A Look at DMSAS’ Favorite Holiday Tradition, Gingertown!

What is Gingertown?

It’s not just Santa’s little elves that are hard at work at Christmas time; it’s architects too! Every December, David M. Schwarz Architects (DMSAS) organizes and hosts a one-of-a-kind charity event called Gingertown in which we plan a town completely made of gingerbread based on a unique theme and the principles of good urban planning. We invite fellow architects, engineers, contractors and developers to participate through sponsorships, donations and designing their own lot in Gingertown. Participants work in teams to build a town out of frosting, dozens of candies and, of course, gingerbread. 100% of the donations raised during the event go to DC-based charities.

The event was created in 2006 by the DMSAS Charitable Foundation as a fun way to engage with and celebrate our colleagues in the building design and construction industry and, most importantly, to raise money for local charities.

The very first Gingertown in 2006 began with just 15 lots. We invited participants to our office and used every square inch of surface area to build the individual buildings before bringing the town together. Now over 10 years later, the annual Gingertown event comprises over 55 lots and, most recently in 2017, spanned 84 square feet.

While originating in DC, Gingertown has spread across the country to other cities including Dallas, Nashville and Atlanta. Starting in 2010, NorthPark Center city mall has organized their own Gingertown event in Dallas, TX with the support of DMSAS. Architecture firm Earl Swensson Associates, Inc. (ESa), with whom we previously worked on the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, has done the same in Nashville, TN since 2010. Specialty Tile Products Inc. has also hosted their own Gingertown in Atlanta, GA since 2014.

Who is involved in Gingertown?

DMSAS kicks off the Gingertown planning each year with the selection of the theme and the charities to which 100% of the donations will go. In the past, charity recipients have included the Children’s National Medical Center, So Others Might Eat, Family Matters, Saint Elizabeth’s Hospital, The Wendt Center for Loss & Healing, Community of Hope and more. All charities are based in DC as it is important to us to give back to the city we have called home for forty years.

Then the Mayor of Gingertown works with the Town’s City Planner along with DMSAS designers and planners to create a feasible and fun site plan. Once the plan is complete, calls for sponsors and participants go out to architects, engineers, developers, contractors and other building industry firms in the fall—usually late September.

Any firm in the building industry can get involved by reaching out to the Mayor of Gingertown at gingertown@dmsas.com. Call for lot sponsorship usually begins in early October and lots are selected shortly thereafter.

How is Gingertown designed?

DMSAS designers create a themed master plan based on principles of good urban planning with playful embellishments appropriate for the gingerbread-built city. The themes are often inspired by real precedent cities and the site plans incorporate urban design elements such as nodes, plazas and pedestrian-friendly block structures. In past years, our designers have modeled Gingertown after Las Vegas, London, the Old West and even a college campus!

Gingertown includes structures and uses that you would find in any complete neighborhood, such as city halls, libraries, parks and restaurants. Like all great master plans, the Gingertown plan has the sense and rhythm of a traditional planned city with communal and civic-minded centers, green spaces and a strong pedestrian culture. Unlike other towns, however, the streets of Gingertown are paved in Reese’s Pieces and Rice Krispies and typically have lamp posts constructed of candy canes.

How does Gingertown come together?

After reserving a lot prior to the event, our friends in the building industry who are participating in Gingertown come together on build night—usually the first Tuesday in December—to design and construct their individual lots in a space donated by a participating company. DMSAS provides all the confectionery supplies and participants from each firm work in within their respective teams to design and construct their lots. The challenging part of Gingertown—which is often also the fun part!—is that all of the buildings must be constructed completely out of edible materials.

Every year we look forward to witnessing the creativity that goes into Gingertown. We have seen large stadia clad in candy canes; a roller coaster constructed with pretzels and peppermint sticks; a gingerbread cottage decorated with pretzel windows, meringue dormers, Sour Strips paneling and a lollipop fence; and so many other tantalizing creations.

After three frenzied hours of candy construction, the individual gingerbread buildings come together on the foam-core master plan board to form the final Gingertown. The assembled gingerbread city is then inspected by a panel of judges.

The panel represents a cross-section of the DC building industry: architects, developers, engineers, contractors and other industry professionals such as municipal government representatives and historic preservation experts. The group of judges, along with the Mayor of Gingertown, gives awards to teams in several categories, including “Most Innovative Use of Materials,” “Best Overall Craftsmanship” and “Best Expression of Theme.”

The creators of the award-winning lots are bestowed a 3D-printed gingerbread man trophy. Everyone, however, leaves with some festive cheer and the satisfaction of knowing that they helped many local charities by participating in the event.

What happens after Gingertown is built?

The purpose of Gingertown is not only to connect with our colleagues in the DC building design and construction industry—we also want to give back to our city. After a week of being on display for public viewing, sections of Gingertown are separated and put on display at local hospitals, health care facilities and community support organizations to help spread the message of joy and hope during the holidays. Our charitable partners receive 100% of monies raised along with the confectionery creations.

Gingertown remains a highlight of the holiday season for DMSAS and our colleagues. The building night is an engaging, collaborative exercise in which all of the participants have the chance to demonstrate their creativity and attention to detail. We are grateful to our colleagues for taking part in this fun event with us and we look forward to continuing the giving tradition for many holiday seasons to come!

A picture is worth a thousand words! Click through the gallery to look at photos from Gingertown from years past...