The Gingerbread City
25 Fulton Street
Through January 7
This holiday season, with the sounds of Dean Martin’s A Marshmallow World festively ringing in your ears, you can feast your eyes on a model-sized city made from gingerbread, marshmallows, candy, and lots and lots of frosting that has been designed and built by over 50 of New York architecture’s biggest names.
Contributions to The Gingerbread City, on view at 25 Fulton Street include designs by Cooper Robertson, Marvel, Robert A.M. Stern (RAMSA), CannonDesign, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), Rockwell Group, Arquitectonica, Morris Adjmi Architects, Starr Whitehouse Landscape Architects, and others.
The Gingerbread City’s has offered family-friendly, sugary thrills in London for a number of years, but 2023 marks the first year it’s opened in New York. The exhibition is curated by Museum of Architecture, a U.K.-based charity dedicated to connecting the public with architecture and design in fun and exciting ways. Melissa Woolford, a trained architect, is both The Gingerbread City and Museum of Architecture’s founder. The exhibition, reminiscent of a real life Candy Land board, isn’t all fun and games; it doesn’t shy away from the pressing problems of our time like rising seas levels.
“We cannot wait to welcome people into The Gingerbread City and show them what some of New York’s leading architects and designers have created for this first-ever showing of the exhibition outside of the UK,” said Woolford. “And, what better place than the Seaport to be thinking about the future of New York and its relationship with water with our Water in Cities theme.”
Like any urban environment The Gingerbread City contains houses, transportation means, parks, museums, and infrastructure. Several toy train sets run through the exhibition, which sprawls across two rooms. The displays are sorted into five distinct zones or landscapes related to the theme Water in Cities. In an exercise in designing for resiliency, each firm’s design has been sited in one of the five distinct zones: Desert Landscape, Urban Floodplain, Canal City, Frozen Landscape, and Underwater + Floating City.
While some sugary creations on display are emblematic of their famous creators, others take on unprecedented directions. Glacier Gallery by Robert A.M. Stern Architects diverts from RAMSA’s typical, traditionalist buildings clad in stone and granite. In Glacier Gallery, RAMSA posited a neo-Rudolphian ensemble: two Boolean volumes interlock that are hoisted up by pilotis made of polychromatic gumdrops and candy canes. A domed skylight made of sugar crowns the top volume sheathed in pretzel sticks and insulated by frosting.
New York office Cooper Robertson known for its sleek, modern designs posited a Venetian revivalist gingerbread house replete with all the bells-and-whistles. The contribution features a mansard roof; bright green, pink, and powder blue pastels; ornament; and a cornice made of pearls.
The New York City Housing Authority’s gingerbread model was more characteristic of the agency’s architectural style taking on a recognizable boxy form. NYCHA proposed a new Eco-Housing Authority with a gingerbread house powered by lollipop/candy cane wind turbines and solar panels that double as dessert.
Morris Adjmi’s design, The Eclair Eco Resort, is reminiscent of the firm’s experimentation with materiality and texture. The four-story gingerbread house is split into two levels: the first two stories have vaulted apertures inset into a cookie surface with red frosted dots. On the third level is a viewing terrace while the top story is an open box held together by gingerbread shaped like Vierendeel trusses. A giant “WELCOME” sign sits on top, a reminder of Morris Admji’s early beginnings with the great postmodernist Aldo Rossi.
Not to be outdone was e+i Studio, whose design Peppermint Pavilion arguably takes the cake. e+1 studio collaborated with Thayer Preston and Jamie Gutin on the pink, marshmallow utopia sprinkled with pearls and lollipop obelisks. Deconstructivist gingerbread shards rise upward, defying gravity, from the base. Peppermint Pavilion shows that cuteness and Brutalism can go hand-in-hand, and certainly aren’t antithetical.
Also from e+i Studio is The Gingerbread Museum of Confectionary Art, a complex of delectable treats notable for its experimental construction method. Stacked cookies form a series of domed structures, in a compilation that alludes to a Guggenheim-like design—a recognizable icon for this waterfront city. In an inventive use of sugary treats, the design team inverted ice cream cones as trees by topping the ubiquitous summer-time treat with a hearty helping of frosting, glitter, and loads of sprinkles.
An editor’s pick for the most whimsical design in the resilient city is a cake-like contribution from Rockwell Group. The towered structure perched atop a snowy bluff is topped by conical roofs and faced with arched windows that glow from within. The sugary facade is decked out with intricate ornamentation in shades of yellow and green to pay homage to sweet lemonade.
Beyond buildings, like any city The Gingerbread City is also home to swathes of greenspace formed by piped bits of green frosting and gum drops a la Candy Land planted alongside pretzel-construction fences. In the tundra landscapes mounds of marshmallows and globs of white frosting cover the ground as a coating of snow. A number of firms designed infrastructure built to withstand water, constructing pretzel stick pilotis, gingerbread barges, and sugary tidal pools.
The Gingerbread City is on display through January 7, 2024.