World Architecture, Al Pacino and Stealing your brother’s LEGO: a chat with Anu Pehrson [Interview]

This week we were able to talk with Anu Pehrson about her beautiful architectural builds, as well as many other aspects of the hobby. Anu lives in Seattle with her husband David and volunteers a lot of time to help make many different behind-the-scenes aspects of BrickCon run smoothly. She is a very easy person to talk to. If you ever get the chance, spend some time with her. You will be well-rewarded. Until then, however, this interview will have to do! Let’s dive in and explore the mind of a builder.

Tiger's Nest Monastery, Paro Taktsang 1.2

TBB: Can you give our readers some background on yourself? What is it about LEGO that draws you to it?

Anu: I’m from India. Growing up, there wasn’t much Lego to play with. Someone had gifted my brother a Lego systems set that I commandeered. Every time I sat down with the set, I tried to build something different. That’s how the story of building my own creations started. Then came my dark ages and in 2001 I moved to Seattle where I found Lego in abundance and rekindled my love for building. I built by myself for a few years and then accidently found the local LUG, BrickCon and the online Lego community. I see Lego as more of a medium of Art, rather than a child’s toy. Something that can be used to express one’s feelings, maybe like paint for a painter… As I build more, I use its limitations of being a finite piece of plastic to push its own limits and try to give models an organic and natural feel. Some of the newer parts definitely help in this process.

Mini modular

TBB: Which set was it?

Anu: Basic Set 566-1. This time I was in India I found the set as I had stored it almost 30 years back. Separate colors in separate bags, with all the instructions!

TBB: Sweet! I’m glad you “commandeered” the set, since it was the beginning for the awesome builds you been able to make. You have become known for your beautifully detailed builds of real-life and fantasy architecture and you coordinate the Architecture theme at BrickCon. What is it about architecture that compels you to build it?


Anu: I’m very passionate about World Architecture as a subject and enjoy studying different styles from ancient to modern times. I wanted to become an Architect but one of the prerequisites to enter the program was to know how to draw free hand, which I was very bad at, so had to peruse other career options. Being able to build three-dimensional models with Lego keeps the inner architect happy and keeps the creative side of my brain active. I prefer to build between the 1000AD to 1900AD period and gravitate less towards modern architecture because its visually simpler with fewer details, though there are some spectacular structures built in modern times. Coordinating the Architecture display has been a great experience! I get to meet so many like-minded people, discuss techniques and building styles, see what inspires them and how they use parts. I can do all of this without being a coordinator, but this way they have to interact with me, whether they like it or not!

The Rialto Bridge, Venice.

TBB: When considering a new project, how do you go about it? How much research and planning take place before you start building?

Anu: For a new project, the size and scale determine the amount of research and planning. For example, I had an idea to build rock and arches with plates to recreate a feeling of layers of sediment. Something that I had noticed in Hawaii where land and water meet. It took a few hours of test building to decide on how I was going to proceed on the basic idea and then another few days of experimenting how big or small it needed to be, to project the feel and shape I was trying to put forward. Of course there is the acquiring of parts, because no matter how big or small our collections are, we never have all the parts we need. This entire MOC took me 15 days from start to finish, but since it was a fantasy creation I had a lot of wiggle room. For models that are replicas of real buildings or places the process takes much longer. Sometimes it takes days of test building a single window to get the details right. Generally I build in minifig scale or thereabouts because Lego elements lend themselves well to that scale. If you see me staring at the ceiling or into space, know that I’m building in my head, the wheels are in motion…

Side view

TBB: Your largest project so far is the Tiger’s Nest Monastery. It is a stunning, breath-taking build and I don’t use such superlatives lightly. It is a masterpiece. Talk to us about the Tiger’s Nest. Why this monastery? Is there any personal importance to you or it is simply a beautiful building that spoke to you? Do you have a team of minions who help you with transport and setup?

Tiger's Nest Monastery, Paro Taktsang 1.2

Anu: When I first saw pictures of Tiger’s Nest Monastery, I was mesmerized. They are a set of beautiful building, with intricate carvings, hanging off cliffs at approximately 10240 feet above the valley. They blend into the surroundings so naturally. What an architectural feat…

Oh and there is one thing I have to tell you, almost everything interesting I see around me, I want to build in Lego. So, yes, I wanted to build this set of buildings too, but it seemed like an impossible task. For months I looked at the pictures and laughed at myself. (There were only two pictures, two different angles available online at the time) Then one day I started with the smallest building. I started with test building the windows and then the entire building. My thought process was like, “let me just try, one building and then another.” At this time I had no hope that the entire model was buildable. It was a one-step-at-a-time process and after a year of building I had a displayable model for BrickCon 2013.

Tiger's Nest Monastery 1.2, Paro Taktsang

After displaying it there, I worked on it for a few more months to give it a more finished feel for future displays. Honestly I hadn’t thought of the logistics of building something this big, I didn’t even realize it would end up being this massive or I may not have built it. It’s not of any personal significance to me and I have never been to Bhutan, though after spending so much time studying the photos and building it, I feel I know the place.

Its built in many sections, the buildings are separate and the landscaping around is also in sections. It sits in 14-15 boxes when stored and when I was building it, it took over all of our living and dining area.

Every time I’ve displayed it, we had to rent a U-haul van and my very considerate and patient husband would drive it around and help set it up. Just the two of us, no minions.

Tiger's Nest Monastery 1.1 Paro Taktsang

TBB: Well, it is an incredible project. Which of your builds is your favorite?

Wooden Bridge

Anu: I don’t have any favorite projects. They are all different in their unique ways and I enjoyed building all of them.

There’s an interesting story about a Japanese Garden I made. When it was on display at a Con, a little girl of maybe 5-6 years stood in front of it and kept looking at it for almost five minutes. I asked her what she was looking at and she asked me if I had made it. After I replied she said to me, “don’t ever break it.” I asked why and she replied, “it’s very peaceful.” I wondered how such a small girl even understood the meaning of ‘peaceful’ but I’ve kept the model intact till today.

TBB: Do you have any builds that were particularly challenging?

Anu: I’ve been trying to build boats and ships for a very long time. They just don’t turn out right, I don’t know why. I just can’t seem to figure it out!

One Brick Plaza-1

TBB: You have attended many fan conventions, have served faithfully for many years as a member of BrickCon’s staff and you belong to several LEGO User Groups. Obviously the fan community is important to you. Why is that? What role does it play in your life? What about it do you enjoy?

Anu: When I moved to Seattle and started building as an Adult, somewhere in the back of my mind, I thought I was crazy. After my first experience of BrickCon, where I meet all these fantastic builders and wonderful people, I felt like I’ve met my tribe, my people. We were all crazy. At my first Sealug meeting, I felt very welcome and completely relaxed. Being a woman, an immigrant fresh off the boat, this meant a lot. To be accepted in a foreign country by nerds as one of them is a huge thing.

Now, I try and give back to this community. It has grown by leaps and bounds and sometimes can intimidate newbies, especially women builders, who are by themselves, not spouses/partners or moms. Terri Landers and I try do have a roundtable discussion every year at BrickCon to discuss issues related to female builders. I would very much like to help and encourage young girls and women builders to build more and follow their creative lead.

TBB: Rumor has it that you met Al Pacino at a LEGO fan convention and he complimented you on your work. Talk to us a little bit about that encounter and how it went?


Anu: Yes, the rumors are correct. In fact, there is photographic evidence. His son is a huge fan of Lego and they’ve been to a few conventions around the country. On this occasion they were standing in front of Tiger’s Nest Monastery and lets say admiring it, when I strolled over there not realizing who they were at first. His son had a few questions for me and then Mr. Pacino shook my hand and congratulated me on my work. He said quite a few things and asked a few questions but I was in such a daze that all I remember now is; I was surrounded by his entourage and family and was the center of attention for a few minutes.

TBB: Besides LEGO, what do you do for fun?

Anu: I love to read. I could spend hours with a book and not even realize it. Besides that, I do jigsaw puzzles and sometimes I get into a mood to cook. More than cooking, I actually love eating. I enjoy watching sports and am a huge fan of the WNBA and the Seattle Storm.

TBB: I love eating too! Which LEGO piece do think is most tasty?

Anu: I like jelly sweets, so maybe 2×4 bricks in all colors…

TBB: Yum! If you could make the LEGO company do one thing, large or small, what would it be?

Anu: I would request them to make bulk parts available more easily. I totally understand their concern about resellers, but, if worked like Bricklink, then why do I need BL? No offence to Bricklink, won’t I just go to Lego directly?

Pyke Castle

TBB: Very good point. Thank you so much for taking the time to sit down with us! It’s been a real pleasure. What is the next big thing on the horizon for you?

Anu: It’s always a pleasure to be on TBB, Thank you! Next big thing, I’m not sure, maybe I should build medium or small things for a while. They are so much easier to transport and need fewer parts. I have an aspiration to build more Game of Thrones related MOC’s, but acquiring parts is difficult. Keeping my fingers crossed, wish me luck!

TBB: Best of Luck!