Brick by brick Brick by brick

LEGO Masters judge Ryan McNaught talks his favourite builds and how you can create like a contestant.

What did you want to be when you grew up? A doctor? A fireman? What about someone who plays with LEGO for a living? It’s the kind of job your child self would never have believed possible, yet that’s exactly what Ryan McNaught—also known as ‘Brickman’—does every day.

One of just 14 ‘LEGO Certified Professionals’ in the world, Ryan shot to Australian fame when he turned a lifetime’s worth of incredible LEGO building skills into judging masterpieces made of mini bricks on reality show LEGO Masters in 2019. But, like so many of us, he’s been a LEGO lover since he was young.

“I got my very first LEGO set for my third birthday from my grandmother and it was 29c,” he tells Costco Connection. “LEGO’s changed a little bit since then! They didn’t even have LEGO people—it was just the building bricks.”

LEGO tech has evolved a lot since the basic bricks were invented 62 years ago, and the toy’s popularity has only grown. Whether you’re following instructions or letting your imagination run wild, LEGO is still entertaining kids (and kids at heart) all over the world.

“It allows children to be creative. They can build whatever they want to build and then a week later they can turn it into something else,” explains Ryan. “I look at what my kids do; one day they might build a train and the next day it’s a forest and the next day it’s a spaceship. LEGO allows them to do that.”

It is also a learning tool, adds Ryan—just don’t tell the kids! “There is an educational component to LEGO—they’re learning things like fine motor skills and STEM [science, technology, engineering and maths],” he explains. “It’s also a very healthy hobby for a kid to have—it’s a very creative, positive way to spend their time.”

Ryan McNaught next to Lego wall
Kids playing Lego
Lego bricks

Can we build it?

This is part of the reason Ryan decided to pen Brickman’s Family Challenge Book. “With the popularity of LEGO Masters, people ask me all the time how they can do some of what they’re seeing on TV at home. They want to know if they can do any of the challenges. So the idea for the book evolved from there.”

The book is a compilation of 30 different LEGO build challenges, all of which can be completed by beginner, intermediate or advanced creators—meaning there are endless hours of fun for LEGO lovers of every level. It’s also packed with the Brickman’s own pro tips—not to mention a ‘know your bricks’ glossary to make sure you get the most out of the challenges.

And, yes, every single challenge has been carefully tried out by Ryan and his family! “To write the book, we had to test all the challenges, so the kids have been subjected to doing them all a few times!” he laughs. “Obviously LEGO plays a bigger part in my life than perhaps other people’s, but certainly when we’re stuck inside—particularly during lockdown in Melbourne—those challenges really helped us pass the time.”

Of course, at its heart, LEGO is about having fun, so if Ryan’s kids don’t feel like doing a mega build, they don’t have to. “If we are going to do LEGO together, it’s whatever they want to do,” he says. “You have to let kids be kids! I’ll play with them and get involved in whatever it is they’re doing but I won’t force anything on them—that’s not how LEGO works.”

Toddler building Lego tower
Ryan McNaught holding Lego brick
Hands building Lego house
Lego house

Yes, we can!

But while he lets his children’s imaginations run wild, a lot of thought goes into Brickman’s professional builds. “A lot of research and planning goes into a big build, particularly the really huge ones—life-sized cars, for example, take months,” he explains. “You have to understand what you’re trying to build really well; you can’t just pick up a brick and go for it.”

So what kind of challenges does Ryan like to sink his teeth into? “My favourite thing is doing LEGO in unexpected ways; creating things people don’t think LEGO would be. For example, I’ve made giant flowers in gardens, and I did a Christmas tree in the square in Melbourne,” he explains. His favourite build ever? “I’ve been doing it for quite a long time so I’ve built a lot of things!” he laughs. “But the one that sticks out in my mind is the Colosseum [in Rome]. To make something oval shaped out of squares and rectangles is really quite a difficult thing.”

And his biggest project? “A rocket—it will take me to Mars eventually!” he laughs. “It’s enormous. It’s 7.5 metres high, so that took a very long time to build—the better part of three months.”

With so many amazing structures and no wrong way to build, there really is something for everyone. “I think the fun thing about the book is that those challenges can be done in a million different ways,” says Ryan. “If you look at the contestants on LEGO Masters, even though they all have the same challenge, they all make totally different things and the builds in the book capture that idea, too.”

It’s also about learning new skills along the way. “The challenge might be to build the tallest tower, but the second time that you build it, it’ll be taller again because you’ll have learnt something new the first time,” says Ryan. “That is key for me.”


Mastering the small screen

If you haven’t watched LEGO Masters yet, grab the remote because this is one reality show worth watching! “Even though we’re a reality show, we’re not nasty,” insists Ryan. “It’s all very positive and everyone’s there to support each other—and that’s another key thing about the book, too. It’s about being positive.” But, Ryan admits, he doesn’t like watching himself on TV!

“It’s pretty embarrassing!” he laughs. “I don’t know if you get used to it; I mean, I’m still very nervous, but it’s not like I’m a mega celebrity. I don’t get recognised in the street!”


Challenge: accepted!

Try this challenge with the whole family!

Lego tower and bricks

Build the tallest tower

This challenge is not as simple as it sounds. When you attempt to build the tallest tower you can in 10 minutes, it must be strong and sturdy, and not topple over. This is not just a challenge about piling bricks up on top of each other; instead, it’s about ensuring that the tower won’t fall easily. You will need to build it nice and strong so that it doesn’t wobble or collapse.

Challenge rules

• Set the timer when you start, and hands off when the buzzer goes.
• Using the regular everyday bricks you have, make something that is not only tall, but won’t topple over easily.


Originally published in The Costco Connection, May/Jun 2021. Pick up the latest copy at your local warehouse or read it online.