my house,” Mr. Gaudillat, 25, said of the Notre-Dame set. He started building intricate Lego sets a few years ago and was fascinated by them.

The Danish toy company is best known for its colorful children's play sets, including best-selling animal sets, train sets and Harry Potter-themed sets. But since 2020, when Lego launched a new category of toys marketed to people aged 18 and up, the company has doubled the size of its range aimed at adults. About 20% of the company's sets for sale are aimed at adult Lego fans, known as AFOLs.

The Notre-Dame set, selling for $229.99, is gaining attention for its design and because it is the first religious structure the company has built in 67 years, according to Lego's official historian.

Thomas Lajon, a Parisian screenwriter and director, said he wanted to buy the Lego Notre-Dame because of the importance the real cathedral, a jewel of medieval Gothic architecture, had for him.

“It's a time to reconnect with the cathedral by going there or rebuilding it with Lego bricks,” said Lajon, 28, who designed the Lego model of the Orient Express through a company program that solicits design concepts from fans.

Construction of the (real) Notre-Dame Cathedral began in 1163, during the reign of King Louis VII, and was completed in 1345. During the French Revolution in 1790, a mob beheaded the statues of kings at Notre-Dame, and the cathedral fell into a state of ruin.

Victor Hugo's 1831 novel, “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame,” highlighted the state of the cathedral and provided impetus for its renovation, which took place from 1844 to 1864. Architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc designed and he added a spire.

Genevieve Capa Cruz, head of adult product at the Lego Group, said in an interview that the company's adult Lego fan base has grown in recent years, particularly among what she described as adults in high-stakes jobs. pressure who see Lego building as a way to relax.

The company is trying to reframe Lego play as “a legitimate leisure activity” for adults, he said. “The same way you would invest time and money in making ceramic bowls.”

Themes that resonate with adults include architecture, flowers and movies, such as “Lord of the Rings” and “Star Wars,” he said. Adult Lego fans are important to the company not only because adult sets are more expensive—the Star Wars Millennium Falcon model costs $850—but because they tend to buy Lego gifts for kids, too, she said.

Lego saw sales rise 4% last year, even as other toy companies such as Mattel and Hasbro saw declines. Against this backdrop, Lego plans to open at least 100 more stores in the next 10 months, Chief Executive Officer Niels B. Christiansen said in an interview with Yahoo Finance.

Sonia Hudson, an intensive care doctor at a hospital outside London, said she intended to buy two Lego sets of Notre-Dame. She will build one to display in her living room, and purchase the other for bricks, to add to her collection of about 500,000, which she uses to create her designs.

“I don't see Legos as a toy,” said Dr. Hudson, 50. “I see it as a means of construction. I could build with wood, I could build with clay, but if I made a mistake I would have to start all over again.

Rok Zgalin Kobe, the Lego designer who created the Notre-Dame set, said he designed the cathedral so that users had to build it in the same stages as the real cathedral was built, rather than from the bottom up , tracing almost 900 years of history.

“Once completed, you can actually look through the front door,” he said. “You have the sense of space, the sense of majesty that comes with it.”

The set design process involved experimentation, requiring daily trips to a room within the company's headquarters in Billund, Denmark, which contains versions of all the Lego bricks available for creating new designs.

Like Dr. Hudson, the doctor who uses Legos to relax, Gordon Finlay, 62, has taken up Legos again after not playing with them for a long time. He and other Lego fans refer to that period, from when people stop playing with Legos as children to when they rediscover them as adults, as “the dark ages.”

Finlay, who lives outside Glasgow, said he plans to build Notre-Dame out of Lego next month, just before 15 million tourists visit Paris for the Olympics.

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