Cardstock, balsa wood, foamcore, gingerbread. Each December, the architectural modelmaking palette expands to include a sweet new material rich in warm spices. And while gingerbread architecture may skew a lot more whimsical than your typical design industry maquettes, the best seasonal structures of 2023 balance holiday magic with serious skill.
LEAD IMAGE: Ontario Place by Joël León Danis, on view as part of Gingerbread City 2023, organized by the Toronto Society of Architects at The Maker Bean Café in Toronto.
This year, London’s Museum of Architecture has expanded its annual exhibition, The Gingerbread City, by launching a second edition in New York City. On view until January 7 at 23 Fulton Street in the city’s Seaport district (which holiday movie lovers will recognize as the area where Home Alone 2 reintroduces the villainous duo of Harry and Marv), the exhibition includes more than 50 contributions from firms like Rockwell Group and Cooper Robertson.
While some of the designs adhere to their maker’s signature style — Eclair Eco Resort by Morris Adjmi Architects nods to the firm’s use of domed bricks with a pattern of icing dots — others are more of a departure. Who could have expected that Robert A.M. Stern Architects would embrace rainbow-coloured gumdrops so wholeheartedly? In RAMSA’s Glacier Gallery, the sugar-coated gummy candies are stacked into columns to support a cantilevered volume clad in pretzel sticks.
Responding to the theme of Water in Cities, projects are grouped into one of five zones: Urban Floodplain; Canal City; Desert Landscape; Frozen Landscape and Underwater and Floating City. Within each zone, the various designs work together to create a diverse yet cohesive urban realm.
To hear Museum of Architecture founder Melissa Woolford explain it, the process of planning the exhibition is not so different from the way that the urban planning process plays out at a larger scale. “There’s an entire master plan that’s been handled by Madeleine Kessler Architecture and Tibbalds Planning and Urban Design, which considered the needs of a community and the best way to connect everything. In August, they put out briefs for things like schools, housing, libraries and galleries to the different architecture firms. The teams then satisfied their program while responding to the particular area that they’re in — whether that was a polar environment or a coastal zone full of piers.”
Across all the projects, the scale is kept consistent at 1:100. Mark Tasker, the head pastry chef at Balthazar Bakery, created flat sheets based on drawings provided by the participating firms. “From there, it was up to the teams to choose what candies to incorporate and how to use them creatively,” says Woolford. And while the rules aren’t too strict, the general requirement is that any other materials introduced should be edible. “Seeing how familiar snacks are transformed into water or window treatments is part of the fun. It’s playful — it’s not perfect. But the level of detail that the teams bring to this as architects is still impressive. And it’s a great team building project.”
Woolford is excited to see the exhibition attracting an audience that might not otherwise be drawn to an architecture show. “That’s when we know we’re doing something right,” she says. Furthermore, by encouraging reflection on water’s role in a city, the exhibition is contributing to a larger conversation about designing for climate resiliency. “It’s educational, but it’s also fun and accessible to everyone.”
Meanwhile, the Toronto Society of Architects proved that gingerbread can also be used to inspire a deeper appreciation for existing designs. Entries to its Gingerbread City 2023 exhibition (on view until January 12 at the Maker Bean Café in Toronto) include scaled-down renditions of buildings like the Fort York Visitor Centre, the Cloud Gardens Conservatory and Toronto City Hall. TSA Executive Director Joël León Danis delivers an especially timely representation of Ontario Place (geodesic Cinesphere and all), where trees are currently being removed ahead of a controversial redevelopment project. Notably, not all the contributions reflect Toronto architecture — Vince Wang uses Rice Krispies squares to recreate the cascading volumes of Fallingwater.
In keeping with the playful spirit of gingerbread making, the exhibition is accompanied by a youth program. Workshops held throughout December engaged kids between ages two and 14 to design a mixed-use streetscape. Kids’ Main Street is on display at The Maker Bean Café alongside the TSA’s other sweet creations.
Also in Toronto, KPMB Architects led another edition of its annual Gingerbread Build for the City competition organized to support the Red Door Family Shelter. Firms and designers from across the city submitted entries that responded to this year’s theme of “Welcome to Tinsel Town: The Las Vegas of the North Pole.”
Projects include gingerbread depictions of casinos, hotels and wedding chapels, each ranging from glam to gaudy. Even The Sphere makes an appearance (twice!). All 21 entries can be viewed on the exhibition’s website, with winners awarded in a variety of fun categories like “Fancy” and “Crafty.”
Combining gingerbread housing with housing advocacy, Snøhetta senior architect Ingebjørg Skaare designed this miniature abode to raise funds for the Norwegian Refugee Council (which supports people displaced by global conflicts). Offering a taste of Scandinavian modernism in miniature, the residence extends a cantilevered upper volume above a slatted entryway. At the back, a ski hill-like roofline slopes all the way down to the ground. The model also doubles as a lamp of sorts, with room for a small tea light inside and triangular perforations in the façade that allow its warm glow to shine through.
Blueprints can be downloaded with a donation to the NRC, or Norwegians who prefer to go the pre-fab route can opt to buy a kit featuring all the necessary materials for 250 kr (about $30 CAD).
From NYC to Norway, designers delivered tasty reflections of the built environment in miniature — with a few gumdrop embellishments for good measure.