Vermont Public is independent, community-supported media, serving Vermont with trusted, relevant and essential information. We share stories that bring people together, from every corner of our region. New to Vermont Public? Start here.

© 2024 Vermont Public | 365 Troy Ave. Colchester, VT 05446

Public Files:

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact or call 802-655-9451.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Gingerbread houses brace for climate change at Boston architecture exhibition

"Back Bay Bertha Saves Boston" By William Rawn Associates. (Courtesy Maia Erslev)
"Back Bay Bertha Saves Boston" By William Rawn Associates. (Courtesy Maia Erslev)

What happens when you give heaps of sugar to a bunch of architects (and a few civilians) and ask them to solve climate change? You get the Boston Society for Architecture’s annual gingerbread competition, and a lot of whimsical creations — from a gingerbread brownstone perched on Toblerone pylons, to a frosted duck boat rescuing Boston landmarks from rising seas.

“We have everything from silly and creative ones, such as the duck boat over there with the  city landmarks kind of toppling off it, to more realistic ones,” said Maia Erslev, gallery manager at the Boston Society for Architecture (BSA), who’s running the show.  “There’s been lots of creativity there.”

The gingerbread “Chart House Urban Pedestal,” by Leonardi Aray Architects with Anne McKinnon, Jeffrey Ferris and Diva DeOliveira, imagines the Chart House with a raised sea wall around it to protect if from rising waters. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

High tide during a snow storm in January 2022 created flooding on Long Wharf by the Chart House. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Erslev came up with the theme of  “climate-ready Boston” — or “climate ginger-ready Boston,” as they like to say — for this year’s competition. It’s a topic on everyone’s mind, Erslev said, and it aligns with the BSA’s work.

“The BSA has been particularly focused in the last few years around climate and equity as the two big systemic problems that architects need to face,” said Andrea Love, director of building science at the Boston-based architecture firm Payette, and president of the BSA.

“There are a lot of strategies, particularly around resiliency and climate change, that buildings have — whether they’re gingerbreads or actual buildings — to deal with those challenges. And so I think the structures are highlighting the strategies that we have.”

The gingerbread structures hit all the climate-ready talking points — bike-friendly roads, green roofs and living shorelines. There are lots of berms holding back rising seas of blue frosting; a park with marsh grass made of shredded wheat; and a dizzying array of solar panels, made from chocolate, pretzels and cookies.

“A Re-Imagined Chinatown for Regenerative Healing,” by CannonDesign, envisages a Chinatown with green spaces and solar panels. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

One multi-family, solar-paneled gingerbread house has a wall cut away so you can see the holiday scene inside: “A happy family celebrating Hanukkah on one floor and Christmas on another,” said Erslev. “I love that touch.”

The duck boat is probably the most creative entry, if the least scalable. As the entry explains, the sculpture represents a giant version of a duck boat, built to salvage Boston’s most prized landmarks, like the Prudential Center and the State House, as the waters rise.

That’s a lot to ask of a duck boat, and, unfortunately, the Custom House tower has tumbled into the sugary sea. The pretzel rod supporting the building cracked; crumbling, perhaps, beneath the existential weight of the climate crisis.

Or maybe it just needed a second pretzel.

But even if pretzel rebar and chocolate solar panels aren’t the answer to climate change — at least not the whole answer — the exhibit shows off a lot of hopeful adaptations. And it offers a refreshing take on on a weighty subject.

“Climate change is often a scary topic for many people,” said Erslev. “But I think that this theme, the way that the submitters took it and flipped it on its head, has turned it into more of a hopeful and playful interpretation.”

The 16 gingerbread structures are on display in the atrium of the BSA’s office on Congress Street — and you can vote online for your favorite — through noon on December 20.

“Harborwalk-ing in a Winter Wonderland!” by Flansburgh Architects proposes leaving current seawalls in place and building inner seawalls that can be raised over time. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

This article was originally published on

Copyright 2022 WBUR. To see more, visit WBUR.

Latest Stories