Every year the Museum of Architecture cooks up a delicious exhibition. It offers architecture practices an opportunity to demonstrate the current thinking within the industry. Thousands flock here to enjoy a wintery city break for 45 minutes or so. There’s plenty to see with a well-trodden path guiding you around the three major districts, each with an equally dreadful and amusing confectionery-related pun. Because of the dense nature of the city, tourist over-crowding is a serious issue and for a portion of the trip, I felt quite claustrophobic. You can alternatively take the stairs for a fly-over view on the mezzanine level. One of the best aspects of the city is the overwhelming sensory experience upon entering. It is much like stepping off the plane into a Mediterranean climate, only this is an onslaught of spices and sweetness on the nostrils – and it is heavenly.
Upon entering the room, a star-studded line-up greets you. However, the medium of the exhibition gives the impression of a junior school class presentation, with the most eager students pitting to out-do their neighbours by pushing their creations to the front. The masterplan from Tibbalds Planning and Urban Design provides cohesion and fluidity in the composition. The results of this year’s Future City theme are multi-layered. MoA told us “Gingerbread city is conceived as part of the museum’s ongoing series of public projects …to explore the way architecture shapes our everyday lives”. Judged against these criteria, the exhibition was a sweet success. The 2017 exhibition saw practices creating ginger-bread case studies with a relationship to each other. Whereas, this year’s show looks more like a boulevard in Dubai with a festive twist. But maybe that is the future of our cities. Is this the message we are missing? I, for one, hope not.
Zaha Hadid’s Opera House is a standard product of the system. Alongside a vague, conceptual image in the programme, a vast flowing blob of classically computer-modelled gingerbread is set into a curvaceous public realm. A minimalist colour palette of marbled sugar lakes and rivers provides some semblance of youthful cheer and imagination. My personal favourite? Egret-West’s library, a diagrid of gingerbread, supporting a dense network of gardens and bustling activity. Other notable pieces include Foster (who was clearly short of a few employees). His robots laid precision gingerbread blocks into a modular parametric arrangement, following a line of LEDs. This was then dusted with an uncharacteristic, but very welcomed, organic, decoration of human life. Conversely, CoveBurgess exhibits a sculpted sugar barrel sky garden shelter, resting on an elegant, illuminated, high-rise block.
At the end of the day, you have to take the architectural sophistication of this exhibition with a pinch of cinnamon. Failing to do so would miss the point of the exhibition. Gingerbread city is engaging the wider public in architectural issues whilst remaining accessible. As an architecture student who goes home to a family who is not associated with the industry, I often find it difficult to talk about my work. Attempts to explain my work either sound incredibly pretentious, or non-sensical through my use of architectural jargon. For these reasons, the junior school-style presentation I was reminded of is actually incredibly effective. It provides everyone with an identifiable environment and an experience that levels the field. It’s a problem of the introspective industry we are part of, that we can be too precious about elements pertaining to our specialities, without concern for the wider public context.The exhibition reminded me that architecture serves all people, not a select audience.