Meet The Kansas Citian Who Gets Paid To Play With Legos

Jan 25, 2016

Joe Nunnink says he has "the greatest job in the world."  The Kansas City-native is the master builder at Legoland Discovery Center at Crown Center.    

Nunnink played with Legos as a kid, but had set the iconic toys aside for more ‘grown up” art utensils when he went to the Kansas City Art Institute to study animation. After graduating, Joe worked as a bank teller while searching for another job.

"I was looking for creative work and I saw that they were hiring a master builder and I kinda applied as a joke," Nunnink told host Gina Kaufmann on KCUR's Central Standard.

He put in his application and was invited to possibly the most fun (and nerve-wracking) job interview ever: a two-day Lego-building competition — and, of course, an interview.

The first competition was 30 minutes long and the theme was “Spirit of Kansas City.” Nunnink considered building a fountain, but after seeing the blocks available to him decided to build the Western Auto sign.

If you visit Crown Center, you can watch Joe Nunnink at work in his workshop.
Credit Sylvia Maria Gross / KCUR 89.3

The iconic Kansas City sign was enough to get Nunnink into the second round where the theme was “Under The Sea.” He built a whale washing up onto a desert island.

Nunnink says learning he had been selected as master builder was one of the most surreal moments of his life.  

"It was just overwhelming. A very strange moment," he says. He is still in awe that building Legos is actually his full-time job.

Nunnink says his days are spent working on small pieces for Legoland, planning events like a recent building competition for children and fixing existing projects. He always has a few projects going at a time. One of the bigger ones now in rotation is a model of Children’s Mercy Hospital.

That's a lot of Lego.
Credit Sylvia Maria Gross / KCUR 89.3

Before picking up a single brick, Nunnink spent weeks planning the build. He visited Children's Mercy multiple times to take pictures of the building and then drew out his plans — similar to how an architect would plan for a big project.

If you aspire to someday be a master builder, or you just want to up your Lego game, Nunnink has a few tips. First, Lego is actually plural. That’s right, technically you don’t have Legos, you have Lego. (But, keep saying Legos, because we all do.)  

Next, if you want to improve you just have to keep building. Nunnink thinks creative types should be constantly working in a variety of mediums to keep those muscles strong.

"As long as you have your hands full, you're going to stumble into something that's a lot of fun," he says.

He encourages young builders to think about projects in different ways. Don’t just pick up bricks and start sticking them together. Instead, he says, draw out plans and be intentional.

Joe says he has the greatest job in the world.
Credit Sylvia Maria Gross / KCUR 89.3

But don't put too much pressure on yourself. Nunnink says if you're not having fun you should knock the project to the floor and start over. 

After all, building Legos probably won't be your job any day soon, there are only 40 master builders in the entire world. 

Kyle J Smith is an intern for KCUR's digital team. You can find him on Twitter @kjs_37.