Sewerage inspires LEGO creation

Photo used with permission. ©2022 The LEGO Group. Created by LEGO® Ideas member MOCingbird.

Have you ever wondered what lies beneath LEGO buildings, or where the rainwater and sewage from the iconic modular constructions goes? Well we may be about to find out.

The creator of a concept for a LEGO set incorporating underground sewerage has reached the review stage of the Danish toymaker’s development process, with over 10,000 supporters getting behind the innovative concept.

In this Q&A, LEGO Ideas member MOCingbird, described as a 30-something from Berlin, Germany, explains how their Basement & Sewerage model came about and how water engineers, plumbers and sewer repair experts helped get it to the magic 10K.

MOCingbird told Make Water Famous, "The results of the LEGO Ideas review stage should be announced in February - then we'll all get to know whether or not my design shall become an official LEGO set."

Where did your interest in this particular model come from?

The concept for this model spontaneously came to my mind when I was thinking about new architecture or city-related ideas for LEGO fans that no one had ever built before, but that lots of builders and collectors would like to have once they got to know about it. To my knowledge, the urban underground had not been explored much in the LEGO universe – not only in terms of what is going on below the ground in a building, but also regarding the subterranean world of the rest of the city.

I was asking myself questions like: why does no modular building have a proper basement, while about every real house has one? What do you need drainage on every pavement for if the rainwater isn’t going anywhere? Why is there nothing going on beneath the baseplate of your LEGO city, when there’s so much going on in real life?

"I was asking myself questions like ... what do you need drainage on every pavement for, if the rainwater isn’t going anywhere?"

MOCingbird, LEGO Ideas member

Not only in terms of crucial infrastructure and people working underground, but also regarding all kinds of funny and mysterious stories that could be happening there all the time. I instantly knew I could really make something of this idea. But I was also aware that the model had to be very attractive visually at first sight – and a cut-away view into a sewer seemed just like the perfect idea.

Since I wanted the model to be of use to as many LEGO fans as possible, I designed it to work as a stand-alone set and also as an underground extension for LEGO’s Modular Buildings and CITY layouts, which have a lot of customisation potential too. Moreover, it was supposed to be for all ages, so I made sure it had a great display and play value at the same time.

How long was the process of making the project , and what else did you have to research? What kind of preparation, research and design phases did you go through to produce your creation?

From the initial idea to the finished Ideas model took about half a year. I took all the time I needed for every single room to look realistic and nicely detailed for display, while also keeping everything interesting and accessible for play. Most of the research I did was on the sewerage section and on the equipment inside the mechanical room. After the original build was completed, I built the model a second time from the ground up (thereby disassembling the first one) to see whether I still liked all the building decisions I had made on the first go. I changed what I didn’t like anymore after having seen the completed first version and incorporated final enhancements here and there.

What special challenges did you face creating the model? What was the most difficult part to recreate?

Creating the model itself never became frustrating at any point. But taking the pictures for the Ideas project page really gave me some headaches when I realised it was kind of impossible to capture the entirety of the model from just one perspective. Simply because it had two main views: one from the front and one from above. In hindsight, I am thankful the cover image I had originally chosen for the project got rejected by the Ideas team on the first upload. Seriously, had the project been approved with this original main image, I think reaching 10K might never have happened.

"Engineers and especially civil engineers told me how delighted they were to see this realistic looking sewerage infrastructure in a LEGO model."

MOCingbird, LEGO Ideas member

If you could talk to yourself before you started on this project, what would you tell yourself? What do you know now that you wish you knew then?

Had I known back then which direction a large amount of the 10,000 supporters would be coming from, I’d have focused the promotion activities a bit differently from the beginning to get to 10K even faster. Right from the start the feedback and support by the LEGO community was fantastic as if a lot of LEGO fans had always been waiting for this model, though it was introducing a unique new idea.

Witnessing the community’s great open-mindedness for this completely new concept was a very pleasant experience, but what really surprised me: I also instantly received amazing feedback from a variety of occupational groups who were all able to relate to my model, each for their own reasons. Soon it became obvious that not only LEGO fans loved the model, but that I had also created kind of a must-have set for a lot of professionals working in jobs related to the underground infrastructure the sewerage part of my model reveals.

More and more professionals started commenting on the project on social media and the Ideas page after voting for it, saying they were so happy about the awareness and recognition their work received through my depiction of the sewerage. But not only sewer workers and professionals from the water and wastewater industry responded in such a positive way to the scene revealed by the front cut-away: engineers and especially civil engineers told me how delighted they were to see this realistic looking sewerage infrastructure (designed by them in real life) in a LEGO model that could soon be standing on their office desks, and that would also be raising public awareness for their profession.

Next were sewer rehabilitation experts, plumbers, and even architects and geologists. It really was like every single industry branch somehow involved in planning, designing, building, running, and maintaining this crucial part of the urban infrastructure was very pleased and thankful for finally seeing such a LEGO set paying tribute to their work. All the more because the model was also able to playfully educate kids about the related topics and all the important, but often invisible jobs involved.

"Seeing big associations for civil engineering and the water and wastewater industry ... all posting about the project or leaving likes and comments – it was just kind of hard to grasp that they were actually talking about something I had built."

MOCingbird, LEGO Ideas member

How long did it take to complete the model? Did you finish it fairly quickly, or did it take a long time? And how did the build time compare to the time you spent promoting your product Idea to reach 10,000 supporters?

After a big British association for civil engineering professionals published an article about my project in December 2020 the news about the model and the voting slowly started to spread on a larger scale within the different industries. It took a while, but some months later a big wave of feedback and support by professionals from all over the globe came in, primarily via LinkedIn where the project got 2,000+ likes and hundreds of comments on different posts – granting Basement & Sewerage a phenomenal final sprint, eventually going from 9K to 10K votes in only seven days.

Even now I’m still amazed at the number of enthusiastic reactions my project received on LinkedIn, revealing a high demand for the set from outside the LEGO community, too. I mean seeing big associations for civil engineering and the water and wastewater industry, big companies, organisations committed to water, sanitation and hygiene around the world, industry journals, renowned business leaders, all posting about the project or leaving likes and comments – it was just kind of hard to grasp that they were actually talking about something I had built.

How did it feel when you reached the magic 10,000 votes and how long did it take?

Reaching 10,000 votes took a little less than 11 months. It was a real rollercoaster ride concerning the speed at which new supporters were coming in. While going from 8K to 10K in only 26 days was like flying with a jet pack; advancing from 4K to 6K felt like a debilitating march through the desert that lasted 134 days. I remember that long stretch as the most difficult part of the whole campaign. Thus reaching 6K and then 7K was almost as relieving as finally crossing the goal line.

Approximately how many LEGO bricks did you use to create your model?

During the long building process described above, at some point I lost track of how many parts I had used. The weight of the model including figures and items is 1,890g. Piece count estimations by supporters and reviewers have ranged from 1,900 to 2,800 parts, based on the known weight. So I guess the actual count is somewhere in between.

What is your favourite technique or section incorporated into your product idea?
The secret mechanism hidden in the basement wall for opening the Janitor’s trophy cabinet under the stairs is my favourite feature. It works flawlessly and the stairs pop up so smoothly, I could be pushing that button all day long.

What is your favourite LEGO element? Why?
The red 2x4 brick. Because it’s not just a brick, it’s a symbol.