Inside the New LEGOLAND: Meet the Master Model Builder
The Plymouth Meeting Mall attraction is now open. Find out what to expect, from a 4D movie to birthday parties.
Most kids go through a LEGO phase. Whether it’s a passion for tinkering or an obsession with finishing a million-part set, the tiny bricks captivate children, often for years.
Michael Nieves never outgrew his love for LEGO bricks. And now, he’s part of the new LEGOLAND Discovery Center Philadelphia with what’s definitely one of the coolest jobs out there: Master Model Builder. The attraction, essentially a giant LEGO playground, opens April 6 at Plymouth Meeting Mall.
“I’ve always loved LEGO, so building LEGO models for a living has always been my dream,” said Nieves, 30.
He jumped at the job when it opened up last fall, and won a three-round building competition against 70 other contestants to get it. Nieves had been teaching kids engineering and science, using LEGO bricks as a muse, before joining LEGOLAND.
“My degree in mechanical engineering has helped me have a deeper understanding of how to build with LEGO bricks,” he said.
Nieves has done a lot of building to get the 33,000-square-foot center ready for its grand opening. As the on-site LEGO expert, he played a big role in the construction and installation of MINILAND, a replica of Philadelphia’s landmarks, which includes more than 1.5 million bricks. He’s also added other unique LEGO-based elements, to help set the Philadelphia center apart from other LEGOLAND locations around the nation and the world.
All that construction was “quite a lot of work, sweat, and tears,” Nieves said. Model builders use detailed photos to help them recreate a building or landmark for a MINILAND display. The models are then glued together.
For example, Nieves said, making the Liberty Place replica took nine model builders more than 900 hours — and used 17,760 LEGO bricks!
MINILAND is just one of the draws for the center, which is pitched at kids ages 3 to 10 years old. The attraction includes the Imagination Express, a LEGO-themed ride, as well as a 4D movie experience. There’s a pirate ship to explore, and a NINJAGO training camp to spur little imaginations.
In the Build and Test zone, kids can make their own creative vehicles, then race them down timed ramps. Visitors can meet and interact with Nieves in the Creative and Education Workshops, too. He’s even got his office on the floor of the attraction.
“Kids can come up to my window and request advice, or just chat,” Nieves said.
He’ll also work with the Creative Crew — local child ambassadors who won their way on to the team with inventive projects and a fun social media entry. The kids “have the opportunity to inspect the attraction, to ensure it’s kid-approved,” Nieves said.
“It’s been fun working with them,” he said. “They’re all very talented builders, and I will help guide them toward their goal of becoming master builders one day.”
The new center is certain to become an instant hot spot for birthday parties, and Nieves will have a hand in that, too — working with party hosts to make sure the building projects are top-notch. The center has several party rooms and will start hosting parties May 3.
A standard birthday package, which costs $550, includes admission for 25 people, 60 minutes in a party room, a LEGO building activity with a party host, and a cake from the nearby Whole Foods Market. A premium package, which is $700, adds pizza and a special mini-build activity — and kids can take home their model.
Both packages include two hours inside the center after the party room time. Click here for more information and to book a celebration.
Ready to check it out? Tickets and annual passes are on sale now; click here to buy them, and for more information about the new attraction.
Nieves will be waiting, enjoying every moment.
“My office has thousands and thousands of LEGO bricks in it that I get to play with all the time. My favorite thing is to teach kids how to build with LEGO and see what they come up with,” he said. “Wait, no, my favorite thing is the pirate ship jungle gym with a pirate island build table on the outside! I love pirate ships.”
The LEGOLAND Discovery Center Philadelphia is located inside the Plymouth Meeting Mall, at 500 W. Germantown Pike, Plymouth Meeting. The attraction opens at 10 am every day; the last entry time Monday through Saturday is at 5:30 pm, and at 4 pm on Sunday (the center is open for two hours after the last entry time).
Photographs by Kelly & Massa Photography, courtesy of LEGOLAND Discovery Center Philadelphia.