A Young Lego Builder Shows His Work
Again eager to explore my family’s history, I spent much of September in Poland, visiting a range of historical museums and sites — including the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews and the Katyn Memorial in Warsaw, the Jewish quarter of Kazimierz and the site of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps near Kraków, and the huge new World War II museum and world-famous European Solidarity Center in Gdańsk. But while doing the standard sightseeing, I also wanted to pursue another passion of mine, Lego building. Apparently, Poland boasts several active Lego Users Groups under the umbrella of LUGPOL, and many of the builders whose ideas regularly rise to the top of Lego Ideas competitions hail from Poland. (Here is one recent example.) There are six Lego stores in Poland (2 in Warsaw and one each in Poznan, Wrocław, Łodz, and Gdánsk), and women’s tennis standout from Poland Iga Swiatek, admits to being a fan. In the 2023 tennis documentary Break Point, she’s seen assembling a set from the City Space series.
While I didn’t stumble into a large Lego convention as I did several times in Lisbon before the pandemic, I did notice a promising sign in the window of a corner building in Kraków, for a place called Świat w Budowie (World in Construction). Climbing two flights of stairs, I found myself in what looked like an office suite filled with Lego builds of all kinds: individual buildings and large figures, massive dioramas around single themes, and mosaics. One room had loose bricks where visiting children could build their own creations, and adults (including a pair of tourists from the Czech Republic) could enjoy a relaxing respite. Entry into the exhibit and playroom cost 25 złoty (about $6) per person with discounts for children, families, and other groups.
The unusual thing about this exhibit is that all of the building are the work of 16-year-old Jakub (Kuba) Polkowski, who built everything himself, beginning at the age of nine. His father, Tadeusz, said Kuba started building at the age of four, but he and his wife didn’t notice the elaborate nature of their son’s builds until Kuba was seven, around the time his younger brother was born. Fortunately, his younger brother didn’t destroy his work, but when he was 12, Kuba had an artistic crisis. Believing his builds weren’t good enough, he broke many of them down and started over.
As a writer who has questioned my talents many times, I could relate!
The result of his artistic reboot was more buildings that deviated from the designs of the standard kits but used parts from them in creative ways. Tadeusz said that his son doesn’t use computer programs to design his buildings but rather builds from the bricks he already has or can obtain easily, a strategy I use as well. As with my Lego town Little Brick Township, Kuba’s large dioramas combine standard Lego kits with his own creations, aiming to make them blend together seamlessly so that viewers don’t know whether this is a standard Lego set, a modification, or something completely original.
Here is a gallery of some of Kuba’s work. My favorites were the blue country house with the brown shutters, the medieval village, the sea floor, and the topographical world map. You may notice that I don’t have photos of Kuba himself. I visited on a weekday, and he was like most teenagers in Poland, still in school.
Kuba’s father told me that the building that houses the exhibit, Floriańska 15, was once a pharmacy, and the owners of the pharmacy joined the resistance to Nazi occupation during WWII. Unfortunately, the Nazis discovered the resistance cell and the work the owners were doing to smuggle medicines to underground fighters; as a result, the owners were executed. It was a story I heard several times, in different locations, during my two weeks in Poland. At a time when so many people around the world are suffering the consequences of invasions and wars, I hope that this young Lego builder, who wants to make a career as a designer for The LEGO Group, will be able to develop his talents and pursue his dreams in peace.