Habitat for Humanity – Brick for Brick


At the Interior Design Show Toronto – January 22-24, 2016

It’s always been the dream of every kid playing with toy bricks growing up – to build a full-sized house. A house big enough to walk into, with multiple rooms, brick-built furniture, and even a TV! Well what better way to finally fulfill that dream than by building it for an amazing cause?

This is the story of Habitat for Humanity’s Brick for Brick house.

I am a very fortunate and blessed person. I get to play with toy bricks all day, and encourage and inspire others to have fun and be creative. It is something that I really cherish.

I am also fortunate in many other ways – I recognize that I was born into circumstances where I do not have to worry as much about essential needs as many others around the world have to do, such as clean drinking water or an accessible education.

I get to build some really cool things – but with there are many people out there who are using their building skills to create homes for those who are in need. Even in a wealthy country like Canada, 1 in 5 families are living in unstable housing conditions – that’s 1.5 million families in need of safe, decent, affordable shelter.

In July of 2015, I was approached by Habitat for Humanity Canada with an idea – they wanted to highlight the need of for affordable housing for families across Canada in a striking and different way by building a giant house out of Mega Bloks that would. They had all sorts of building experts on their team, and Mega Bloks had already agreed to donate all of the materials, but they had a huge gap – they did not know how to build something so massive out of toy bricks or even how to estimate how many bricks they would need.

What they needed was someone who had my skill set and expertise in working with toy bricks and building models on massive scales.

The goal was to build a house over 200 square feet in size – much smaller than a typical Canadian home, but still bigger than many homes that Habitat for Humanity builds around the world.

I knew from the beginning that this was going to be my biggest building challenge ever. I had built large constructions, but never anything as large as an entire house. Further, most of my background in building is in using LEGO and DUPLO brand bricks, not as large as the much bigger Mega Bloks.

When it comes to building, I have learned one important lesson – there’s nothing so complex that it can’t be built. The walls were easy, but it was the roof that was the real problem. Could the bricks support the roof?

Putting that aside, I did all of the work necessary to determine the design and number of bricks needed, plus a few extra for good measure. After completing all of the designs and math necessary, I circled back to the problem of the roof – no house would be complete without a roof, but how could I ensure that I could keep the roof from collapsing?

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BrickManGraeme with Terry Petkau, National Director for Safety and Building with Habitat for Humanity Canada

Enter Terry Petkau, the National Director for Safety & Building Programs with Habitat for Humanity Canada. Bringing over 45 years of construction experience, Terry brought a wealth of knowledge to the table – and came up with a clever solution to our roofing problem. By working with a partner company of Habitat for Humanity, Terry was able to have some customized, lightweight steel channels designed to help support the roof structure of the build.

We had a plan, but we still had to test it out before what would be our launch: the Interior Design Show at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

upload1.jpgWorking out of a warehouse over a period of two days, Terry and I led a team of dozens of Habitat for Humanity Canada volunteers to build our design. We built, tore apart, and rebuilt the house several times until we achieved our goal – and the result was a resounding success. The bricks held, the steel supported, and the house looked wonderful. The test build was a success, and we knew we were ready for the real deal.

The materials were packed and sent to the convention centre – over 38 000 Mega Bloks. In addition, the final build had customized lighting that Terry and I installed and set up, wall to wall carpeting installed, and of course, some brick-built furniture for good measure.

A time lapse of the build


A view from up on the scaffolding while building the roof of the house


All finished and ready for the press – including Habitat logo built into a mosaic on the roof


A table and a set of chairs large enough for people to sit on


A TV stand and a nice comfy yellow chair


People mingling and socializing in front of the house


BrickManGraeme with Mark Rodgers, CEO of Habitat for Humanity Canada

If all of the bricks from the house were stacked on top of each other, they would reach over 1.3 km in height – more than twice the height of the CN Tower here in Toronto. It took nearly 50 Habitat staff and volunteers over 250 hours to construct.

Based on the sheer volume of the bricks, this build represents the largest toy brick built structure ever built in Canada. More importantly, it was built entirely by those who wanted to share Habitat’s message of helping families in need.

While many attended the design show to discuss various luxury features for their homes, these same people were drawn in by the bright colours and playfulness of the house, and began engaging in meaningful conversation about the plight of poverty in Canada, North America, and around the world. It went beyond being simply a model of a house, but encouraged people to model the spirit of generosity, charity, and goodwill to others.

I am so proud to have been a part of this process with Habitat for Humanity Canada, and thank them, Cossette Communications, and all the parties involved in helping to create not only this house, but houses for Canadians across the country.

For more information on Habitat for Humanity Canada, the Brick for Brick program,  and how to donate, visit www.habitat.ca/brickforbrick/

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