Gingerbread Architecture

Guest Post by MGLM’s Gingerbread Starchitect Mallory Mecham

Dec. 24, 2013

December is a time of year filled with holiday traditions, from the religious to the secular to the…architectural?

In my family, gingerbread is a tradition we take very seriously. Each year on Thanksgiving, we’d break out the bottles of molasses and bags of powdered sugar and whip up several batches of gingerbread and royal icing. We’d make a village that included four small, basic gabled-roof houses and one large church, complete with a steeple and stained glass window.

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Over the years, my interest in architecture grew, and our villages grew more and more elaborate.

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We diversified our patterns, added dormers and chimneys, and got more creative in the styles of the houses.

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It seemed a natural progression to apply this family tradition to the work we’re doing in the office. This year I made a quarter-scale model of an Arts & Crafts house that the office had designed for a competition.

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It has a lot of great architectural elements that presented some interesting challenges for the gingerbread/icing construction method – bay windows, columns, engaged dormers, a cantilevered wing with arches and brackets – but as in full-scale architecture, it was these details that really made the gingerbread house special. The following are some photos of the process:

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And some photos of it all coming together.

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As you can see, it has its similarities to actual construction! Foundations, walls, then the roof.

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Despite a few mishaps – broken walls, misshapen edges, and a near collapse – the house came together.

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While it may not stand the test of time (it is gingerbread, after all), it brought some holiday cheer to the office and some novelty to a time-honored tradition.

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Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all from MGLM Architects!

MGLM beautifies new Skokie development

We recently completed the elevation designs and renderings for a new development in Skokie, IL. Aerial

An aerial of the first phase of the development.

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The interaction of private and public via the front porches and sidewalk.

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The courtyard bordered by coach houses.

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Looking out to the street from one of the front porches. Look how pretty it will be!

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

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Mardi Gras is arguably the best use of a city street to have ever been conceived.  The typical unkempt medians of New Orleans grandiose boulevards (lovingly called neutral ground) are used year long by streetcars and joggers save for 2 weeks when the 4 mile parade route transforms into a magical scene.  Carnival is a season filled with as much joy and pride as Christmas for most New Orleanians.  Spanning more than just a single calendar day, it encompasses far more than the stereotypical scenes that outsiders tend to imagine. More than anything else, it is a celebration of family, history and a city with a culture that is, in this writer’s opinion, unmatched by any American city today.

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While the vast majority of people in the French Quarter during Carnival are tourists and wandering from location to location, the Locals have had “their preferred spot” along the parade route for many of generations.  Young and old crowd the streets, staking out their territory on either the sidewalk or neutral ground, waiting for one of the many parades which roll by rain or shine.

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Krewes throw elaborate balls throughout the week. Crawfish boils spread along the sidewalks. Ladders, chairs, and benches line the curb.

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Massive floats, lively musicians, horses, dancers, and flambeaux carriers process along the thoroughfares day and night.  Young kids hang out above the crowd on brightly painted ladder boxes, teens throw snappers against old brick walls, college kids bring out their couches, and grandparents sit on balconies taking in the entire scene.

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What helps make Mardi Gras so unique is that it seemingly stops New Orleans “business as usual” in its tracks. The event takes over the city – nothing else matters and that is good.

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When the crowds finally disperse and the sweepers come through, the city is perhaps the cleanest it’ll be all year (with the exception of the few beads that hang from tree limbs until hurricane season comes again).   It is a wonder how such a laissez faire metropolis pulls off one of the greatest, most organized events every year. Undoubtably one of the reasons why is because the city and its public rights-of-way are allowed to be commandeered as people see fit.

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If you do ever have the privilege to attend, wander as much of the route as you can – you are sure to find the most eclectic variety of people co-existing in one jubilant festival and it all takes place on New Orleans’ cracked, sinking, oak-lined and beloved streets.  Two members of of MGLM’s crew have strong ties to the Crescent City (hence the bias in this post) and both certainly have been affected by the city’s wonder and architectural charm and significance.

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We wouldn’t recommend seeing this incredibly city for the first time at Mardi Gras – you’ll miss too much of the rich heritage that is reflected throughout the city’s building stock, historic neighborhoods, streets and public spaces.  But Mardi Gras or no, New Orleans should certainly be on every urbanist or architect’s must-visit list.

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A Machine for Turning Coffee into Designs

How does MGLM make it through demanding (and sometimes unrealistic) deadlines? With the world’s most popular drug of course. To paraphrase the Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdos, here at MGLM an architect is a machine for turning coffee into designs. We recently used these to help complete more than 40 art glass designs.

MGLM and Lavazza Cremespresso

Our preferred delivery system, and coffee of choice in deadline conditions, is Lavazza’s Cremespresso. The coffee purveyors at our local Lavazza Espression – 27 W. Washington St., Chicago – know us by sight. We need an account there.

Note to Lavazza: we are now accepting sponsorships!

Traditional Khmer Art

Now that the Mayans were proven incorrect and the world hasn’t actually ended, we thought a post on some architectural art we commissioned might be nice. Coincidentally it is of the mythical Hindu god Kala, who, according to legend, consumes all living things during the advent of winter. If you subscribe to the myth, Kala is currently consuming the northern hemisphere. Southern hemisphere – you’re next!

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Above is a sketch one of MGLM’s principals generated during a trip to Cambodia in 2011. Two MGLM principals were there to discover construction techniques and develop relationships with artisans and contractors to execute designs we completed pro bono for the Charitable Education Organization and NGO, PEPY. They are a great organization that is doing essential work in Cambodia. If you know anything about Pol Pot or the history of the country, you know how important their cause is.
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Carved onto a significant number of lintels in many of the Cambodian Temple Complexes around Siem Reap, Kala represents change. In a way, it is the Cambodian version of the Latin maxim: Carpe Diem. It is a reminder that all things come to an end, so we should appreciate and make the most of the time we have. The sketch is an interpretation of a couple different lintels, and draws heavily from the most intricately carved temple buildings at Banteay Srei. The pink/red sandstone allows for incredible detail. In the sketch, the stylized curls going into Kala’s mouth represent the world. They are covered with the traditional Pnhee Plueng – the Fire Flower. The rest of the carving also utilizes the fire flower motif.
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While in Cambodia, our fantastic guide introduced us to an artisan school which is hard at work keeping alive the traditional Khmer arts. It is located at a Buddhist Temple and run by a very well respected monk, with whom, and his head artisan, we had the honor and pleasure of an audience. The story of the meeting we’ll save for another post. We gave them the sketch and, through our guide who translated everything, described how we would like it carved in wood, and what its dimensions should be. We left there assured of how highly skilled the artisans are but not sure how the carving would turn out.
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You can imagine our delight when this arrived 6 months later! The piece is perfect. The shipping cost was not exorbitant, making this something we are pursuing further.
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The detail and depth is amazing as is the care for its overall quality. We have plans to commission a number of other carvings, and we are also accepting requests. Please feel free to contact us if you would like to take advantage of this amazing resource, but more importantly, help keep traditional arts alive.
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Kitchen Renovation in Progress

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New Lacanche (France!) range and Rookwood (Ohio!) subway tile backsplash.

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New crown detail & a recessed light still awaiting its finishing touches.

New window over sink

New tripartite window over the sink, expertly crafted by Krumpen Woodworks – still waiting on the final hardware (and sink fixtures).

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New island with Vermont Danby Marble countertop and butcher block end piece (and more temporary sink fixtures!).

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The new Lacanche range and Rookwood subway tile backsplash – fine Christopher Peacock cabinetry throughout!

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Detail of the pot filler and handsome tile (pre-grout).

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The vanquished kitchen: circa summer 2012…

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…it didn’t quite fit the aesthetic of the lovely Colonial home it supported.

New Photos of the Treehouse

Recent photos of a renovation and remodel that MGLM Architects completed for a Harold Zook house in Lake Geneva, WI.

Photos by Bill Meyer.

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MGLM designed the railing and fireplace screen to complement the quirky spiderweb motif used by the original architect.

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Katsura Imperial Villa

Many architectural enthusiasts are drawn to simple details, clean lines, balanced compositions, and a connection to nature, and those enthusiasts often cite traditional Japanese architecture for their design ideas.

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Throughout its many stages of development, Japanese architecture has characteristically and expertly combined elements of nature and the man-made into sublime creations.

Although not widely known, the epitome of that combination is embodied in the Katsura Imperial Villa complex located on the outskirts of Kyoto.

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The villa complex exhibits stunning interiors as well as exquisite landscaping, often times expertly blurring the distinction between the interior and exterior.

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By focusing on Katsura Imperial Villa, we hope in future posts to explore the complex’s architectural lessons by understanding its historical development, the personalities involved in its creation, the characteristics of its particular style of architecture, and most importantly, focusing on the villa’s multitude of interior and exterior details that can inform our current craft of building and design.

MGLM receives an ALA Design Merit Award

MGLM receives a Design Merit Award from the Association of Licensed Architects!

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This delicate North Shore addition adds six new rooms and an elevator – all of which function as petite gallery spaces for the homeowners’ Asian Art collection.

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Each room was conceived in an entirely different aesthetic, including Japanese, Chinese, western European – even one room in the form of European-interpretation-of-Asian: a whimsical muraled “Chinoiserie.”

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