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December 7, 2013

CARDS FOREVER: Bryan Berg builds Louisville Skyline from playing cards

ELIZABETH — He’s built a replica of Cinderella’s Castle for Disney and the Venetian Macao Resort Hotel, both of which he earned world records for completing.

Now, at Horseshoe Southern Indiana, Bryan Berg’s next piece is the skyline of Louisville, all from about 1,000 decks of cards.

Berg has built card houses since he was about 8 years old and broke his first world record by the time he was a senior in high school. Now 39, the Santa Fe, N.M. resident continues his tour of skylines for Horseshoe Casinos.

“When I go in there, I really, really have to turn on another part of my brain,” Berg said. “It’s not like I’m really thinking about it, it’s just kind of like when you’re driving a car. You signal without thinking about it, if you drive a stick, you shift without thinking about it. When you’re doing this, I don’t even have to think about whether I should be looking at my feet. I’ve just learned the hard way that you really have to pay attention to business.”

In the casino’s pavilion in front of Pearl and Legends, the structure will remain until Dec. 29 after it’s completed on Sunday. As part of Horseshoe’s Gambler’s Giveaway, five finalists will get their own Louisville Slugger bats to knock down the structures of the Aegon Center, Galt House towers, Humana Building, the PNC Tower and the Belle of Louisville.

Lizzet Verdi, supervisor of marketing and communications, said along with the $300,000 grand prize, the skyline and a chance to destroy it was something new for the casino to offer.

“I think it’s just fun,” Verdi said. “As a part of the Gambler’s Giveaway finale, they get to knock it down. It’s something very different, something we thought our guests would be excited about.”

Berg said he studied architecture and paid his way through school with card-stacking commissions. He said he was shocked that his professors were so understanding of his absences.

For the Louisville Skyline, he said his days are usually 10 to 15 hours long and expects to spend about 80 hours to complete it. While he’s building the structure behind glass walls, Berg jams some tunes in his earbuds and stays focused on how to make a building come to life.

Though his days are long, he said he hardly notices. On Thursday, he started his day at about 10 a.m. and hadn’t eaten lunch by 3 p.m. Though his days keep going on like that, he said it seems easier to him than working as an architect.

“Don’t get me wrong, I love architecture and I still have a lot of passion for it, but architects work a lot of hours on stuff that a lot of times is not that exciting,” Berg said. “They’re spending a lot of time figuring out how a door jamb is going to fit in a certain width hallway. That’s just some of the dirty work.”

Part of the trick is in the scaling of the buildings, figuring out how to make sure they’re the right size, but also include enough detail to make them identifiable.

“Scaling is something that not only has to do with the amount of work that needs done, but with rectangles stacked, how you achieve some kind of structural and visual results,” Berg said. “Most of the time, when I look at a building, I know immediately if it’s possible and what my approach would probably be.”

After setting concrete blocks with plywood covered with fabric as tables, he builds the base and keeps going from there.

He said while he’s sometimes surprisingly clumsy, he’s not too nervous about knocking over a building by breathing on it or generating wind with sudden movements.

But he’s entertained by people who want to tear down the structures. He said they usually think swiftly pulling one card out will cause the whole thing to implode, but he often uses a leaf blower to knock them down, and still takes a while to finish. The Aegon Center, he said, will weigh about 30 pounds when it’s finished.

He said people also tend to think there’s some kind of trick to his structures, like internal frames, adhesives or something special about the cards.

He said while he uses cards that are about 1/16 of an inch different from a deck of bridge cards, they’re pretty “unremarkable.”

“Over the years, I’ve used all different brands of cards and it was always a struggle because a lot of them aren’t always cut precisely, some have too much gloss and some don’t have enough gloss,” Berg said. “Really slippery cards, I can work with them, but they really slow me down a lot, but these are a really magical combination of slip or absence of slip.”

Finishing the structure, knowing someone’s going to destroy it with a few swings of a bat, he said the implosion of his card houses don’t bother him too much anymore. But the process of building something new each time still excites him.

“That’s one of the things that I like about what I do, every project’s different,” Berg said. “I have to figure out how I’m going to do anything. I’m still a big enough nerd that I get really excited about figuring that stuff out.”

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New Albany's 11-12 All Star team take a moment to thank the crowd during New Albany Little League's send off to the Great Lake Regional tournament in Indianapolis at Mt. Tabor in New Albany Wednesday evening.

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