Gingerbread City is where biscuits meet cutting-edge design. It’s an annual exhibition where architects, designers and engineers create a spectacular, futuristic and entirely edible city. Organised by Museum of Architecture, Gingerbread City hopes to connect people with architecture in an exciting way, highlighting how design can improve our lives. This year’s ‘transport’ themed city is packed with over 100 show-stopping architectural creations and imaginative ideas of how we can move people and produce around our congested cities, from trains and bikes to ski lifts, jelly drones and rockets.
WHERE IS GINGERBREAD CITY 2019?
This year Gingerbread City is held in Somerset House, just on the south of the Strand. The best entrance to Gingerbread City is on the north east side of Waterloo Bridge, but the exhibition is signposted from the Strand entrance too.
FIVE THINGS TO LOOK OUT FOR
With twinkling lights, stained glass style windows, moving parts, intricate details and more sweets than your child can dream of, there’s plenty to captivate people of all ages in Gingerbread City. There were countless excited calls of ‘look mum!’ from the Museum Kids as they marvelled in the city’s incredible detailing, shapes and textures. I could easily revisit and find even more details to revel in – but here’s five parts we particularly enjoyed seeing.
1. The train
Circumnavigating the city is a train pulling its precious cargo of marshmallows, jelly tots and other sweet treats. The children loved waiting for it to chug through the gingerbread stations, even if they were mostly plotting how to nab something off the back of it.
2. The viewing bubble
3. London landmarks
I loved seeing London’s famous landmarks reimagined in edible form. Buttersea Power Station gives the iconic towers a makeover with a rice crispie finish, and a green roof. Oxford Circus has added helicopter pads, whilst Pick-n-mix circus sugar paper advertising screens proclaim ‘GINger IS GOOD FOR YOU’.
4. Gingernut Cracker Ballet
Museum Girl’s absolute favourite was the Gingernut Cracker Ballet. With its two tiered rotating carousel, changing lights and chomping head, it is as dramatic and thrilling as the ballet show itself. And clearly it has architectural merit too, as you’ll discover below.
5. The award winners
Architects are no strangers to competition, so it will come as little surprise that all the Gingerbread City creations are judged by a panel of experts. If you fancy a treasure hunt, you can set your children the challenge of finding them – and seeing if they disagree with the judges’ opinion. This year’s winners are:
- Most Creative – ‘Sugar Plum Square’ by Phase 3 Architecture
- Most Edible – ‘DashR’ by Darling Associates
- Best City Integration – ‘Gingernut Cracker Ballet’ by Charcoal Blue
- Most Ambitious – ‘Pink Wafer Bridge’ by Johanna Molineus
And a bonus for the grown ups – it’s well worth taking a moment to read the tiny, ill-lit captions, if only for the puns. There are so many baking jokes here it would be hard to list them all, but take for example, the CyclOdeon bicycle drive-in where Titanic stars Cake Winslet and Leonardo DiCookiedough. If it ain’t punny, it ain’t funny, right?
IS GINGERBREAD CITY 2019 SUITABLE FOR YOUNG CHILDREN?
Gingerbread City straddles a thin line between heaven and torture for young children. Every surface is bejewelled with enticing sweet treats, and the aromatic smell of sugar and spice had us salivating within seconds. It’s a feast for the senses – except taste or touch. The lack of barriers means you can get really close to the creations and marvel in the minutia, but the only thing stopping a child from swiping sweets is their very stretched willpower.
Fortunately the Museum Kids were able to resist the powerful urge to lick or nibble something, but three staff approached them for leaning too closely. Even pointing is not allowed. Many of the structures are very delicate sugar work, and even small fingers can cause permanent damage. The children were gently encouraged to describe rather than gesture, but there’s only so long that game held their attention. It was also very busy during our visit, making supervising the children harder.
You know your child best – if you think they will struggle to keep their fingers to themselves, then this might not work for you. We enjoyed it so much it was, for us, worth the extra vigilance. A canny reader suggests giving your children some gingerbread to nibble before they go round – hopefully that will keep their sweet tooth satiated long enough for you to enjoy this marvel.
GINGERBREAD MAKING FAMILY WORKSHOPS
Thankfully the ‘look but don’t touch’ rule is thrown out the window in the Gingerbread making family workshops which accompany the exhibition. Tieing in with this year’s transport theme, you make, decorate and take home a Gingerbread Train Station. Absolutely no baking skills are required as everything is pre-baked and ready for construction. Vegetarian sweets are available on request.
Workshops start with a demonstration of how to build your station, and then it’s your turn. It’s a great activity which works for all ages – Museum Dad was itching to get involved, but Museum Girl was too smitten with the workshop leader to give him much of a look in.
The process is simple enough to follow but still leaves plenty of space for creativity and flourish. Turns out Museum Girl is a dab hand at icing, piping perfect circles around the side of her station. She was thrilled with the end results, and I was surprised by how little help she needed, especially for a five year old. Meanwhile Museum Boy had realised the less decorations you use, the more leftovers there are to eat. He needed more encouragement to see the task through, and to be honest I’m surprised his stands up considering how little icing cement it has.
The workshop leaders were very engaging with the kids, even with Museum Boy more intent on eating than constructing. They are architects themselves, and the whole making process compliments perfectly both the strong design element of the Gingerbread City display, and its fun, accessible approach.
Afterwards you’re invited to draw your station whilst the workshop leaders wrap your finished creation in (compostable) cellophane and bag it up, ready to take home.
The workshops aren’t cheap but the end result is certainly impressive. Museum Girl’s only disappointment is that the brown workshop tabletop isn’t also made of gingerbread! Proudly carrying his station creation home, Museum Boy labelled Gingerbread City one of the best days of his life – and we still have the feasting part to look forward to.
Gingerbread City 2019 and daily Gingerbread Making Family Workshops run at Somerset House until 5 January 2020. Open daily 10am-6pm Saturdays to Tuesdays, and 10am-8pm Wednesdays to Fridays; closed 25 and 26 December. Booking is recommended as the exhibition sold out last year, and some workshop dates are already fully booked.
Exhibition tickets cost £9 adults (age 12+), £7 child (3-12), FREE under 3s. Workshop only tickets cost from £35 (1 adult + 1 child). For more information and to book visit https://www.somersethouse.org.uk/whats-on/museum-architectures-gingerbread-city
Disclosure: The Museum of Architecture gifted us tickets to Gingerbread City 2019 and two workshop places in exchange for an honest review. I visited in December 2019 with Museum Dad, Museum Boy (7) and Museum Girl (5).
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