An American summer in the 1980s, as Juditha Ohlmacher recalls, was when she redeemed her love for "LEGO". Juditha was on a vacation from her college. Her homecoming turned into a toy escapade as she found her long lost LEGO bricks in the attic.
Decades later, Juditha is married and settled in Bangladesh. She is a director at Gemcon Group, member of the board of trustees at University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (ULAB) and a mother. Her love for LEGO found a new meaning when she built an 8000-piece scale model in Bangladesh.
"I turned the Jatiya Sangsad," as Juditha put it in her sweet Bangla accent, "into a two feet by three feet LEGO model." She conceived the idea of a LEGO national parliament three years ago. On paper, it looked like a fun project. The hardest part? Hunting the right pieces of LEGO bricks.
"When you are building a national monument in LEGO, you have to be faithful to its original design," Juditha, who has a BA in Liberal Arts and an MA in Cinema Studies, says in a Zoom call. She had a hard time sourcing the bricks. Now that she has built multiple scale models of the parliament house; finally, the "how" behind this project has found an answer.
The official website of LEGO holds a voting competition every year. Anyone across the world can submit their original idea for a LEGO set. Once an entry reaches 10,000 votes, it is taken into further evaluation.
The likes of Burj Khalifa, Empire State building or Taj Mahal have their licensed versions in LEGO. Like these landmarks, even an average Joe can get their LEGO design approved and manufactured by LEGO. However, it is easier said than done.
While evaluating a design, the number one question the company asks is: will people buy this product? Unless the design has a sizable market demand, LEGO is not likely to go into production.
In the last two years, Juditha had run quite a campaign to get votes for our national parliament LEGO model. Just a couple of days before we sat for an interview with her, she had finally reached the 10,000 vote cap.
"I think I have done my part. My idea for the LEGO set has reached the required votes. The scale model will now be evaluated by the LEGO authority. They usually take six months to greenlight an idea," a hopeful Juditha says.
Juditha has done a lot of legwork to get the votes. What happens now? Well, she said at the end of the day, LEGO sets are a product. A company will only venture into a project if there is a potential customer base.
"LEGOs are not exactly an affordable toy for every Bangladeshi household. But there are other ways to look for a solution," Juditha hints at Bangladeshi expats - who are away from their native land for a long period. "Expat Bangladeshis could be the customer base for a LEGO national parliament," she suggests.
Patriotism with a dash of nostalgia - that's what a LEGO national parliament can offer to the expats. Not to mention the joy of building the structure brick by brick.
Juditha told us about the moment she found out she had to rebuild the LEGO parliament. Not from square one, but a big part of it. After she was allowed a visit inside the parliament premises, she found out that the octagonal portion inside the parliament was not done in the right way on her scale model. "I built the LEGO parliament wrong, but then I rebuilt it much better," Juditha says.
You must be a LEGO collector yourself? Juditha nods. She showed us a LEGO Hogwarts castle through her webcam. The gigantic structure is a dream come true for any Harry Potter fan. "I love Ghostbusters too, I also have a LEGO set of this movie," Juditha geeks out.
Since it solely depends on the LEGO company to decide whether they will produce the parliament building as a model set, Juditha wants to make more scale models of other national landmarks. "I think I'll make a LEGO version of the Smriti Soudho," Juditha spilled out her next plan.
"Due to the shape of LEGO bricks, it will be quite challenging to create a model of the Smriti Soudho," she added.
Juditha had only been twice inside the national parliament. But do the people who work at this place- obviously, to run this country, know about her project? Have you ever shown the LEGO set to any member of the parliament? We asked.
"Yes," she replies, saying, "A number of parliamentarians, both former and current, have seen my LEGO set. Asaduzzaman Noor, Dipu Moni and Junaid Ahmed Palak are some of them."
As we neared the end of the Zoom call, Juditha reiterated that if the national parliament indeed becomes a LEGO set, there is no personal agenda for her. "I only did it because Bangladesh and the architect of the parliament building, Louis I Kahn, should be highlighted globally, even if it's at a toy store," Juditha said.
Nathaniel Kahn, the filmmaker and son of Louis I Kahn, has made a documentary about his father called "My Architect: A Son's Journey." Juditha has already tweeted to him about the LEGO parliament.
Maybe a retweet from him can be of some help, Juditha wishes.