Legoland California is so sun-drenched and close to the coast that the sea breeze is part of the guest experience, and the fabricators had to use salt- and UV-resistant finishes. The $130 million park, self-financed by Denmark-based Lego, one of the world's largest toy manufacturers, is located in Carlsbad and geared specifically towards youngsters ages two-12. Its 40-odd attractions are all tied to the basic Lego brick or other Lego playsets and the Lego concept of educational, child-in-charge play. Legoland California is the third Lego park and the first in the US. The first opened in Billund, Denmark three decades ago, followed by Legoland Windsor, which opened outside of London in 1996.

"Lego decided in the early 1990s to go into the park business full blown, with an initial scheme of building a new park every three years to form a network of 15 properties," says Ian Sarjeant, who as Legoland attractions director has worked on both the Windsor and California parks. He reports that Lego is now looking at sites in Germany and Japan, and a decision will be made in August.

Projected attendance at Legoland California for the first year is 1.8 million. But phenomenal attendance records and packed grounds aren't the priority: learning through play is. To support that, Legoland endeavors to keep guest numbers low enough that people can enjoy the park with a minimum of waiting and crowding. Attendance is spread out over the year through advance sales; and the park closes its gates when full. "Lego has never tried to be a high capacity facility," says Randy Smith of Jack Rouse Associates (JRA), which did master planning for both the California and Windsor parks. "They want it to be comfortable for families and children."

Legoland is not a thrill ride venue. Most rides put a child in the driver's seat to get a taste of experiences that in real life are reserved for adults. In Sky Patrol, they maneuver life-sized versions of Lego helicopters; in Skipper School, they control small boats; at the Kid Power Tower, they hoist themselves up towers; in Driving School, they operate small cars. The theatrical shows at the Village Theatre, the Magic Theatre, the Lego Show Place, Courtyard Theatre, and Fun Town Stage all incorporate audience participation.

The park is divided into themed zones: The Beginning (entrance); Village Green; The Ridge; The Lake; Fun Town; The Garden; Castle Hill; Miniland; and The Imagination Zone. Uniquely themed retail areas, selling park visitors' necessities as well as licensed products and souvenirs, include The Big Shop, Brick Brothers, King's Market, and The Marketplace. The retailing was designed by TSL Design Group of Los Angeles, which also devised custom fixtures for the stores.

The design brings a child-oriented scale and sensibility to everything. Windows are set close to the ground, restaurants have low counters, restrooms include miniature sinks and toilets. Throughout are the distinctive, rich and bright Lego colors, and humorous touches with child appeal. A giant cotton swab cleans a presidential ear in the re-creation of Mt. Rushmore. Ruby's Cool Club features a performance by life-sized animatronic rock musicians. It is distinguished on the outside by the colorful truck (upon which kids love to climb) that appears to have crashed through the wall.

Lexington Scenery and Props fabricated the Cool Club truck, along with numerous other elements throughout the park. These include scenery such as the storybook settings along the banks of the Fairy Tale Brook boat ride and the settings for The Dragon, a combination dark ride and roller coaster set in the Legoland Castle on Castle Hill. Lexington also built ride vehicles such as the Sky Patrol helicopters, and fabricated the environments of the Adventurers' Club, a walk-through, solve-the-mystery interior that includes a rain forest scene, a mummy's tomb, and an ice cave. And Lexington brought into being the playful Welcome/Goodbye vehicle, a modified golf cart driven around the park by two goofily costumed employees, one at the wheel and the other pointing a water squirter at the guests. Animated features on the vehicle include a monkey, propellers, noisemakers, and blinking lights. "Lexington was our biggest supplier of scenic elements, and their shop people are very talented," says Sarjeant. "They were working off drawings somewhere between the conceptual and the schematic level."

Under the direction of the Santa Monica office of HOK Studio E, the project's architect of record, Lexington followed the official Lego color palette strictly. "They called out every single color and specified where and how," says Lexington co-owner Frank Bencivengo. Because the colors match existing Lego product colors, the client specified they be as exact and lasting as possible. To make the colors hold in the Southern California seaside weather, Lexington used special UV-inhibitor paints and anti-bleaching agents and coatings. Steel components had to be powder-coated, the paint baked on to resist chipping and peeling.

Lexington made use of steel frameworks with exterior-grade particle board, medium-density fiberboard (MDF), fiberglass, and fiberglass/cement mix. The decorative shields found in the Castle Zone, for instance, are made of layered 3/4" MDF. Overlaid on the shields are relief designs produced with a computerized router. Lexington uses a Multi-Cam Pro 102 router, controlled by a Computer Numeric Control workstation running Alpha-Cam Advanced Router software to cut motifs of wood, metal, foam, and other materials.

Lexington fabricated the Legoland Castle and the Adventurer's Club mostly of fiberglass sheet goods. To simulate the look and feel of mortared stone walls, individual molds were created for several courses of stonework, which were replicated with a fiberglass/cement mixture and stacked in place. "Fiberglass and cement together gives a harder feel and heavier sound than fiberglass alone--more like solid rock when you thump it, grittier to the touch and more authentic for areas of public interaction," explains Bencivengo.

Working directly for Legoland, The Nassal Co. built a series of towers for the park, including a pair at the entrance and several around the Kids Power Tower ride. Working with fiberglass, aluminum lighting trusses, and wood products, Nassal built towers from 15' to 40' high that appear to be made of giant Lego bricks at a 50:1 scale. Revchem Plastics supplied gel coat paint in custom colors with UV inhibitors mixed in, which Nassal applied and topped off with a coat of finish wax.

Lego characters perch on some of the towers. These were cast of fiberglass using a rotocaster. Nassal prefabricated these and all the tower elements in its Orlando shop. According to Bill Nassal, after fashioning the molds from MDF models, at the client's request Nassal hand-laid the bricks instead of using a chop gun in order to maintain a consistent thickness. Nassal also built a number of interior and scenic sets, including the sets, mechanisms, and characters for the Kids in Charge show.

One feature of Legoland California that's entirely new for any Lego park is themed lighting design. Due to differences in seasonal attendance, climate, and time zone, the earlier parks are purely outdoor experiences, and not open at night. To figure out how to express Lego in the language of light, JRA brought Gallegos Lighting onto the conceptual design team for the park about three years ago.

"The lighting concept took several months to develop and as it developed, so did the budget," reports Pat Gallegos. "We established a different lighting concept for each area, based on its theme." Gallegos was also responsible for determining circulation and safety lighting, lighting for attractions and theatrical lighting for indoor shows, restaurants, and retail spaces.

In the Castle area, which includes The Dragon ride, The Royal Joust (a medieval jousting ride on mechanical horses); and The Hideaways playground/climbing adventure, the theme is "the child as explorer." To set the overall mood, Gallegos used fire and moonlight. Fire in a medieval setting was simulated using incandescent sources on flicker circuits, set into the trees as if passing knights had hung their lanterns there. Simulated moonlight was created with landscape washes and lights in the trees to imitate lunar light hitting the treetops. Two different fixtures were used for the moonlight: Lumiere PAR-30 metal halide lights, mounted on 16' poles, and 250W floodlights from Kim Lighting, set on the ground to uplight castle facades and berms. Both have blue filters from Special FX Lighting Inc.

In the Imagination Zone, which contains high-tech and computer-based Lego attractions, Gallegos installed 15 custom Cyberlight(R) automated luminaires from High End Systems. New York-based Tempest Lighting developed the Hurricane Lighting enclosure for the lights. "Cyberlights are interior-use only," explains Gallegos design associate Karl Haas. "We went to various manufacturers looking for a weatherproof enclosure that would be aesthetically pleasing. Tempest did a wonderful job coming up with a futuristic-looking sheath with complete internal environmental control." The enclosures are mounted on double truss goalposts and painted blue. The trusses are glossy black, set off by other area fixtures in bright yellow.

Gallegos' lighting workhorses were the small, intimate fixtures from Lumiere Design that make up a major part of the landscape lighting, as well as a number of higher wattage exterior lights from Kim Lighting. ETC was a major supplier of theatrical fixtures and dimmers. ETC's architectural lighting control system, Unison, runs the park lighting system of ETC sensor dimmer racks and MicroLite DMX relay panels.

Gallegos brought in Zinger Consultants to specify and install various fiber-optic features in the park, such as a fountain enhancement. Some of these effects used products from Lumenyte International Corp.

"Lego was a very sophisticated client," remarks Gallegos. "They have a well developed philosophy pertaining to their product and guests, and they were open to what we had to teach them. We received valuable, early support from a number of people in the design group, who lobbied for awareness of lighting at the design stage, and adequate funding. As a result, the lighting really supports the project. It succeeds in making the nighttime experience of the park an attraction in its own right."

Edwards Technologies Inc. (ETI) of El Segundo, CA, was brought onto the Legoland project team early in the design phases, and contributed design, engineering, and installation of audio, video, and show control for the majority of the attractions. According to ETI's John Brandt, who assisted project manager Andrew Shephard, the system engineered for the Lego Showplace production is especially intricate. The show, titled Kids in Charge, relates a family comedy of errors by way of video projection, and features a sophisticated video setup with multiple playback options responding to cues based on audience reactions.

At several points during the show, the audience is asked to choose among three possible directions for the story. As each option is named for the vote, it is designated by a huge floating image onstage. The Mylar screen for this projected effect was supplied by German company Musion. Four microphones hanging from the ceiling monitor take in the audience responses. A Peavey Media-Matrix digital audio processor interprets the information. Guests view the results on the "Scream-O-Meter" display ETI built of construction barricade lights, while the show control system seamlessly selects and plays the appropriate audio and video segment using ETI's proprietary server technology. "There's a complicated logic involved in determining which audience response is highest," explains Brandt. "The system has to listen, take samples, and compare them to one another to make a relative judgement--a more intricate job than comparing against a predetermined standard."

The show is projected in high resolution video with a pair of NEC XL-3500 DLPs. A single show control system runs the A/V, raises and lowers the animatronic character, directs the animated props, sends cues to the lighting controller, operates the projectors, and even takes care of ancillary jobs such as opening and closing the theatre doors and turning on the house lights. Most of the show control elements were engineered with equipment from Alcorn McBride. "ETI played an instrumental role in designing, ensuring compliance, procurement, and installation," says Sarjeant. "They gave essential input to our creative people and supported our goal of taking reliable components and putting them together in a unique way." State-of-the-art communications travel fiber-optically through Legoland California. The Trinity Group, a Tracy, CA-based design and engineering consulting firm, was hired to design a comprehensive package of networked systems.

"Trinity provided the fiber-optic backbone and other systems, such as Edwards' show control, tied into that," says Sarjeant. In general, future parks will reflect the technological sophistication of Legoland California in the use of lighting, audio, show control, and state-of-the-art networks. "It's more user-friendly, more maintenance-friendly, and it's where technology is going," says Sarjeant. "It makes troubleshooting easier and has been very successful in terms of serving the visitors and minimizing down time."

The scope of Trinity's work included designing the cabling infrastructure and specifying equipment for the park's distributed audio paging system, telecommunications system, computer networks (administrative and point-of-sale purchase systems), security system, and building management controls, including lighting and sprinkler system controls. John Moore, principal and head designer at Trinity, specified a RAVE system from Costa Mesa, CA-based QSC Audio Products.

Scott Kalarchik, QSC's audio design liaison who worked with Irvine-based Greater Alarm to install the systems, describes the benefits of the fiber network. "RAVE is ideal for transmitting audio over long distances--a key benefit in this application. RAVE can transmit up to 64 channels of digital audio via a 100baseTX optical fiber up to 1.24 miles (2km). The system is free from ground loops, and is highly immune to noise and EMI."

A typical park-wide announcement originates at the central control room near the entrance of the park. Prerecorded announcements are played on an Alcorn McBride digital bin loop with analog outputs. Signals are routed to a RAVE161 unit, which can receive up to 16 analog inputs, and to an Atlas Soundolier monitor panel, which allows the user to monitor the signal before it enters the RAVE161. The RAVE161 converts the analog signal to digital and uses Peak Audio's CobraNet(TM) technology to transmit the digital signal via standard fast ethernet media and hardware. CAT-5 cable links the RAVE161 pair of QSC FE 2/4 fast ethernet hubs equipped with built-in media converters. The hubs route the digital signal through eight fiber output ports and the signal travels over the fiber network to eight equipment rooms located throughout the park. A Fiber Option media converter converts the fiber-optic cable back to CAT5 that feeds a RAVE160 unit, which converts the signal back to analog. The signal is then sent to a QSC CX4T amplifier and the amplified message is sent along a 70V line to low-profile, mushroom-shaped speakers that blend in with surrounding greenery.

While many American theme park builders have taken their products overseas, it's uncommon for the reverse to happen. But Lego has developed a unique park that is consistent with itself, its predecessors, and the product that engendered it, and well tailored to its American surroundings. The California incarnation represents the most polished product to date and the closest thing to a Lego park formula.

"Coming into an established theme park market like Southern California was the real test case," says Sarjeant. "Now that we've been up and running for a few months, we know where to focus and where to adjust. We're currently working on a high-level master plan that can be taken anywhere, localized, and updated in terms of operating technology and the Lego product line. The basic model will be more akin to Legoland California than either of the previous parks. We also now have a strong network of consultants, designers, and vendors, some of whom have worked on two or more of the parks."