Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen reportedly has a net worth of $21.2 billion, making him the richest individual in Denmark. When Brick Fanatics sits down with the LEGO Group’s third generation owner at the LEGO House AFOL preview, though, it is easy to forget that he holds such wealth and that his is a position of immense responsibility. His easy manner is disarming, but more than that, he is visibly excited to see the LEGO House come to fruition.
‘It is so wonderful,’ Kjeld proudly smiles. ‘It has been a fairly long process, a fantastic process with lots of ideas, lot of testing. Seeing what our fans like the most, what should be in the house, where there are different zones, different learning experiences for all of our fans. Creating different approaches to our brand and our product that they probably have never thought of.’
The former LEGO CEO has been instrumental in the LEGO House, having first conceived of having such a building and then shepherding the project from an idea through to a functioning attraction. Along with other members of the Kristiansen family, Kjeld was part of the ceremonial laying of the foundation stones, that would form the basis of the building.
Now, a short three years later, the exuberant owner is able to show guests around the completed LEGO House, highlighting fun features such as the old factory moulds buried in the foundation. He seems to know everything there is to know about the Home of the Brick, explaining that the colourful bricks at the top of the stairwell walls gradually become less so until guests find themselves in the grey and black basement section.
Everything has been thought out, not least of course the various experience zones. ‘Playful learning is very important for us,’ Kjeld explains. ‘We really want to stimulate and develop the builders of tomorrow, that is basically what it is all about for us. We think that children, even though it is very unconscious, they learn a lot of social skills, they learn a lot of creativity, they learn a lot about building techniques – many important life skills. Our idea was to have four zones that are distinctly different in terms of what kind of skills children use when they play.’
The impetus behind the LEGO House project has been to give fans of the brick an opportunity to celebrate everything that has to do with the LEGO brick. It’s the latest innovation from a company with a unique ability to reach and interact with its fans. The advent of that dialogue is something Kjeld credits the Internet with. ‘Definitely,’ he affirms. ‘It could not have been done without it I think. I am sure there were lots of people already sitting in their small LEGO rooms, but they didn’t know how to share it. What really started this movement was the Internet. Also with LEGO.com, the contact that we have been able to have with our fans has been tremendous.
‘I have heard that the LEGO brand is by far the most shown, exposed, on YouTube,’ Kjeld continues, showing a keen awareness of developing online trends. ‘That is amazing. If you see what is on YouTube, there are so many stop motion pictures, there are many of the fantastic MOCs that people have created and videos showing how they do them. I am just amazed by the number of hours that our fans put into having fun with our products.’
Before the LEGO House was constructed, there was little to distinguish the centre of Billund, with visitors finding more to do outside the town at the nearby attractions. But for Kjeld, it was vital that the LEGO House be right in the heart. ‘Billund is the hometown of the LEGO brand, that is where my grandfather started. I could not think of any other place and of course it should be right in the middle. We have had visitors to the LEGOLAND Park and some come into the town and say, ‘where is the centre of the town?’, because it is such a small town. Now with the LEGO House here I think they will imagine, this must be the centre.’
The warm, charismatic grandson of the LEGO founder built his own town centre. Now, when LEGO fans visit Billund they will be able to find something that celebrates the history of the company, the creativity that the system allows and experiences that offer a little glimpse of the future. Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen is far from the only person pleased to see Denmark’s newest attraction ready to be enjoyed.