In Christchurch's quake-ravaged city centre, a bold new construction project is about to begin.

It won't comprise blocks of concrete or lengths of steel, but tiny bricks of plastic.

About 300kg of Lego - thought to be the biggest order of the kids' classic in New Zealand's history - has been shipped there to create the country's first Lego play and learning centre.

"We are offering 180sq m of Lego madness," said Dr Christoph Bartneck, a former Lego designer and co-founder of the Imagination Station, set to open tomorrow.

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The main aim of the centre, beyond offering hours of creative stimulation for young Lego lovers, was to bring kids back to the city centre.

The Lego company had supported the project by allowing such a huge order, and provided a third of the bricks for free.

"In addition we purchased a complete Lego classroom, which includes Lego Mindstorms sets with additional sensors and actuators," said Dr Bartneck, a member of LUG 4/2, the world's most southern Lego club.

When 13 new computers were factored in, the cost of the entire set-up came in at more than $64,000 - a third of that amount paying for the cost of the Lego. The children could opt to simply sit and make something from an "ocean of bricks" surrounding them, or tackle more complex projects.

One play area had been set up with large Duplo bricks for younger children, and another with regular bricks.

The centre would also provide semi-structured activities where kids might build a forest or compete to make the highest tower.

"These activities focus their attention on a topic, but still give them enough individual freedom to build their own designs."

More advanced programmes included courses on robotics, building virtual Lego or making Lego movies.

For Dr Bartneck, director of post-graduate studies at the University of Canterbury's Human Interface Technology Lab, Lego has been a life-long love.

By his early 20s, he had realised his boyhood dream of becoming a Lego designer at the company's offices in Billund, Denmark.

"Since then, I have used Lego for teaching programming at the university, and I also published several books on Lego minifigures."

The short-term hope for the Imagination Station, which has been supported by agencies including the Christchurch City Council and Lion Foundation, was to keep it open beyond the first half of this year, he said.

Dr Bartneck is also helping organise the annual Christchurch Brick Show, New Zealand's largest Lego exhibition, which will fill the city's Horncastle Arena with millions of bricks in July.

Numbers

300kg - of Lego has been ordered for New Zealand's first Lego play centre - thought to be the country's biggest order of the product.

$21,672 - worth of Lego will be available for free, including tens of thousands of bricks and advanced sets.

180sqm - space of the Imagination Station, which aims to bring kids back to Christchurch's quake-damaged city centre.