Courtesy Photo/ SEAOSC

Structural engineers are used to working with concrete and steel when constructing buildings and bridges. This past weekend, however, engineers used much different materials to create their structures: baked goods and candy. In a local competition in Burbank, engineers partook in a fun and creative challenge to demonstrate their skills — and in one unfortunate case, their difficulties — in the craft.

The Structural Engineers Association of Southern California (SEAOSC) hosted a competition for engineers, both professionals and college students, to build their own gingerbread structures. Each of the 13 teams had months to design and practice making their designs but only had five hours to construct them on Thursday, Dec. 8. The teams were free to choose what they wanted to build, from famous buildings in Los Angeles to iconic structures in pop culture.

The small structures ranged from replicas of the Classroom, Laboratory and Administration (CLA) Building in Cal Poly Pomona, the Getty Villa, the Rose Bowl, Nakatomi Plaza from “Die Hard” and the Hill Valley Courthouse from “Back to the Future,” complete with a gingerbread DeLorean.

Courtesy Photo/ SEAOSC

“It was such a fun activity for our members … just building these together last [Thursday] night, it was such a positive experience,” SEAOSC President Patricia Harburg-Petrich said. “It was such a different thing to do, and it’s a way to be creative and also kind of work with a different material.”

Unfortunately for one team, their structure didn’t last for the exhibit’s opening. The replica of the Eastern Columbia Building partially collapsed during the night, leaving a bit of a mess on the exhibit floor. However, it was later salvaged. SEAOSC Executive Director John Bwarie said the reason for the collapse was likely an internal bracing issue.

Courtesy Photo/ SEAOSC

Each team built its structure to compete across a variety of categories. A handful of judges decided on the winners, and the awards were given out on Sunday, Dec. 11.

The winners were:

— the Once-ler’s house from “The Lorax” for Best in Show;

— the Eastern Columbia Building for Tallest;

— the Certification Workshop for Most Creative Original Structure;

— the Ramón C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts for Best Replica Building;

— the Casita from “Encanto” for Best Decorated; and,

— the Los Angeles Union Station for the President’s Award.

Visitors who came to the exhibit at the Burbank Town Center over the weekend could not only view the replicas but were given the opportunity to build one of their own. Gingerbread kits were sold at the exhibit, as well as a shake table to test their structural integrity. In addition, visitors were able to vote for their favorite structure on display.

For a $5 donation, visitors were given five votes to divide among their favorite replicas however they wished; guests were not limited to the donations they were allowed to give. The replica with the most votes would be given the People’s Choice Award.

At the end of the exhibit’s run, that award went to the LA Union Station replica.

Aside from being a competition among engineers, the exhibit was also used to support nonprofit organizations. Each team supported a different nonprofit, and all the funds donated to each structure will be given to their respective organization.

The list of nonprofits includes the Coalition for Clean Air, the Burbank Arts & Education Foundation, LA Family Housing, Home Again LA and the Association for Women in Architecture Foundation.

“It’s a pretty wide variety, and really the only guidance was to pick a nonprofit that speaks to you,” Harburg-Petrich said. “We did have a few nonprofits reach out and say, “Hey, can we be one of your sponsored philanthropies?’ … We’re also really excited about next year to hopefully be able to support more local philanthropies and give even more back to the community.”

Harburg-Petrich said that she sees this exhibit becoming a yearly tradition and thinks that next year’s exhibit, after getting more engineers on board, will double in size. She hopes the event will educate the public on what engineers do — and perhaps become a way to spark interest in would-be engineers.

“We’re always looking to inspire the next generation,” Harburg-Petrich said. “I think whether a child becomes an engineer in the future or not, understanding engineering and STEM and having the opportunity to have those experiences designing and building their own structures — I think that’s a valuable skill later [to have] in life, no matter what they end up doing for their career.”