Father-son love of Legos enough to fill a ‘city’

It was love at first Lego for Harry Nijenkamp.

As a child growing up in Holland, Nijenkamp was playing at a neighbor’s house when one day he was introduced to Lego bricks. About 5 years old at the time, he picked up colorful little bricks in red, blue, green and yellow and created small houses, simple cars, boats, airplanes. He turned those interlocking toy pieces into anything he put his young mind to. He loved it.

Alas, as a teenager, he, like many boys his age, stopped playing with Legos.

But a couple of decades later, after his son, Austin, was born, Nijenkamp’s affinity for the snap-together plastic bricks was renewed. With his son taking an immediate liking to Legos, things, he said, “got out of control.”

On Friday and Saturday, a father-and-son-designed giant cityscape, brought to life with 400,000 Lego bricks, will be on display in the lobby at the Aurora Cineplex in Roswell. It will be open to the public for free from 10 a.m.-10 p.m.

This Lego city, with towering buildings (one reaching 13 feet) and dotted with neighborhood parks with lampposts and fountains, and monkeys hanging from trees, is part of a weekend of Lego festivities.

That includes the Lego KidsFest, a giant traveling Lego expo at Cobb Galleria, expected to draw as many as 27,000 Lego lovers this weekend. This hands-on extravaganza, traveling the country and stopping in metro Atlanta for this first time, boasts millions of Lego bricks, not to mention construction zones and Lego games. One game involves a race ramp with Lego enthusiasts building custom cars and then racing their cars against each other down the ramp. (Tickets are $22 for adults; $20 for kids ages 3-17; free for kids 2 and under.)

Meanwhile, the Nijenkamps’ display is a free sneak preview for a much larger show scheduled for December at High Meadows School in Roswell. The December display (with a $10 admission) will be a fundraiser for the Drake House in Roswell, which provides short-term crisis housing, assessment and support to homeless mothers and their children in the north Fulton area.

Nijenkamp, 54, owns a painting company and lives in Roswell. Before moving to the States some 30 years ago, he traveled the globe for seven years and was fascinated by architecture — the gently curved roofs of Asia, the distinctive pointed domes of the Middle East, the cobblestone streets and flower-filled gardens of Europe.

In this creation, Nijenkamp said the city is not modeled after any particular city, but pieces reflect inspiration from traveling. He said Austin, who designed the parks, was influenced by the neighborhood parks of Savannah. Nijenkamp estimates he and his son have spent about 400 hours on the display for Friday and Saturday.

At the Nijenkamps’ Roswell home, a former large bedroom was transformed into a Lego room now awash with 3 million Legos. He spends up to 30 hours a week with Legos — building, organizing, dreaming up ideas. Austin, now a college student, orders discontinued but critical Lego pieces (and joins him during vacations and during summer breaks).

They recently searched the Internet for clear, curved and glasslike window Lego pieces to use for a museum in their Lego city. They couldn’t find anyone who had all 15 they needed, so they ordered a few from someone in Slovenia, another one from a Lego collector in Austria and a couple flew in from Oregon. Nijenkamp estimates these pieces (with shipping) cost about $30.

Inside the highly organized Lego room, Legos are sorted by shape and color. Large plastic bins have wheels to make them easier to move around. Nijenkamp said his wife, Kristy, a glass jewelry maker, is supportive but doesn’t share his love for Legos. Their daughter, Nikole, builds with Legos from time to time, but is also not a Lego aficionado.

Nijenkamp watches very little TV and plays soccer occasionally, but when he has free time, he is pulled into the Lego room. He is a proud Adult Fan of Lego, or AFOL, as enthusiasts call themselves.

“I have always enjoyed architecture, and when you like design and creating things, Lego is the perfect medium to work with because the only limitation is how much time you have and how many Legos you have,” he said.

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