Miss Washington 2007 addresses the crowd in the lobby of the recently expanded Sheraton Hotel. By Christmas Day more than 300,000 people will view Gingerbread Village, she tells us, which was created to raise a sugary awareness of the perils of juvenile diabetes.
It is Monday, November 19, 2007, or Gingerbread Village Day by official proclamation of Mayor Greg Nickels. Children from the Seattle Area German American School sing, Peruvian girls dance, onlookers clap. The occasion is a sweet one.
But even into this cheery holiday atmosphere judgment must descend and do its mean (or meaningful) work. For six of the seven gingerbread structures on display were not produced by children afflicted with juvenile diabetes—those naughty diseased children could not be trusted with the raw materials, with the gingerbreads, sweets, and icings—but by the most prestigious architectural firms in the city. So we must assess these structures with a critical eye. Which is best? Which is worst? If an architectural firm is incapable of decent gingerbread design, what of the buildings that firm is inflicting on our helpless city?
Mulvanny G2 Architecture
"Around the World in Holidays"
This work is a mess. It seeks to be everything and accomplishes nothing. It features tiny rooms, holiday scenes, different cultures—including ones that do not celebrate our peculiar Christmas. This work recalls our new City Hall, a tragic collision of design elements and concepts.
And yet Mulvanny G2 Architecture is one of two firms behind the huge and spectacular Olive 8, now under construction in downtown Seattle. Olive 8 is a glass-and-steel tower with no surprises, no confusions, a structure that has nothing in common with the mess that is "Around the World in Holidays." It is hard to believe that both designs were produced by the same firm.
"Chinese New Year"
By far the best on display. The details are impressive: The scales of the dragon are made from chocolate coins; the spines on its back are a line of Hershey's Kisses; the roof of the Chinatown gate is tiled with dark-green jelly beans. All materials properly used and placed; there is no waste in this work. Well done!
KMD Architects, headquartered in San Francisco, is expanding its operations in this city. KMD made its reputation in the health-care sector and one of its most recognized local designs is Evergreen Hospital Medical Center's Kirkland campus. The design of that campus is dull; there is no relationship between it and the extraordinary "Chinese New Year." Either KMD has stepped up its game or it has discovered the medium in which it should be working: sweets.
"A Very Kremlin Christmas"
Onion domes twirl; a frozen blue lake is alive with ice skaters; a nutcracker seems ready to dance. One must credit Callison Architecture for their efforts. But the best thing about the design is a scene of sorrow. In Red Square a babushka searches for a lost boy. Where has he gone? Has he been kidnapped by cruel Russian gangsters? While skaters skate, is the boy being violated on the internet to delight sadistic pedophiles all over the globe? It is impressive that Callison included this note of Russian sorrow in its composition.
Callison Architecture is one of the biggest architectural firms in the country, and its most recent major project in our area was the expansion of the Sheraton Hotel itself. Indeed, the lobby which hosts "Very Kremlin" was designed by this firm. But, alas, the lobby lacks the ambition, surprises, and pathos of "Very Kremlin." Hotels, as we've recently seen with disgraced Washington State Representative Richard Curtis, can be the site of great sorrows. There is no hint of sorrow in Callison Architecture's lobby, however, and that is a pity.
"Holiday on Top of the World"
Winter scenes. Each is predictable. There is nothing new in this design, but it's not bad or boring. It merely serves.
Mithun designed the REI building on Yale Avenue North. Strange as this may sound, Mudede has never put a foot into this local landmark, although he has seen it from the window of a taxi on I-5. It also serves.
This gingerbread planet features the "wonders of the world": the Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal, the pyramids of Egypt, and, pathetically, Seattle's own Space Needle. It also has African animals, the seven seas, and a Hawaiian dancer. This is the world according to DLR Group, a firm that has been around since 1966, and it's not well done. Though big and crowded, their world feels hollow.
The John Stanford Center for Educational Excellence was also designed by DLR Group, and it is simple and functional. But bold is a word that is as far from this center as it is from DLR's vision of the planet.
"March of the Arctic Nesting Dolls"
The worst of the gingerbread designs. It should be smashed to bits and fed to diabetic juveniles. We turn our backs.
Amazingly NBBJ also designed the Seattle Justice Center, a beautiful and green building that features a roof garden, a water-retention system, and a façade that ventilates the building. The Seattle Justice Center and "March of the Arctic Nesting Dolls" have nothing in common. NBBJ should be awarded more local commissions for buildings but barred from participating in any further projects involving gingerbread and ill children.
After assessing "March of the Arctic Nesting Dolls," "Chinese New Year," "Very Kremlin," and the rest, it seems clear that good gingerbread design exists in inverse proportion to good architectural design. If a firm excels at one, it fails at the other.
City planners take note.