Thursday, December 22, 2011

'Tis the Season for Gingerbread Houses

Building gingerbread houses for the holidays provides an opportunity to introduce a bit of architecture education. It is not the best example because most people see gingerbread houses as objects (3D) rather than enclosures of space (4D) so there is a bit of mis-education by confusing 3D product design (a gingerbread house) and 4D spatial design (an architect's model) in people's minds.

There is a term in architecture called "gingerbread" which refers to elaborately detailed, lavish and often superfluous embellishment on Victorian houses popularized in the late 1860s and ’70s (right). After the Civil War it was fashionable to have every surface of buildings decorated with fanciful hand-carved wooden latticework to signal affluence. There was later a general reaction against that practice when architects like Louis Sullivan decreed "Less is more."

When we talk about gingerbread houses at the holidays we mean the baked cookie variety in which any style of architecture can be attempted from William Van Alen’s art-deco Chrysler Building; Charles and Ray Eames’ modern Pacific Palisades Case Study House No. 8; Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth House; to Buckminster Fuller’s Geodesic Dome. Click on the heading above to see these examples.

In the example of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater (left), the brick façade is depicted with stacked SweetTarts and creating the unsupported cantilevered decks is as much a problem in gingerbread as it was in the original. (The secret in both is concealed i-beams with sufficient tensile strength.)

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