LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Imagine Venice, the city of canals, at Christmastime, twinkling and dressed in garland. Now translate that into gingerbread and gumdrops. That's exactly what hundreds of architects, designers and engineers have done, as NPR's Sophia Alvarez Boyd explains.
SOPHIA ALVAREZ BOYD, BYLINE: Tables are loaded with building supplies - rows of Snickers and Mars Bars, jelly beans, cereal and, of course, sheets and sheets of gingerbread.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Trying to find where...
DANIEL OLBERDING: Cannon.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Cannon, Cannon, Cannon - here it is. It's in the...
ALVAREZ BOYD: CannonDesign is one of the 52 teams checking in to Gingertown DC. It's a design-and-build competition created in 2006 by David M. Schwarz Architects here in Washington. And it's since expanded to other cities. There's a different theme every year, and Daniel Olberding and Hunter Young of CannonDesign have competed several times. And this year's theme feels, well, topical.
OLBERDING: Now we're dealing with global warming.
HUNTER YOUNG: Yes, the fact that Venice is currently underwater is a little troubling.
ALVAREZ BOYD: Troubling, but still leaves room for thinking outside the box.
OLBERDING: We don't really preemptively prepare for this, but being builders and architects, we just rise to the occasion when we get here. And just wait till you see what we come up with.
ALVAREZ BOYD: Many of the firms are recreating landmarks.
LAUREN FAMULARO: We're trying to make a gingerbread version of Michelangelo's studio out of all edible things (laughter).
ALVAREZ BOYD: That's Lauren Famularo of ZDS Architecture and Interiors. Other teams are doing St. Mark's Basilica, the Doge's Palace. And of course, there are the canals. Here are architect Daniel Olberding and designer Hunter Young from CannonDesign again.
OLBERDING: So what we decided we're going to do is we're going to build a U-shaped building so that we can have an inner courtyard. And we have not yet decided how we're going to do the trees and the shrubbery in the courtyard.
YOUNG: Or the roof.
OLBERDING: Or the roof.
YOUNG: But we have vines - green Twizzlers is vines.
OLBERDING: We did think it was important on our lot to keep the front open so that we could have some waterfront canal space.
ALVAREZ BOYD: Icing is key to construction - royal and buttercream.
YOUNG: The royal one is basically like glue. So, like, if you get it on your fingers, like, they're sticky the rest of the night.
ALVAREZ BOYD: Hunter Young.
YOUNG: The buttercreams are more, like, decorative stuff.
ALVAREZ BOYD: The teams have three hours, and there are five awards based on the expression of theme, innovation and craftsmanship. But for Olberding, precision is not a priority tonight.
OLBERDING: The thing is, all day, every day, we have to be so precise with our work that the best thing about Gingertown is there's no consequences.
ALVAREZ BOYD: With about an hour left, the candy supply is getting low, and the pressure is kicking in.
OLBERDING: Cover all your mistakes with icing.
ALVAREZ BOYD: To qualify, the teams have to pick up their gingerbread creations, carry them into an elevator down to a crowded lobby and then find their plot on a map of Venice. And as soon as CannonDesign attempts their lift...
YOUNG: Oh, no. No.
OLBERDING: Lay her down. Lay her down. We have time.
ALVAREZ BOYD: ...The roof collapses. The team quickly shores it up with graham crackers and more icing, and they remove and reposition the back wall. Finally, they make it to the lobby.
ALVAREZ BOYD: No prize for CannonDesign this year, but Olberding says that doesn't matter.
OLBERDING: This is the first time that we've ever had a collapse of any sort. I'm OK with it because we improvised and used a lot of icing.
ALVAREZ BOYD: Good holiday advice, and not just for architects. There's another Gingertown tomorrow in Nashville.
Sophia Alvarez Boyd, NPR News, Washington.
(SOUNDBITE OF VIA LUNA'S "ASTRAL PLAINS")
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