Dave Jungheim thinks it’s pretty cool that his kids got to grow up with a Mormon temple in their house.
“We have a picture of my two oldest in their little ballerina outfits sitting inside the walls of the temple when I was building it,” said Jungheim, who works in alumni relations for the BYU Marriott School of Management. “We had our kids, when they saw the Salt Lake Temple, saying, 'Papa, that looks just like your Lego temple!' without realizing that that came first.”
In 2014, the Deseret News published the Marriott Alumni Magazine's blog post about Jungheim’s building of a Salt Lake Temple out of Legos. It stands 6 feet tall with its wood base and is now showcased at the BYU Store.
After being featured in the blog post, which focused on teachers with interesting hobbies, Jungheim had three different camera crews from news stations at his house. The post was viewed over 113,000 times.
But this "master builder" hasn’t been resting on his laurels, nor would he want to. Since then, he has been working hard on new Lego projects.
Jungheim has been able to create a side business out of his Lego hobby. He's been spotlighted in about 18 magazines and appeared on television four times. All of his clients heard about his work through the media or a mutual connection.
“I’ve made enough (money) where my hobby pays for itself,” Jungheim said. "I can buy some really cool stuff, and it’s just a fun adventure and the kids love participating.”
Jungheim recently finished building the Salt Lake Tabernacle for a client, for whom he is also building all of Temple Square, complete with bluetooth-enabled lighting. He estimated the project will take 10 years to complete. Jungheim is also currently in the planning process of building a replica of the gold plates, which members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe is the ancient record from which the Book of Mormon was translated. To top it off, he recently completed a mosaic of BYU’s Tanner Building, which uses layering and slanted Legos to give it a textured, 3-D appearance.
A few of his nonreligious Lego projects include a game he made for his kids where players can race Lego Star Wars figurines across a board by turning a knob; a clock with dancing Lego people who spin their partners when the hands on the clock reach a certain point; and a conveyor-belt, speed-adjustable obstacle course.
However, it's his religious pieces that draw the most attention.
According to Jungheim, building the Tabernacle, which took 1,219.5 hours over a span of two years to complete, included its own opportunities and challenges. In researching how to build it, he realized that he came across many of the same obstacles that the original builders of the Tabernacle experienced — just on a much smaller scale.
“How do you put the roof on such a complex shape?” he said. “It looks super simple, but it’s not round; it’s parabolic. And it’s 9 feet thick, and they built it without nails. So I was trying to figure out: how do I do the trusses out of Lego, how do I do the shingles so that they look like the real shingles? And I was able to pull the whole thing off. … It was trial and error and waking up in the middle of the night with a new idea of how to do it.”
While building the Lego temple, Jungheim learned about certain symbolic shapes and pictures on the Salt Lake Temple and their meaning. Similarly, he found himself learning new things about the Tabernacle, like the fact that there is a baptismal font inside. He also met the ancestors of some of the original architects.
Despite the enormity of the task of building Temple Square, Jungheim seemed far more excited than intimidated by the prospect. He talked animatedly about his plans for the project, which will be about 10 by 10 feet when finished.
“It will be built modular so it can come apart and be moved because there’s no way you can get it through a door,” he said. “The Church Office Building will be just under 7 feet tall from the floor, and the footprint of it is six times that of the temple, so it’s a lot of space, but it’s super fun.”
The Temple Square model will consist of buildings like the North and West visitors centers, the Relief Society Building and the Beehive House.
On top of that, Jungheim’s creations will be featured in the L. Tom Perry Special Collections’ exhibit on religious Lego art at BYU.
Jungheim is currently looking to find other artists who express their religious beliefs through Legos and would like their art to appear in the exhibit. The religious art can reflect any religion.
“I would love for people to connect with me who would be willing to submit pictures and be considered as a featured artist,” he said.
It was Jungheim's wife, Catherine, who first suggested he build the Salt Lake Temple.
"It's fun to bring other people into seeing temples in a new light," she said. "It brings a fun element into it. It's not just this serious thing, but something that kids can relate to and can be relevent to them too."
Jungheim started making original Lego creations at 5 years old. As a former jet turbine engine mechanic and an Apache helicopter pilot in the military, Jungheim has experience in building and mechanics. In flight school, his instructor pilot, impressed with his knowledge of helicopter rotor systems, was surprised to learn that Jungheim’s expertise came from having built one out of Legos.
“I never did anything that people consider art,” Jungheim said. “Most people wouldn’t think that a guy in the military would be a super creative person or that you can pick up something like this later on in life."
In fact, Jungheim began ordering parts for his first Lego temple while serving in Afghanistan.
"In Afghanistan, when people found out that I was designing the Salt Lake Temple out of tens of thousands of Lego bricks, they usually made fun of me,” he said. “Until they actually saw it. Once they saw it, it was a totally different thing.”
Jungheim said he enjoys watching people view his Lego art work, especially families and children.
"I love just standing back out of the way so they don't really see me and just seeing the look on their face when they realize that it's Lego, because at a distance, at 10, 15 feet, it doesn’t look like Lego."
Jungheim said there's a lot more that goes into his projects than the building portion. Some of his required tasks include getting a bill of materials and going online to find the items on the different stores, counting individual parts when they arrive, making sure the order is right, and dealing with frustrated orders.
"It’s not a get rich quick scheme," he said. "It’s a lot of work."
At first Jungheim was hesitant to talk to curious media outlets when his Lego buildings began gaining popularity, but his wife encouraged him to share his belief that creativity is for everyone.
“One of my favorite Mormon Messages is President (Dieter F.) Uchtdorf’s on creativity, basically saying that we are the offspring of the most creative being in the universe,” he said. “It’s in our nature to want to create.
“I think a lot of people go through midlife crises because they are doing all the things they have to do, that it’s their duty to do, like bringing home the bacon or raising the kids, that they don’t have an outlet for their creativity, and it drives you bonkers. It’s easier now to be creative than ever before with everything that is out there.”
Jungheim believes it doesn’t matter how old someone is or what their career is. Anyone can be creative and develop a new passion.
Speaking of his work with Legos, he said, “When people realize it’s not a stock set, that it’s a completely original design and some guy who does university administration did it, they realize, 'I can do anything. I can be creative; I can build stuff.'”