Don’t Eat the Architecture

“Whoa…that’s gingerbread?” Stunned reactions are the norm at the Gingerbread Village on display at the Sheraton Hotel downtown. A mother remarked to her captivated son, “If we ate it, it wouldn’t be pretty.” That’s parenting.

The 20th annual Gingerbread Village is a coproduction of the Sheraton culinary staff and four Seattle architecture firms (“Who wants the Gingerbread account this year?”). This year’s theme is “Once Upon a Time.” Visiting is free, as is voting for the best of the six creations, and the Northwest Chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation receieves any and all donations you wish to bestow.

The event is an honorable one. Thus it is with a heavy heart that I must critically review the gingerbread houses, just to keep the chefs and architects—who donated their time for free—honest. Let’s see how committed they are to fighting juvenile diabetes. 

Ariel’s Underwater Castle
Pastry Chef Wally Walberg

Ariel’s Underwater Castle
has a wonderful cartoony charm and looks like it belongs in Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. The coral is brilliantly detailed, the castle is grand and sweeping and one can actually see King Triton’s worry as his daughter looks off into the human world. My one criticism is this: There’s no indication that anything is actually underwater. The ocean appears to have been drained, leaving all the Disney characters to die. To achieve the ideal affect, the gingerbread castle should be lowered into a tank of water. It might dissolve the whole thing, but that’s for the architects to work out. 

Beauty and the Beast Enchanted Castle

DLR Group
Executive Chef John W. Armstrong IV

This piece is clearly the work of an English major; the story’s dichotomy is built into the gingerbread castle. We have chocolate Rice Krispies and brown jelly beans representing the Beast’s dark, animal nature, and plain Rice Krispies and white jelly beans capturing Belle’s innocence. “This is really heavy,” said one onlooker, noting the contrast. At center, Belle and the Beast dance on the bridge between an exquisite, winding gingerbread castle and a cute village of people who are surely judging them. Even the icing cascades off the gingerbread like ice melting on rocks. This is a truly majestic work. But I still don’t think Belle and the Beast are right for each other. 


Aladdin’s Magical Castle
Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties & Gelotte Hommas
Banquet Chef Jay Sanderson

 This piece immediately captures your attention with an array of blown sugar domes atop the gingerbread towers. Unfortunately, the castle they triumph is plain and the gingerbread animals along the border feel tacked on. The problem may be the subject matter. Arabic castles already look they’re made out of gingerbread, so seeing a smaller version isn’t much of a rush. Abu the elephant, however, is quite animated, and using brown sugar as sand is a nice touch.


Alice in Wonderland Castle
Weber Thompson
Executive Sous Chef David Mestl

I couldn’t be the only one who wanted to steal the Jabberwock from atop Alice and Wonderland Castle. “He stole the Jabberwock!,” someone would inevitably yell. It’s one of the more striking figures at the village, with a torso and sharp, ferocious fangs carved out of what must be fondant, a sort of Play-Doh-like edible clay. The castle’s harmonious red and white and black theme is straight out of the story, though I couldn’t help thinking of the White Stripes. You can see the modernist hand of Weber Thompson at work here. The various levels and archways lend the piece an intricate depth of space, at least for a gingerbread castle. They may have snagged a few more clients with this one.


Narnia’s Snow Queen Castle
Mulvanny G2 Architecture
Purchasing Manager Lee Baldyga

It’s always disappointing when your favorite books are turned into mediocre movies, but when their corresponding gingerbread houses let you down, that really cuts deep. Aslan looks small and feeble. The wardrobe has no mystery. And though the snow castle is nicely carved, it towers over a vast empty space with tiny figures that barely register. One gets the sense that Mulvanny left this one to the interns. I’m sure everyone involved sincerely cares about funding diabetes research, but I probably shouldn’t finish this sentence. 

Brothers Grimm Castle of Fairy Tales
4D Architects, Inc.
Banquet Chef Jay Sanderson

I come to this thing every year hoping for a gingerbread house like this one. I don’t even know where to begin. Perhaps I should start with the candy stained-glass windows or the tower of Lifesavers in a spiral pattern. Or the moving drawbridge, the luminescent crystal waterfall, the transparent clock tower and the foundation of gingerbread that looks like it was carved from years of chocolate milk erosion. But that’s just the structure. Surrounding it are scenes from a number of Grimm fairy tales, including Cinderella as a pumpkin, the Grim Reaper, and Little Red Riding Hood. The castle is so impressive that I can overlook the fact that its partially constructed with crackers.

They say that it takes a gingerbread village get people to donate to diabetes research (don’t they?). There’s no doubt that the future of architecture lay in gingerbread houses, for they strike at the very heart of humanity, between our need to witness beauty and our desire to devour it. The more beautiful the gingerbread house, the less likely we are to eat it. If only other artists were put under that kind of pressure.

To donate to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, go to