At the fifth annual AIA Gingerbread Build-Off, 30 teams from across the city competed to build the most stunning, over-the-top gingerbread-based creations. The teams had five hours to assemble the creations, and all of the building, frosting and decorating had to be done on-site. Despite temperatures in the 40s and a fierce wind at downtown's Hermann Square Park on Saturday that toppled a couple of entries, most of the teams displayed high-quality, highly creative work.
Teams ran the gamut in terms of experience, with professional architectural firms competing against student groups and even a group of neuroscientists.
A three-judge panel that included an architect, an engineer and a food writer (aka, me) evaluated each of the entries for a variety of awards including Grand Prix de Show, Best Architectural Icon and Most Creative Use of Materials. Teams ran the gamut in terms of experience, with professional architectural firms competing against student groups and even a group of neuroscientists. Entries needed to be at least 80 percent edible and assembled entirely on site.
Unofficially, Houston architecture icons seemed to be the theme of the day with three different versions of the Williams Tower and its corresponding Waterwall, the Astrodome and the recently-demolished Foley's on Main Street all making an appearance. Teams also turned to pop culture for inspiration with Harry Potter's Hogwarts, The Wizard of Oz, Breaking Bad and Despicable Me all getting gingerbread treatment.
As a first time visitor, I was struck by a couple of things. First, Rice Krispie treats are a surprisingly important structural element in building large-scale gingerbread houses. Second, it seems that almost every team had a different candy component for water (jello, gummy bear, almond bark, etc.)
In the end, architecture firm Kirksey took the top prize for their London Tower Bridge with a working cantilever drawbridge and boat below. A student-group from the Art Institute of Houston upset several pro teams for second with the Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece, "Gingerbread Fallingwater." Gensler placed third with a replication of Hogwarts Castle. The crowd selected the Despicable Me house as its favorite.
All entries are currently on display at the Architecture Center of Houston through Friday.