A Yummy Dilemma

December 06, 2017

“Making gingerbread is an American winter tradition, and what better way to highlight engineering and innovation than to put on a grand holiday display of creativity and architecture?” - Oregon Museum of Science and Industry

Last summer, SRG was contacted by the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) asking if we’d be interested in participating in their 2nd Annual Gingerbread Adventures. This event pairs architecture firms with bakeries to create giant gingerbread sculptures related to OMSI’s current exhibit. At the July kick-off event, we were connected with our partner bakery – Nothing Bundt Cakes – and given the theme of the exhibit: ILLUSION, with a smaller coordinated exhibit called Seeing. OMSI’s website explains the exhibit like this: “Experience the way perception underpins the way we see, feel, think and understand our world – and see that what the brain perceives is often radically different from what our eyes observe.” Combining the science of illusion with the science of food, Gingerbread Adventures was a way for SRG to participate in a fun and informative community outreach event.

Looking back on the development of the design, it may feel like we hit a lot of dead ends in the creative process. Exploring various paths to achieve the end goal is something that architects do regularly. One may study an idea and mull it over before coming to the conclusion that it isn’t the best choice, and this helps the creative process by providing direction.

Two of our early ideas were a ship in a bottle and an anatomical model of an eye. The ship in a bottle isn’t an illusion, but the illusion lies in how it appears to have been created. For this concept, we would need to create a “glass” bottle out of food – something that can be created using Sugar Glass. Our partner bakery, however, does one thing - bundt cakes - and although they do those spectacularly well, Sugar Glass was beyond their scope. The anatomical model of an eye wouldn’t have been an illusion, but would have connected to the secondary theme, Seeing, and we toyed with how we could incorporate a mirror within the pupil to create an illusion. This concept would have nicely blended the Science component of the whole project with the food component (licorice laces for veins, anyone?), but we decided it didn’t have the element of fun that we wanted.

In September, we held a brainstorming session and came up with some ideas. These included a Rube Goldberg-style depiction of how a gingerbread man is made, complete with conveyor belts made out of Fruit By The Foot, a slide going into a vat of frosting, and more. Although this idea would be cute and fun, we got stuck on how to connect it to the theme. We also considered the incredible drawings of M.C. Escher, but the team decided that creating stylized 3-D and 2-D illusions wouldn’t work effectively with the amount of space we had.

Then we became intrigued with the idea of creating objects that don’t initially appear to be anything special, but together create a shadow that depicts something else. This illusion requires precise placement of the objects and the light source. But what would the shadow be? What would the collage be? Not having answers to these questions, coupled with not knowing what control we’d have over the lighting in the space and therefore the shadow that was created, we scrapped this idea. But we still liked the idea of creating a collage of objects, so we explored having the collage itself create something more than the individual objects when viewed from a specific angle.

We finally settled on Anamorphic Typography, which is lettering that appears three-dimensional but is created on a two-dimensional surface or lettering that appears two-dimensional but appears on a three-dimensional surface.

"Cinq cercles concentriques" Felice Varini, 2013

The final step of design was to determine what word or phrase we’d use for the illusion. Wanting to connect the ideas of architecture, baking, our construction-site theme, and a positive inspiration, we chose the phrase “Build A Sweeter World.” Initially we had considered having a second set of lettering, viewable from a child’s height, reading “Eat More Cake!” to be fun for children to find and to help promote our partner bakery, Nothing Bundt Cakes. As we got into our 9th and 10th hours of decorating day, however, we decided that one phrase was plenty!

We knew we wanted to incorporate a construction-site theme as it relates to architecture that would be fun for kids and adults alike. In browsing the internet, we found candies that lent themselves to such an application. Some of the most successful finds were Cadbury Curly Wurlys which became the trusses of our crane, and orange striped candy sticks which we turned into construction roadblocks along with pretzel legs and Cinnamon Imperial lights. Add in some candy-corn traffic cones, and we were on our way!

On decorating day, various people from both SRG and Nothing Bundt Cakes showed up to help. Nothing Bundt Cakes had baked all of the gingerbread and had already cladded the building structures (made of dowels and high-density foam) with it. Kevin Chavez made an awesome cement truck out of gingerbread and frosting, and then we gave it some pizazz with a gumdrop beacon and gumdrop headlights, and a candy cane running board. We added windows to the buildings, used bundt cakes to create trees and fountains, built marshmallow snowmen and a pretzel bridge, filled the area below the crane with “building materials”, and added several more surprises. We also may have eaten a bit of candy. (It turns out that chocolate rocks are surprisingly delicious!) Once the lettering was added and our illusion was complete, we added a few last festive touches and were done.

The entire event was a fun way to connect with our colleagues and their families. During various brainstorming sessions, children of SRG employees happened to be in the office, so we invited them along. Their input was helpful and amusing! (One four-year-old described in detail the various ways we could make a flower with gumdrops, for example.) On Decorating Day, another SRG kiddo showed up to help and was wide-eyed at the table full of candy. He added his own touches to the design, and it was great to have a child’s fingerprints (literally) on the project.

Perhaps the most interesting thing we noticed as the other sculptures took shape is that each team took an entirely different approach to the challenge; none of their concepts were things that had ever crossed our minds. If you were faced with this challenge, what would you design?

The sculpture is viewable at OMSI through January 1st, 2018. Check out the mini-documentary OMSI made about the project below or click here for the time lapse.

Julie Lund