by Meghna MehtaFeb 21, 2020
The Museum of Architecture’s Gingerbread City is back in town, celebrating the festive spirit and challenging the imagination of architects and designers. On display at Somerset House in London, the annual public exhibition is showcasing the designs of a futuristic city made entirely out of gingerbread. With this year’s theme being ‘the future of transport’, the exhibition aims to connect public to architecture and issues pertaining to sustainability, and simultaneously generate a dialogue around cities and the way people inhabit them.
This year’s edition has over 100 architects, engineers and designers coming together to show their expertise in creating cities that explore new and imaginative ways to move around in today’s densely populated areas.
Inspired by cutting-edge technology and sustainable design ideas, the exhibition provides an insight into how city planners interact with natural landscapes while trying to provide innovative solutions in the domain of transport in anticipation of the daunting future. The city is complete with various districts, including a University District, Cultural Quarter, Sustainable Quarter, Gingerbread Waterfront, high rise buildings, a cycle path, and pedestrian walkways. In addition to these, the building types also include bridges, houses, a stadium, university, train station, urban farm, ferry terminal and many other spaces that are critical to the contemporary city while emphasising the need for an efficient transport network.
Based on a masterplan developed by Tibbalds Planning and Urban Design, the Gingerbread City exhibits the combined effort of several firms that joined hands to imagine mobility in cities differently. Foster + Partners, PDP London, PLP Architecture, Turner Works, Phase3, Grimshaw, KPF, Hildrey Studio and KC+A are a few names that have contributed concepts and ideas to this mini-scale innovation to design future cities through ingenious techniques and processes.
KC+A architects, who have created Expresso Wheels at the Gingerbread City, say, “Construction is responsible for a third of all landfill, and this efficient method of prefabrication construction reduces waste to only a few crumbs. Prefab gingerbread as a material locks in carbon and the manufacturing of these components requires much less energy than traditional alternatives like shortbread or chocolate chip.” The Expresso Wheels café, bar and bike workshop with homes above is an insert that serves the residents of the Connected Quarter with expresso powered peddles.
The exhibition integrates the fields of architecture and culinary arts, a combination that is rare to see otherwise in day to day life. While Jestico+Whiles came up with the idea of a ferry terminal called ‘Jelly Ferry’, Grimshaw Architects proposed a grand station - the main rail interchange within the cultural quarter, with a highly sculptural roof and illuminated space below.
The architecture firm BDP (Building Design Partnership Ltd.) created a ‘Palace of Light’ to illustrate how heritage buildings can be readapted and restored for a greener future. For the exhibition, they adapted the historic palace of Gingerbread City into a solar tower, transferring reflected sunlight into clean energy for the entire city. Positioned at the city’s highest point, the palace becomes the central hub for a zero-carbon transportation system that uses electric drone taxis and bikes docked at charging trees.
The exhibition also portrays reinterpretations of famous landmarks - Battersea Sugar Power Station, Gingerbread Modern, Sugarset House, Oxford Circus, Piccadilly Circus, as well as a moving train along with a cinema that revives the drive-in using bicycles.
STIR inquired into one of the projects designed by architecture firm Phase3 for the Gingerbread City, investigating and delving deeper into the aspect of transport and the potential it holds to depict an ideal futuristic model for the same.
Designed by Phase3, ‘Sugar Plum Square’ is an interpretation of the traditional Georgian Square, a pedestrian public space surrounded by terraces. The connection from the tram to the school is activated by the children and visitors of the park throughout the day. An open-source building system, the prefabricated standardised units were manufactured off-site from pre-cast gingerbread.
Here, STIR speaks to the team at Phase3 to know more about their concept and the interpretation of the same on ‘transport’ themes for the Gingerbread City .
STIR: What is the conceptual exploration that was undertaken under the theme of transport and travel for future?Phase3: As our plots were residential neighbourhoods, we envisioned Sugar Plum Square to be the futuristic car-free Georgian Square. The idea of a fully pedestrianised public space was not part of the original brief, which called for standard four-storey terrace houses lining a singular street. However, we wanted to challenge the brief. We believe that the short journeys, which encompass traversing across neighbourhoods, should be enjoyable and generous in proportion and scale. Rather than having expansive private gardens behind terrace houses, the widened square elevated an otherwise mundane processional route between adjacent road and school, park and bridge into a space that celebrates togetherness as well as differences.
STIR: How have you incorporated the projected future of cities in terms of transport with the field of culinary arts?
Phase3: In the future, the construction approach to housing will be very different due to depleting resources and climate crisis. Similar to cooking whereby individuality drives creativity and novelty, the variation in residential units caters to the needs of different family models and lifestyles. Mass customisation using prefabricated, standardised elements on an open building system reduces material waste as well assembly time on site. With an increasing population, enabling reconfiguration, expansion, home improvement and disassembly enables a circular economy. The future of food and the future of cities, both deals with how we can thrive and prosper within the ecological limits of the planet.
Collaboration between different disciplines can help unlock design solutions that are holistic. – Phase3
STIR: What kind of technology was adopted in the construction of the edible installation to depict the concept?
Phase3: Following our previous point, we collaborated with a local baker, Susanne Albrecht, in improving our understanding of edible confectionaries. We then proceeded to push the limits of what can be achieved through the use of 3D modelling and custom mould fabrication. It was a synergetic process where one material investigation lead to another. In the end, we found our common ground in respecting the beautiful materiality we were able to achieve together. It was a conscious decision to take a minimal approach and celebrate the material’s inherent nature and honour the design.
STIR: How was the exhibit inserted into the larger set up of the Gingerbread City?
Phase3: The Museum of Architecture collaborated with Tibbalds on the master planning of Gingerbread City 2019. From a variety of plot sizes housing different functions, museums, train stations, bridges, residences, we selected our plot based on the descriptions provided by the organisers. In challenging the brief, we ensured that our proposed Sugar Plum Square is more closely aligned to the ambition of the larger exhibit. In addition of a CAD file with building boundary and light openings, the provision of physical bases alongside height constraints from Tibbalds and LED strips from Phos ensured a strong visual coherence. The different levels of execution from participating offices are grounded through an exploration in gingerbread as building material.
Although all the projects presented by various architects put together in the model city were devised with a great deal of thought process, some exceeded the mark of normality. For instance, Johanna Molineus Architects’ Punk Wafer Bridge was adjudged to be the ‘most creative’ structure, Darling Associates’ DashR as the ‘most edible’ and the Sugar Plum Square by Phase 3 (headed by former Zaha Hadid protégé Tyen Masten) the ‘most creative’.
Grimshaw Architect’s London Bridge Roll Station was highly commended in the best future transport category. The top transport prize was given to The Waffle Iron Tower and Sugar Loaf Mountain by PLP Architecture.
The exhibition that began on December 7, 2019, is on display until January 5, 2020, at the Somerset House in London.