Born in 1981, Riccardo Zangelmi is the first and only Lego Certified Professional in Italy. With his Reggio Emilia-based company, BrickVision, he designs and creates models, mosaics and sculptures in LEGO® bricks for both private individuals and large companies, such as Ferrari, ING and Ducati. He even had a job with the US State Department a few months ago.
Every single brick is catalogued by shape, colour and size at his home studio in Reggio Emilia. “There must be about 4 million of them, each in a transparent box, stacked up to the ceiling, which is 6 metres high”. And just think, so many years ago he had a huge bag full of LEGO bricks in his bedroom.
The seed of his passion for them was planted, unsurprisingly, when he was just a little boy.
I must have had at least 20,000 pieces: even then, I was already fantasizing about exploring new and exciting worlds by inventing spaceships. That was my magic playtime.
From gardener to artist
As he grew up, however, Zangelmi graduated as a agricultural surveyor and then worked as a gardener for eight years. Then one day about five years ago, the spark rekindled when he walked into a toy shop to buy a present for his nephew. “I had chosen a box of Star Wars-themed LEGO, a model of the Millennium Falcon, the iconic spaceship with rotating upper and lower turrets, a lowering ramp and an opening cockpit. An absolute delight”. And the dormant dream of working with LEGO reawoke.
How to become a LEGO Certified Professional
He then decided to redefine his life. He applied on the LEGO website to become a LEGO Certified Professional (LCP). “There is no special training. You need to prove excellent building skills with bricks, and present a compelling business plan for your activity, focused on creating unique LEGO experiences and creations”, he explains. “In reality, just knowing how to build castles and ships will not cut it. A keen entrepreneurial mindset is also needed”.
It is by no means an easy selection: there are only 19 master builders in the entire world. They all share the common feature of using bricks as an artistic medium, creating sculptures, mosaics and events. The LEGO website posts the countries where it selects LCPs: there are currently two vacancies in Mexico and Russia.
Five hundred square metres of tidily arranged bricks
Five years after starting operations, BrickVision designs and creates 3D models, sculptures, mosaics and even LEGO-themed events. “I always start with a clear idea, but along the way my team and I often make changes and fine-tune with new details”. Imagination has no limits. The 500-square-metre workspace in Reggio Emilia showcases a kneeling man and a peace sign, an ant on a raft, fantasy flowers, swans, a puppet made of barrels, and a host of sculptures both large and small, ranging in size from a few centimetres to several metres. The weirdest request? “Building a flat out of bricks”.
From huge hands holding a tree to the NASA Mars Perseverance Rover
For the 2016 Lego Build The Change event, Zangelmi worked roughly 700 hours, taking over 150,000 bricks to build the two hazel-coloured hands that hold up a real tree. A few weeks ago, Zangelmi completed ‘Perseverance’, a sculpture commissioned by the US State Department as a gift to the Rabat government to mark the bicentennial of the first US diplomatic mission to Morocco. His work is a faithful reproduction of the rover that touched down on Martian soil on 18 February. “The US State Department sent me an e-mail asking for a 1:2 scale reproduction of Perseverance: 200 kg, for a model of roughly 170×200 centimetres”. The artist says that a four-person team spent 400 hours on the project, stacking approximately 110,000 coloured bricks.
A dream come true
Zangelmi gave up a stable job to devote himself to Brickvision. “It was a leap into the void because there was no precedent for an activity of this kind, but I don’t see it as a risky choice, but rather a courageous one”. His advice to our younger generations: “Turning a childhood toy into a job takes passion, dedication, enthusiasm, perseverance and the courage to explore the opportunities life brings us every day. And then, a vision“.