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Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
A Lego version of the Angel Moroni stands atop a Lego Salt Lake Temple at the new "City Blocks" exhibit at The Leonardo in Salt Lake City on Saturday, March 17, 2018.

SALT LAKE CITY — When Ari Bruening thinks of the year 2050, he realizes his kids will be the age then that he is now.

That makes Bruening, the chief operating officer for Envision Utah, ask himself a few questions: Will they be able to get a job? Will they be able to breathe clean air? Will there be enough water for them? Will they be able to get around conveniently?

“Sometimes I get worried and say, ‘We need to do something!’” Bruening said. “And other times I feel a lot of encouragement that great things are happening, and the world could be very exciting for them. It’s a bit of a mixed bag.”

Two years ago, Envision Utah, a nonprofit city planning organization based in Salt Lake City, released “Your Utah, Your Future,” a massive study about what Utah might look like in 2050. Downtown Salt Lake City’s Leonardo Museum has brought this study to life in a new exhibit titled “City Blocks.” The Leonardo’s take is a little different, though: The exhibit has rendered downtown Salt Lake City in Lego bricks. From the Cathedral of the Madeleine to Temple Square, a handful of Salt Lake landmarks are there in Lego form.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
Karla Yescas, her niece Kimmy Lemieux, 2, Nuvia Mendoza and Nicole Yescas look at a Lego version of Temple Square at the new "City Blocks" exhibit at The Leonardo in Salt Lake City on Saturday, March 17, 2018.

These Lego re-creations are pretty intricate — meant for looking and not touching — but patrons can still get in on the action. During the exhibit’s first few weeks, attendees can help museum staff build a Lego re-creation of the Leonardo building itself.

“The topic is close to home — literally,” said Marissa Jones, the Leonardo’s director of content.

In the “Your Utah, Your Future” study, 11 different topics, ranging from air quality to housing to disaster resilience, were studied by 400 different experts. Utah is expected to double in population by 2050, so the study’s projections took that expected population into account.

Understandably, a Utah with twice as many people could look a lot different. The study outlined some possible scenarios for Utah’s future and surveyed more than 52,000 Utahns about which of these scenarios was most desirable. "City Blocks" tries to go beyond Lego re-creations, providing information from the study in a way that attracts museum patrons.

“City planning isn’t something that’s taught in schools necessarily,” Jones said. “But at the same time, it’s something that impacts us every single day. So what was really important for us was to bridge that connection for people.”

Still, those Lego landmarks are pretty great.

“The Cathedral of the Madeleine is going to blow people's minds,” said Drew Ehrgott, the Leonardo’s design director.

The cathedral recreation utilizes more than 35,000 Lego bricks. Its builder, Mariann Asanuma, said a piece like this takes her about five weeks to construct, with another two weeks just to gather the necessary pieces from physical stores and online vendors.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
Mariann Asanuma talks to guests about her Lego version of the Cathedral of the Madeleine at the new "City Blocks" exhibit at The Leonardo in Salt Lake City on Saturday, March 17, 2018. At right is the partial prototype of the cathedral, which Asanuma will build to completion at the exhibit of the next month.

According to Asanuma, Lego’s popularity reached a peak in 2014 after the release of “The Lego Movie,” which had a $69 million opening weekend and a total gross of $257 million, according to boxofficemojo.com. While Asanuma said that popularity has tapered off a bit, Lego has still benefitted from its original demographic (people who were kids in the 1980s) continuing the hobby into adulthood, as well as Lego licensing more and more lucrative themes such as Star Wars, Harry Potter and Marvel.

“Before the internet happened, we were all by ourselves in our own houses, playing with our Legos at home,” Asanuma said. “We didn’t know that there were clubs and conventions and people that did this for a living.

“If you collect action figures, you just put them on your shelf and you’re done,” she continued. “But if you collect Legos, you can create anything else. You can create anything you want, from spaceships to castles to mosaics. It’s not just a toy at that point. It starts becoming an art medium.”

Comment on this story

Although Envision Utah's “Your Utah, Your Future” study was meant to look at the state's future, Bruening is also aware of its past. Having grown up in West Valley City, he's seen a lot of changes firsthand and said Utah, and Salt Lake County, feel so different now from how they used to.

“When I was a kid, there were places that were the end of the earth to me,” he said. “And now they’re the middle of the action.”

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
Brothers Patrick, 2, and Joel Goeres, 4, build with Lego blocks at the new "City Blocks" exhibit at The Leonardo in Salt Lake City on Saturday, March 17, 2018.

If you go …

What: "City Blocks" Lego exhibit

Where: The Leonardo, 209 E. 500 South

When: Open daily, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

How much: Included with regular admission to the Leonardo

Phone: 801-531-9800

Web: theleonardo.org