Engineering the Perfect Gingerbread House. It’s a Serious Business.

The annual holiday traditions. Picking out the perfect tree, buying just the right gifts, and of course, the gingerbread house. As any parent knows, kids love decorating the little houses with all kinds of colorful candies and licking the icing off their fingers along the way.

Baking and constructing gingerbread houses became popular in the United States back in the 1800s with the German folktale of Hansel and Gretel. And what started as simple square houses made from honey, ginger and breadcrumbs has today become an elaborate affair parade of life-size constructions and sprawling contemporary style mansions complete with tennis courts and pools.

Gingerbread houses have become a serious business.

HGTV built a life-size creation at the Mall of America this year, and there is a National Gingerbread House Competition in Asheville, NC where contestants from across the country can bring their architectural masterpieces for display over the holidays. Even at the White House, executive pastry chef Bill Yosses spends months creating the perfect, completely edible holiday mansion.

The annual White House gingerbread house is planned, designed and constructed down to the last gum drop. And while you at home may be content to build your gingerbread on a piece of cardboard and put it on the coffee table for display (or the dog to munch on), at the White House, electricians come in to do the lighting.

According to Yosses, “plumbers, carpenters and engineers get in on it too.” Yosses 2012 display is truly a marvel of design engineering. Tipping the scales at nearly 300 pounds, the replica North Portico view of the White House is made of a special pale gingerbread with white chocolate columns and features chocolate furniture, the First Lady’s veggie garden, and marzipan First Dog Bo.

For the aspiring engineer, this year Tulsa Engineering Alliance and the Tulsa Community College have partnered on a gingerbread house competition which calls for scale-models of architecturally significant or famous homes/buildings (think Eiffel Tower, Empire State Building, Tower of London).

What is extra cool about this competition is it includes elementary, middle school and high school categories as part of an initiative to support STEM activities.

“Proportions are important when building the scale-model gingerbread building and that is where the engineering and math portion come into play,” says Xan Black with the Tulsa Engineering Alliance. “We want to inspire the next generation of engineers and architects with something fun. This gingerbread building contest incorporates art with engineering and math because architecture is the marriage between art and engineering.”

If ever there was a way to really make math fun, it just might be gingerbread. But if you struggle with math and engineering you can always turn to Apple and Android which both have apps out this season to help you with your design masterpieces.

Happy Holidays!

Photo from the White House photo galleries

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