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WASHINGTON, DC—As millions of dollars in donations stacked up for the Notre-Dame following the horrific fire last month, the Washington National Cathedral was quietly building its own restoration fund—brick-by-plastic brick.
Together with the Lego-building company Bright Bricks, officials at the cathedral have embarked on a project to build a massive replica of the cathedral out of Lego bricks. The project will raise money for much needed earthquake repairs. When complete, the towering yet detailed 1:40-scaled replica will be the largest Lego cathedral in the world. It’ll contain an estimated 500,000 bricks, weighing 612 kilograms, measuring nearly 4-meters long, 2.5-meters wide, and rising 3.35-meters from its elevated platform. It may also be the largest Lego structure ever built from instructions—officials at the cathedral are in talks with Guinness World Records.
Those instructions—created by the designers and professional Lego aficionados at Bright Bricks—are used by volunteers and kind donors who buy individual bricks and place them on the growing replica by hand. The bricks go for $2 each and all the money goes toward the $19 million needed to repair damage from a 5.8-magnitude earthquake in 2011.
The quake caused extensive damage to the neo-gothic structure, with seismic waves rippling through to the top of the church’s Indiana-limestone features. Stone pieces cracked, pinnacles rotated 20 centimeters on their bases, flying buttresses swayed and crumbled, a gargoyle was decapitated by a dislodged stone, and a 159-kilogram finial toppled, falling 20 stories to the ground—where it was later stolen. In all, there was $34 million worth of damage to the massive cathedral, the sixth largest in the world and second largest in the US (only Saint John the Divine in New York City is larger).
The Cathedral closed for weeks following the quake and engineers have worked to stabilize the structure, in some cases removing pinnacles and adding supports. In-house stone masons have worked tirelessly, patching, restoring, and replacing damaged stone pieces. The Cathedral has been blotched by scaffolding ever since. But, so far, the cathedral community has only been able to raise $15 million for the repairs in the years since the quake and much work remains.
That’s where the Lego replica comes in, helping to raise additional funds and bringing in more visitors. Charles Fulcher, director of visitor programs got the idea during a visit to England a few years ago where he was inspired by the Durham Cathedral’s own fundraising Lego replica project, (~300,000 bricks, also done with the help of Bright Bricks).
After years of laying the groundwork, the Lego project launched earlier this year—in true Lego fashion. Cathedral Dean The Very Rev. Randy Hollerith and Cathedral Provost The Rev. Canon Jan Naylor Cope blessed the bricks as boy choristers sang a rendition of “Everything is Awesome.” In the months since, the cathedral has tallied well over 19,000 bricks on the growing replica. It’s expected to take two or three years to complete—a timeline that’s dwarfed by the 83 years it took to build the real thing, which spanned 1907 to 1990.
Ed Diment, Creative Director of Bright Bricks, tells Ars that in some ways, the National Cathedral—with it’s much more recent and better planned construction—is a bit easier to replicate than other historic churches that Bright Bricks has modeled. “It’s somewhat more regular,” he says. “It’s a little bit more symmetric and a little bit more even than most of the cathedrals in the UK, which tend to be built over several hundred years and people add on random bits all over the place or they change the architectural style halfway down the cathedral. What makes it more difficult, in some respects, is just the sheer size of the cathedral.”