With cherrypicker's help, crew applies icing-coated roof tiles.

Looking over the blueprints and forms submitted to the city for approval, it's not that unusual a structure. It’s nearly 65 ft high, with an internal structure of scaffolding and drywall, and has all the proper lighting and sprinklers required to meet normal building codes. Perhaps the only major difference is that people walking through the finished structure could be tempted to break off a piece of the building and eat it.

Just inside the western entrance of the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., construction finished Nov. 22 on the World’s Largest Gingerbread House. In addition to being the tallest gingerbread house ever at 63 ft 2 inches, the building’s 1,496sq-ft footprint and the 14,000 lbs of gingerbread and 5,000 lbs of icing used in construction also make it the biggest. Building this one-of-a-kind-structure challenged the construction professionals involved, particularly those not accustomed to working with cookie-based building materials. The short-term project -- begun at the end of September and scheduled for dismantling in January -- is a feel-good holiday effort aimed at raising funds to assist senior citizens.


OxBlue Web Cam of Gingerbread House >>

“I’ve never really worked on anything quite like this before,” said Trent Bowman, special projects manager with the local office of PCL Construction Services, which managed the gingerbread house construction site. Minneapolis-based KKE Architects also assited in the program, which took some 1,700 hours to design and construct. “We did the everyday job of organizing construction, but all this happened because of gingerbread artist Roger Pelcher. Pelcher was already in the Guinness Book of Records for constructing the world's tallest gingerbread house. This is his fourth large-scale gingerbread house design, and he’s breaking his own previous record of 57 ft.” His latest effort pushes the limits of baked good construction. “This house uses a completely new design in order to achieve the new height, so this wasn’t just a copy of one of his earlier efforts. Roger has also announced that this house will be his last, so I don’t think we’ll get another chance to do something like this any time soon,” Bowman added.

"Constructing this house inside Mall of America has been a magical experience for me and will be magical for all the families and children that tour it this holiday season," Pelcher told a reporter at the site as the project was near completion.

Knowing they could rely on Pelcher’s experience for the gingerbread phase of construction, workers used more traditional materials to build the framework of the house, ensuring that it could bear the weight of the tons of cookie and frosting to come. The structural portion of the building is scaffolding with drywall attached, which in turn has steel bolts that secure frosting-coated gingerbread tiles. It is in that last step however, where the real engineering challenge began.

"Roger's expertise is in gingerbread, and he understands it better than anyone. But there’s not too many engineering books with the tensile strength of frosting. There are many factors involved that we just can’t look up,” observed Bowman. Getting all those 10.5 x 14-inch gingerbread “bricks” to adhere to the framework using only frosting was no small feat of engineering. “Once you've applied the gingerbread you can't touch it or it will break. As a result we had to do the roof construction from the top down, since you can’t have workers walking along the roof as you might at other sites. It’s certainly an example of atypical construction.”

Yet it was that fragility and aura of difficulty that motivated many of the crew. “We had three different engineering groups working on it, making sure it's structurally sound, that it won't exceed the floor weight and so on.” Oddly enough, the engineers and architects weren’t the only ones that took the project so seriously. “I was definitely surprised by the requirements of the city, all of the engineering they were looking for in our design.” Bowman recalled. “They treated this like any other construction project seeking approval, and we had to demonstrate that the gingerbread house met all the same standards.” So can a cookie house legally qualify as a proper building? “Overall we applied our standard construction practices. We met the same requirements the city would have of any other building: engineering, lighting, sprinkling, everything.”

The day before Thanksgiving, the crew attached the last gingerbread tiles and placed the final touches on the candy and chocolate accents, securing a new Guinness record for Pelcher. But PCL's Bowman concedes that gingerbread isn't likely to become a viable construction material any time soon. “Per-pound it’s costing us far more than traditional materials, so right there it’s not going to be cost-effective," he said. "Plus this house is only going to be up for about five weeks, so don’t expect us to certify it for twenty years here.”

Still, there are hidden benefits to gingerbread construction one doesn’t find elsewhere in the industry. “The whole house has been put together with real gingerbread and real icing, it’s all completely edible. I actually ate some of the building material myself one day,” Bowman said.

The World’s Largest Gingerbread House is scheduled to stand in the Mall of America through January 1. Admission is free, but there is a suggested donation of $3. All proceeds from the house will go towards the St. Therese Foundation, a local charity which provides care for senior citizens.