Master builder Parry ‘thinks in LEGO pieces’

Do you have a job coveted by millions? Clint Parry ’09 does. He’s a master model builder for LEGOLAND Discovery Center Michigan in Detroit. He has access to literally millions of LEGO bricks, and his job is to play with them every day.

“In the past week I’ve made a football player, a sword in the stone, a shark, a clam, a starfish, some 1950s cars, and a pencil cup,” Parry says.

Photo by Allan Recalde
Photo by Allan Recalde

Pencil cup? “Someone at a cash register here needed one,” he says.

The Discovery Center in Detroit is one of 16 such places in the world. It’s a giant indoor playroom for kids of all ages, which includes rides, 4-D movies (which add snow and rain to 3-D movies), a model of Detroit built from LEGO bricks, and a 20-foot tall grandfather clock. And lots and lots of LEGO pieces.

“I’ve got a giant LEGO dragon right outside my office,” Parry says.

What role did his English degree from Cornell College play in getting his dream job? “Not very much, really,” he says with a laugh. “Most of the other master builders have backgrounds in engineering, architecture, or art. I’m the only one with a humanities degree. I’ve never considered myself artistic. I’ve always thought of myself as analytical with a creative side.”

He got his job as a LEGOLAND master builder by winning a contest. Parry and more than 100 other contestants built LEGO projects on deadline at a local mall, while interacting with the people watching.

“For the first round we were given some random LEGO pieces and told to build an animal in 30 minutes. I built a chicken, which advanced me to the second round.”

For the third round the 16 finalists were told to build something interactive. Parry blew away the competition by constructing a desktop computer and monitor with an ejectable floppy disc.

“If I have a particular strength, it’s in building moving and interactive things with LEGO bricks,” Parry explains.

Parry got his first LEGO kit when he was four. “It was a little package that came in a box of Cheerios,” he says. “I was hooked!”

Over the years his personal LEGO collection has grown to more than 350,000 pieces, which poses some interesting domestic challenges.

“My wife, Amanda [Bonness Parry ’07], has been great,” he says. “She’s helped me organize the blocks, and they’re all catalogued now.”

Asked if he has any advice for aspiring LEGO master builders, Parry says the keys are practice and perception.

“When I see things, I ask myself ‘how would I build that with LEGO bricks? How would I build that round car bumper out of square pieces? I think in Lego pieces.”