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Everything fits right: Student completes campus Lego model

Amelia Davis / Thresher

By Andrea Plascencia     4/16/24 10:03pm

Once upon a time, Brown College senior Andrew Linhart was a kid — a Lego kid, to be precise. He could not have foreseen how a love of Legos would lead him to a career in mechanical engineering, but he knew this much: he loved putting things together. Much like the fragments of the Lego sets built during childhood, the pieces of his life now fit together effortlessly. 

When asked if he was always a Lego enthusiast or if it became a gradual interest during his youth, his eyes lit up in affirmation; Linhart and Legos have always been a thing. But there’s one day in particular that would forever transform the way he saw Legos and how much he could do with them. 

“I definitely was always a Lego kid,” Linhart said. “[But] it was really going to Legoland [in] 2010 that got me into it.”

Unknowingly, Linhart’s adoration for the hobby would persist for years to come and lead him to his biggest project yet: a scale model of the Rice campus constructed entirely from Legos. The model’s official construction — from its initial designing stages to the installation of its final piece — took place from August 2023 to April 1 of this year. The first four months were reserved solely for designing, a process that required a deliberate devotion of time on his part. 

“It was August through December, basically, [when] I would just design,” Linhart said. “There’d be hours where I would just be sitting in my dorm room. I would finish my homework and I’d be like ‘Oh yeah, I have an hour before bed, I can design.’” 

Following that four-month period, the collaborative elements required for the project’s completion came into fruition. Linhart spoke of obtaining funding for his project, in addition to — as he put it — “galvanizing people to a cause.” 

“After the four months, I started talking with the Student Association,” Linhart said. “I partnered with the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and they were willing to partner with me, to help get funding through the Student Association. I got to work a lot with both of them.”

To build the project, Linhart would go on to assemble a team of 20 people, himself included. A member of multiple campus organizations, Linhart was determined to create a team that accurately reflected his varying interests — from engineering to his college to acapella. 

“For building, I reached out to friends,” Linhart said. “I … sent a massive email to [ASME] to get people. I had people from my acapella group come help me build, I had my quad-mates. I recruited all these people. It was really cool seeing the amount of turnout that we got for that.” 

Aside from his pre-existing interest in Legos, the idea to construct a model of his own design came to him during his days as a prospective college student. During university campus tours, Linhart paid special attention to unique projects on display — unknowingly collecting inspiration for his future model, which is now displayed in the welcome center in Sewall Hall. 

“It was something I’d always had in the back of my mind, you know?” Linhart said. “When visiting other universities, I’d see one building [made] out [of] Lego — like a stadium, or this or that. I was like ‘Oh, what if I took it a step further, and instead of one big building, what if I did a whole campus?’ I’d always wanted to do [this].” 

In its entirety, the campus model is made up of 8,064 Lego pieces. Linhart said building the model required him to adopt new skills — most notably, management and great precision. 

“It was quite a good case study with management,” Linhart said. “I mean, having to talk through [things] like, ‘Do we have a case for it? There are 11 different vendors we’re getting the pieces from and 8,064 total and we’re ordering the exact amount of pieces.’ So, [we’re] making sure that every piece is counted. Sometimes I’d accidentally hit a piece and knock it on the floor, so we’d be like ‘We need to make sure [we have] everything.’” 

In addition to careful oversight of the project’s individual components, time management was a key factor. A senior mechanical engineering major, Linhart was tasked with the ultimate “balancing act”; devoting time both to the construction of the Lego-sized campus and to his senior capstone project, as well as extracurriculars like acapella and his job as a tour guide. In the end, his determination to finish the model before graduation made the completion of the model and other outstanding projects possible. 

“I had so much going on; it was a lot,” Linhart said. “[For] my capstone design project, we’re doing an electric vehicle. [I had] my tours and acapella group. It was a lot to try and manage, but I really just loved this project. I was like, ‘It’s gonna be worth it if I can just get it done.’”

While recalling the completion of the model, Linhart said the final installation was a piece representing the well-known James Turrell “Twilight Epiphany” Skyspace. Equipped with a workspace in Lovett Hall provided by the Office of Admissions and Public Affairs, Linhart’s final challenge upon completion would be moving the model down three flights of stairs to its final destination: the Welcome Center.

“It was funny passing by everyone while we were walking down [to] the Welcome Center,” Linhart said. “I passed by a prospective student [who was like] ‘What?’ … Once we got it there, it was kind of just an exhale. I reached out to all the folks who helped me all along the way like Public Affairs, Admissions, all the friends who helped me build it. … It was very rewarding.” 

Now residing in the welcome center in Sewall for all to see, Linhart disclosed features of the model that Rice students, faculty and alumni may find amusing upon their viewing. Linhart described “little easter eggs” placed in the model, including the Wiess College war pig, Brown College’s water fountain and the Duncan dunk tank, as well as his own senior capstone project — a white electric van. In spite of these, he confessed to having other favorites. 

“I love all the easter eggs,” Linhart said “[But] I am very partial to Brown [College]; it’s been my home here. The mechanical engineering building was also super special — I wanted to make sure I got that.” 

In conjunction with a hope to “reflect this expression of the campus in this moment in time,” Linhart’s overarching wish is for people to not only take inspiration from, but to find happiness through the scale model. He encourages students to take the plunge toward realizing personal creative endeavors. 

“I hope it inspires [others] to take [their projects] on,” Linhart said. “We’re in a unique place where we can propose projects to initiative funds and … get that support we need … I really hope it brings joy to people, like prospective students who are like ‘Oh, wow, this is so cool, you can do this at Rice. You can do this kind of thing.’”

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