In a workplace where water-cooled, overclocked PCs aren’t just tolerated, but encouraged…. where employees stockpile automatic Nerf guns and wield two-handed Nerf broadswords in meetings…where flat-screen encrusted cubicles loom like something out of the ‘Matrix’… Chris Holmes’ corner at NVIDIA’s headquarters sticks out.
It’s here where two great geek cultures — Lego and Star Wars — intersect in such monumental fashion that it’s become a navigational aid, the quick-witted engineering manager explains as he sits at his cube with his feet dangling in an inflatable pool filled with colorful rubber balls.
That’s because if you’re going anywhere on the first floor of his building, all you have to do is look for the collection of enormous Star Wars Legos space vessels perched atop Holmes’ cube to orient yourself. It’s a collection worth hundreds, perhaps thousands, of dollars.
“I’ve had a frightening number of people who drop by my cube just to say ‘hi,’ to either see the Legos or to, um, show their children,” Holmes says. “It certainly has made it easy to find me and it’s a great conversation starter.”
Chris, 32, who sports a youthful mop of curly black hair, isn’t shy about being a geek. ”I’m the king of the geeks,” he says cheerfully. Chris founded NVIDIA’s board games club and helps lead its in-house StarCraft team.
And this king is happy to hold court to discuss everything from his taste in science fiction (Dan Simmons’ Hyperion cantos, which he keeps on his desk, are perhaps “the best science fiction I’ve ever read”) to his passion for Babylon 5.
Don’t be fooled by his easygoing manner, however. Holmes has won infamy inside NVIDIA as a prankster, even if he’s not willing to disclose the details in full at this time.
“I have been lucky in that many targets have not been brave enough to get even,” Holmes says, cryptically. “Even though I did end up with a Christmas tree in my cube… I may, or may not, have deserved it,” he adds.
The inflatable pool filled with plastic balls is a leftover from one such prank.
Method to the Madness
But it’s his collection of Star Wars Lego ships that has turned cubicle C/612L into a landmark. And, like any great collection of art, wine, or furniture, there’s a logic to it.
From left to right atop Holmes’ cube sit a huge 3,449-piece Lego model of the Death Star, with a tiny to scale representation of a Super Star Destroyer beside it.
Then there’s a three-and-a-half foot long, 3,152-piece model of the Super Star Destroyer, with a tiny to-scale representation of a Star Destroyer beside it.
And then, of course, there’s another 3,104-piece model of a Star Destroyer with a tiny to-scale representation of the blockade runner, from ‘Star Wars IV: A New Hope,’ beside it.
This is the core of the collection. There are a number of other pieces, too — grace notes in this symphony of space-faring super-structures — including the Imperial Walker from “Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back,” and the Imperial Shuttle that first appeared in “Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi.”
It’s a collection Holmes has spent nearly a decade assembling, even if there are some shady spots in the provenance of one or two pieces. He acquired the first piece — the Death Star — while studying Computer Engineering and Computer Science at Georgia Tech, about seven years ago.
“I managed the housing staff and I convinced them to let me buy one so that the residents could put it together,” Holmes says. “And then I raffled it off. I may have won my own raffle. There may or may not have been rigging.”
The other pieces — all limited editions — were purchased, chiefly used. Like any savvy collector, Holmes knows how to stretch his funds to add smartly to his collection (although the Imperial Shuttle, the latest addition to his display, was purchased new for his birthday).
Holmes says he sees no need to add to his collection. In part, because he’s run out of space. Asked if he could have anything in the world made of Legos, he begs off.
“I’ve kind of got it, actually, these are my favorite ships, I can’t think of anything else that would look as good — I love Babylon 5 and the paraphernalia associated with it — but the artistic style would not go with Lego,” he says. “I’m good.”
Never say never, however. If you’re a bit of a geek yourself, you’ve surely noticed the missing piece in this collection.
It is, of course, the Lego model of the Blockade Runner featured in the opening scene of ‘A New Hope,’ released in 2001, and now rarely seen in the wild.
Piecing Things Together
If Holmes ever obtains it, he won’t be the only one to share in the fun.
“I’ve never built one, not solo, not even close, because I just do it with people,” Holmes says of his Lego sets. “I just bring these models to board game night and six of us descend on these pieces and put the thing together in about four hours.”
And that, of course, is the real purpose of this collection. Chris isn’t putting plastic pieces together. He’s connecting people to one another.