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University of Michigan alum’s LEGO Ann Arbor campus goes viral

Adam Mael estimates his model contains 30K LEGO pieces

LEGO model of U-M's central Ann Arbor campus by alumnus Adam Mael.
LEGO model of U-M's central Ann Arbor campus by alumnus Adam Mael. (Adam Mael)

ANN ARBOR – University of Michigan alumnus and current employee, Adam Mael, has been a fan of LEGO since he can remember.

The popular toy with ages 4-99 written on its classic sets has been used to create everything under the sun -- from the International Space Station to the Sydney Opera House. Now, U-M’s Ann Arbor campus can be added to that list.

“I think -- like a lot of kids -- I loved playing with LEGO,” said Mael. “The difference is I never really stopped. Eight-year-old me would be very proud of how this turned out.”

Mael said he posted pictures of the model on the Internet, not thinking much of it. A couple hours later the Alumni Association of the University of Michigan reached out and asked if they could share the pictures on their social media pages. Mael said he was surprised to see it soon got hundreds of shares, and continues to see it pop up on new sites.

Mael uses one of his dogs for scale.
Mael uses one of his dogs for scale. (Adam Mael)

“I genuinely did not expect the response it has gotten,” he said. "It’s incredibly flattering and I’m glad to see so many people enjoying it. Everyone could use some fun, interesting news right now and so many people have this common experience of playing LEGO when they were younger.”

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Mael started the project three years ago after getting the idea to design and construct the Burton Memorial Tower. One building led to another and he challenged himself to complete central campus.

“I absolutely fell in love with the university,” said Mael. “I was a tour guide as an undergrad and I developed a really deep interest in the campus and the history of the place.”

View from the southeast corner of the Diag.
View from the southeast corner of the Diag. (Adam Mael)

At the time, he and his wife were living in a small apartment, so he designed the model digitally and began building it in sections. After buying a house in 2018, Mael finally had the space he needed.

“That was when I really started to think ‘I actually have the room. I could build this if I wanted to,'” said Mael.

He continued to build the campus bit by bit until the pandemic hit in March. Working remotely and only leaving the house to enjoy the outdoors, Mael decided to finish it. He said that 50% of the model was built this year.

The northeast corner of campus with the Dana Building in front.
The northeast corner of campus with the Dana Building in front. (Adam Mael)

The model is brimming with trees and captures all the walkways of central campus, including the Diag. Mael estimates that 30,000-32,000 pieces of LEGO make up the model, which measures roughly 3.5 by 3.5 feet.

The model is made entirely of LEGO pieces, save for three stickers that he made to account for the American and block M flags on the flag pole on the north end of the Diag and the Diag’s iconic bronze block M.

The flag pole on the north side of the Diag.
The flag pole on the north side of the Diag. (Adam Mael)

He used Google Maps to scale the buildings and said that nearly every window in the Angell-Mason-Haven-Tisch complex is accounted for.

With the campus evolving, Mael plans to make little tweaks to the campus, like adding a custom tile with a block M on the Diag and a white cylinder in front of U-M’s Museum of Art to represent its newest outdoor installation of a Jaume Plensa sculpture.

When asked if he would ever sell it, he said he hadn’t really considered it. Based on the amount of LEGO alone, he estimated it is worth between $2,000-$2,500.

Mael's LEGO collection in his home includes sets that he's built and custom pieces he's designed, like a Michigan football and Wolverine winged helmet. He also designed a mosaic of the iconic Desmond Howard Heisman pose. He estimates he has up to 200,000 LEGO pieces in his collection.
Mael's LEGO collection in his home includes sets that he's built and custom pieces he's designed, like a Michigan football and Wolverine winged helmet. He also designed a mosaic of the iconic Desmond Howard Heisman pose. He estimates he has up to 200,000 LEGO pieces in his collection. (Adam Mael)

“It doesn’t do anybody good to have it sitting in the basement,” he said. “When it’s safe to do so, I’d love to see it displayed somewhere,” said Mael.

He said if the times were different, he would be showing it at the Ann Arbor District Library’s Annual LEGO Contest.

As for future plans, Mael said he is open to recreating more areas of campus. Lots of hours spent inside this winter means he will likely get up to something -- he just doesn’t know what quite yet.


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