Gingerbread Village is a sugary work of art

Dec 11, 2011

Forget about sugarplums dancing in his head. Architect Eric Drivdahl is drooling over cookie staircases, pretzel fences and a giant Rice Crispy treat mountain covered in 100 pounds of white chocolate.

"Look at this whole building, it's made out of candy," he says.

He's in the lobby of the Seattle Sheraton hotel, the site of the annual Gingerbread Village. This year's theme is "Holiday Express," with all six gingerbread marvels replicating world-famous train stations.

The stations weigh as much as 500 pounds and stand 5 feet high.

(To watch a video of the 14-day construction process of a miniature Dunedin Station, replete with koalas and kiwi birds, go here.)

The village is a fundraiser for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation's Northwest Chapter. There is no admission charge to see the village but donations are requested.

As a kid, Drivdahl spent hours on the floor building things out of Legos and Tinker Toys. Now he works at Gelotte Hommas Architecture in Bellevue. When his firm volunteered to help craft one of the gingerbread creations, Drivdahl couldn't resist the urge to make something Willy Wonka would approve.

"When you see a material as pliable as gingerbread is, you just can’t contain yourself."

He's never designed for "sugar people" -- figurines made out of fondant that stand about an inch high. But there were advantages applying his professional skills to this new medium:

"In gingerbread world the building department is pretty flexible I've found."

Gelotte Hommas worked with Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties. Volunteers from both organizations decorated the realistic miniature Gare du Palais, the chateauesque train station in Quebec.

There's a black licorice road. Green gummy drops as landscaping. The entire Canadian hockey team made out of icing. And an electric train running through the station.

Some of the other stations have a lot more "bling," Drivdahl says. Like a Santa with flying kangaroo reindeer. That's on the Flinders Street Station from Melbourne, Australia.

The gingerbread is made from a honey dough recipe and it's the work of Sheraton chefs, who also volunteer their time.

Gingerbread construction is a bit like dress making: There are "templates" and the chefs cut out shapes. The baking starts in mid-October.

"I’d rather do dinner for 1,000 people," says banquet chef Jay Sardeson.

The structures are held together with a combination of royal icing and hot glue. They're not meant to be eaten, only to last for six weeks of display.

And when the occasional vandalism occurs, the chefs have been known to get creative in making "repairs."

One year when a roof had collapsed they pulled out some yellow Caution tape and strung it around. It was meant to mirror actual windy, stormy weather that had occurred.

No detail is too small in Gingerbread World.

Gingerbread Village is on display through Jan. 1 in the lobby of the Seattle Sheraton.