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How an ingenious alum became the UT Lego guy.
By Chris O'Connell
Photos by Saverio Truglia
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id you know someone built the UT Tower out of Legos?” the Lego Store associate at Barton Creek Mall said to Drew Finkel, BA ’08, this past July. All Drew could do was smile.

“That was me,” he said, trying not to show his eagerness.

Drew was back in Austin on a work trip, doing what he always does when he gets to a different city than his new home of Chicago—check out the Lego selection. He had recently completed a three-foot model of the UT Tower, which got him rave reviews when he shared it online, and on this day he was looking for pieces for his next project: DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium. As Drew was stocking up on tan pieces at the store for the stadium’s facade, the woman behind the counter was so impressed that she ran to the back to get her manager.

“That’s so cool,” she said, looking on as Drew shook the manager’s hand.

“I guess that’s what it’s like to be back in Austin,” Drew says. If not his name or reputation, then at least word of his masterwork had preceded him.

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young, successful sales and marketing professional who works remotely from his home office, Drew has a lot of energy and time alone. In a new city, one in which the winters are long and bitterly cold, he can get a little stir-crazy cooped up in an apartment all day.

One night, he was up late, missing Austin and missing UT. While reminiscing with a fellow alumnus online, he had an epiphany. “I’m going to build the UT Tower out of Legos,” he told his buddy. Drew grew up playing with Legos. He’d built structures using smaller sets, and had even built a Batmobile back when the Batman franchise was rebooted, but he had never done anything on this scale, especially without instructions.

He wanted that detail, he wanted everything perfect.

He started by looking at images of the Tower on Google Maps, but it wasn’t enough—he couldn’t make out the detail on the sides of the building. That’s when Drew and his wife Laura, BS ’10, turned a trip back to Texas to visit family into a research project.

“We laid on the south lawn,” Laura says. “We were being goofy just laying on the grass. He got really close to the bottom of the Tower, took a picture, and he said, ‘this is important.’ He wanted that detail, he wanted everything perfect.”

When Drew got back to Chicago, real-life Tower pictures in-hand, his model began to look true to life. Just as he got to the end, he had to leave town. A friend was coming to stay in their apartment, and the couple decided it would be best if Drew moved the Tower back into his adjoining office, to get it out of the way. Drew carefully picked the Tower up himself to transfer it a mere 10 feet away from the living room. He had barely begun his journey toward the open door when suddenly—

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The Tower was in thousands of pieces on his floor. Drew could only stare at the wreckage, crestfallen.

“Despair,” he sighs, as he recounts that moment. “It was a moment of despair and then, ‘well, it’s just Legos. I can put this back together.’ That’s the great thing about Legos.”

The “explosion,” as Drew calls it, was actually a blessing in disguise. He’d wanted to add lights—what good is a Tower if you can’t light it orange?—and this was the perfect opportunity. He purchased a remote-controlled LED light set for the final build. The Tower now glows on command.

camera iconDrew's Lego UT Tower is a three-foot-tall, incredibly detailed replica of the real structure.

“It’s burnt-orange all the time,” Drew says, “but it can flash disco lights too.”

Now, he’s completed both the Tower and DKR, and all it took was homesickness, a few late nights, and more than 50,000 Legos. And a very understanding wife.

“I love you!”

Drew shouts from the other room, grateful that he has a partner who’ll put up with Lego monuments that occupy about a quarter of their West Town living room.

“Stepping on Legos really hurts!” Laura says, looking as if she can still feel the sharp plastic digging into her foot.

“I love you!” Drew shouts from the other room, clearly sympathetic to her podiatric pain and grateful that he has a partner who’ll put up with Lego monuments that occupy about a quarter of their West Town living room. Laura even helped piece the Tower together during some frigid winter nights over a bottle of wine. Heck, the reason they dragged a heavy plastic tub of Legos across the country was because of Laura. She is a speech language pathologist, and she uses Legos in her classroom.

“I was at Drew’s house where he grew up in Austin, and I needed materials for my classroom,” Laura says. “I started using them with my students and then I started collecting more and more. I like to do things where kids have to ask for things, things that are going to get them to use specific language.”

camera iconThe facade of the stadium is comprised of thousands of tiny tan and white pieces that Drew tracked down.

Drew’s childhood collection of pieces was housed in the classic “big blue tub,” but what he initially estimated would be a couple thousand pieces needed to complete the Tower turned into approximately 13,000 culled from random sets and spare parts that he picked up online or in stores in Chicago, Austin, and Staten Island. He had to improvise, too, especially with DKR. When he posted the finished stadium to Reddit, one user asked, “Where’s Bevo? Where’s Old Smokey?” Drew was left scratching his head. Lego does not make a Longhorn or Big Bertha piece, or Old Smokey. He did research, talked to friends, and asked random Redditors for advice, hacking pieces using Laura’s razor-sharp scissors left over from when she sold Cutco supplies in high school. Bevo? A Lego cow synthesized with horns from the helmet of a viking Lego set. Big Bertha? A piece from a Lego drum set with a custom label he designed. Old Smokey? A Lego Civil War cannon with extra pieces for authenticity.

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photo captionDrew Finkel and his creation, which includes a scoreboard made from a tablet, which plays Texas highlights on a loop.

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photo captionDetail of the field at DKR, including Bevo, constructed from a Lego cow and part of a viking helmet.

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photo captionThe Lego DKR takes up about a large chunk of the Finkels' Chicago living room.

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ow, Drew is the UT Lego Guy, and not just to some scattered people online. The university has reached out to him via Twitter, and he’s agreed to let them borrow the stadium. For that to happen, he’ll have to break DKR into four to six pieces, fly down to Austin, and reassemble it. A certain restaurant in Austin—I can’t say which, until it is completed—has commissioned a facsimile of their building.

And the response from UT alums has been overwhelming. Texas Redditors want a piece of campus for their own living rooms. Many reached out to Drew asking if they could purchase either landmark, if there were instructions to build their own, or if they could buy them at the Co-op.

“It was really cool to see that there a lot of alums that were like, ‘That’s really awesome,’” Drew says. “Even people who went to OU and A&M said, ‘I went to OU, I went to A&M, I have nothing good to say about Texas, but wow, that’s impressive.’”


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