Local Landmarks Dominate the 3rd Annual Gingerbread Build-Off

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For David Stagg, Caitlin Kaluza and the rest of their team from Schipul, their gingerbread house was meant to evoke emotions: a vintage Alabama Theatre, captured in a moment already past, showcasing both the inherent impermanence of gingerbread as a building medium and the city's mercurial attitude toward historic preservation.

For the Courtney Harper & Partners team, it was about celebrating a local landmark on the occasion of its 40th birthday, and compelling people to view Rothko Chapel in two unfamiliar aspects: both made of gingerbread, and turned upside down -- edible root balls of candy trees surrounding the Chapel towering against the sky.

Whatever their design process, however, it was clear that Houston's architectural landmarks -- both big and small -- dominated AIA Houston's 3rd annual Gingerbread Build-Off this past Saturday afternoon in Market Square Park.

The brand-new Houston Ballet building just blocks away made its gingerbread debut decked out with Nutcracker regalia for the holidays, complete with tiny parking spaces out back. The Astrodome was re-envisioned as a Christmas market and winter festival.

In a brilliantly meta-gingerbread house, Market Square Park itself was created using pasta, dried chili peppers, powdered donuts and one cleverly-situated cake donut, split in half. Even the art installations "Sychronicity of Color" -- which also function as colorful parking garage entrances -- at Discovery Green were recreated with Starburst, candy Legos and more square candies pressed onto a gingerbread cube.

"I have to take a picture of this and send it to Margo," said my fellow judge Michelle White, referencing the Texas artist -- Margo Sawyer -- who created the structures. White, the recently appointed curator at the Menil, snapped a picture with her cell phone before we moved along to the next team's house. Along with White and me, the judging team also consisted of a baker, an architect and a contractor -- all of the 23 gingerbread houses on display needed to be edible and structurally sound as well as visually appealing to pass muster.

And most of them did, although some did so more impressively than others. We were astounded by creative materials like broccoli, parsley and mushrooms to create a Wizard of Oz scene in one house, and the amusing application of dead Teddy Grahams bleeding Red Hots on a gingerbread Alamo battlefield.

In the end, however, it was the immaculately carved and assembled St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow that won Grande Prixe de Show from the judges for its honest showcasing of the gingerbread as a medium and judicious application of fondant and royal icing.

Who would have thought a gingerbread cathedral could be such a stunning exercise in restraint?

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