UVA Arts, University of Virginia

Vol 18 Spring 24 Library
Architecture student Ben Edlavitch has a side hustle at a new Lego-themed store in Charlottesville called “Bricks and Minifigs.” (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)

Bridging Gaps One Brick at a Time

by Rachel Fenner, UVA Exchange Student '24

It's the first episode of LEGO Masters Season 4. The contestants wait in anticipation as their host finally announces their challenge: Brick Lake. The contestants hurry to their stations and start constructing their own LEGO barges, which need to not only look fantastic but also float on water. A Grandson and his Grandpa are among the contestants, fusing together their own stylistic vocabularies from the new and the old. Their names are Ben and Poppy. 

You can take the world apart and put it back together in a way that makes it better. Its most inspiring quality is its ability to help you see the world differently.

Ben Edlavitch is an architecture student at the University of Virginia. His passion for architecture was born out of his love for LEGO. Having transitioned beyond their initial toy status, LEGO bricks have inspired adults and children alike, with both searching far and wide for the most challenging sets. This is because, for many, being a LEGO creator means being an architect and an engineer. With LEGO, Ben says, "You can take the world apart and put it back together in a way that makes it better. Its most inspiring quality is its ability to help you see the world differently. "

Ben's passion for architecture and LEGO was recognized by a casting agent from the FOX game show LEGO Masters. Candidates are recruited in pairs, which was only natural for Ben since his Grandpa had played a role in cultivating his engineering and architectural passions. 

From a young age, Ben would help repair his Grandpa's 1929 Model A Ford. Poppy also had several careers adjacent to architecture, previously working as an industrial Arts teacher in Richmond. With a longstanding history of teamwork and shared interests, the pairing was a no-brainer. 

David “Poppy” Levine and his grandson, Edlavitch, are the first grandfather-grandson duo on “LEGO Masters.” In this episode, they were charged with building a pet palace for Tiger, an adoptable orange tabby kitten.
(Photo: courtesy of Fox Entertainment)

Watching the show reveals their organic chemistry, which is something the pair highlights through their chosen theme of 'bridging generations.' In the Brick Lake challenge, Ben and Poppy's barge fused the old and the new. Titled 'US Fusion,' the barge took on the facade of an old steamboat but modernized itself with a nuclear reactor. Commenting upon it in the show, Ben said that 'it's sustainability, it's bridging the generations, that's what we hope to convey." With Poppy pulling inspiration from an antique aesthetic and Ben taking from a modern concept, the two easily complement one another. 

When I spoke to Ben, he revealed the benefits of working in a pair. "It helped to have somebody else pitching ideas," Ben said, "because sometimes an idea only makes sense to you." Ben also noted that his and Poppy's unique connection offered an advantage that some of the other teams did not have. 

Yes, of course, Edlavitch has done a from-scratch build of the Rotunda.
(Photo: Ben Edlavitch)

Luckily, the show's format never challenged their relationship. Ben revealed that intense deadlines and intimidating feedback were the most challenging aspects of the experience. In fact, Ben compares the show's format to an architectural curriculum, with a few notable exceptions. "Instead of having a week for a project, you have ten hours," he said, "and instead of your professors, you have Will Arnett, and instead of a pass/fail grade, you are trying not to get booted off the show." Ben faced these challenges by taking his Grandpa's advice: Stay present and follow through.

Acting as an anchoring force, the relationship carried them through the show. With a unique understanding of intergenerational dynamics and an impressive skill set, Ben's future looks bright. His time on the series showed audiences his architectural capabilities. One audience member was the Governor of Richmond, who was so impressed with Ben's work that he commissioned Ben to build a LEGO model of the Executive Mansion. This month, he further helped by featuring Ben and Poppy in a video with the Governor for National LEGO Building Day. Ben will soon be working with a furniture company in Richmond, aspiring to furnish the first LEGO factory being built in North America. No doubt Poppy will be a quick phone call away with advice. 

The success of Ben and his Grandpa testifies to the importance of intergenerational connection. Over the past few decades, rapid technological and socio-political change has put even more distance between age groups, encouraging neighbouring generations to disconnect from one another. With a passion for architecture and a few LEGO bricks, this familial duo has effortlessly shown us all how to bridge that infamous generational gap by building something that truly lasts.

Edlavitch shows off a LEGO build at Charlottesville’s new store, Bricks and Minifigs, located at The Shops at Stonefield.
(Photo: Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)
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