Two of the sweetest things in the world (I think) are a nice cake and the Nice Bridge.


Nice Cake

A Nice Cake by zenobar

The Nice Bridge

The Nice Bridge by Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA)


In our office, Audrey has combined the two, sort of.  She has also started a cake bidding war in support of our charitable efforts for Canstruction. Canstruction provides resources for local food pantries. Teams build large sculpture structures out of food cans. The sculptures follow different themes each. This year’s theme is “Heroes Versus Villains.”  In the fall, the teams will assemble their sculptures in a lobby space in the Boston Society of Architectures building in downtown Boston.  The structures are exhibited for a week, and in an online contest, voters choose the best entries in different categories.  At the end of the exhibition period, the sculptures are deconstructed and the cans are donated to food pantries.



Canstruction Sculpture by Canstruction Boston via Vivian Eats Again


The can structures are very elaborate, involving hundreds of cans with complex erection procedures.  Failure is not an option, but sometimes it happens.  Two years ago, one group's cantilever construction plan did not cantilever so well, and dozens of cans came crashing down to earth.  The team scrambled to come up with Plan B, and fortunately they were able to get a revised version of their sculpture up off the ground.  The structure looked solid for the remainder of the week, but it had a “Tacoma Narrows”  vibe to it, even though it wasn’t leaning or otherwise impacted by wind loading.

Before build week, volunteer teams need to raise a bit of money to buy the cans that will be donated.  Over the years, our Stantec team has come up with many creative ways to fund raise, such as paying for the opportunity to launch a pie in the face into a member of senior management.

This year’s new fund raiser is probably the best. Every now and then, Audrey would bring in a home baked pie to the coffee room. At this point, all work would stop, or at least be slightly delayed.  Audrey’s pies are more advanced than the results of a Duncan Hines mix. They are elaborate and astonishing creations.  The layer cakes require painstaking assembly of ingredients. The fruit tarts are tart and elegant. The cakes are often multi-layered and presented with sophistication.


Audrey's Cake

Lemon Layer Strawberry Cream Cake by Audrey Kropp


Audrey’s pies are not only great to look at. They also provide about three-days-worth of daily caloric input for an average adult, and 1.5-days-worth for an Olympic Athlete (in active training). These confections are astonishingly delicious. Audrey’s manager had kiddingly remarked (we think kiddingly) that if her future pies were shared in the coffee room, it might influence her subsequent employment.

So, engineers and planners in the Stantec Boston office has been graced with a series of cakes. This temptation has resulted in a weekly bidding war, proceeds of which help to fill the charity coffers of our upcoming Canstruction construction. It’s all good.

In talking with Audrey, it occurs to me that baking a cake is very similar to building a bridge.  Audrey provided a description of her baking process:


     Baking for me usually starts with one ingredient. Whatever is standing out local and in season sets the tone. For this cake it was summer and strawberries have been the big star at the farmers markets. Usually I do a bit of research on recipes that focus on the star ingredient and the next step is a quick inventory of what I have on hand and what equipment the recipe calls for. This recipe required picking up fresh strawberries, lemon, and eggs from the farmers market. When I can find local dairy supplied milk, butter, and eggs I almost always go that route.

     Next is breaking down how much of what I will need. Even if I have a copy of the recipe I tend to write it out to make sure I don’t miss any ingredients or steps, especially if as in the case of this recipe I plan to double the batch. Next, I will game out the timeline, this is an undervalued part of the game plan. Do you have enough time to actually bake and assemble the recipe? The last thing you want is to put all the work into something and not leave yourself enough time to properly assemble it.

A rough breakdown of the cake construction schedule is:

  • 45 mins - prepping the ingredients – measuring out all the dry and wet, making sure the dairy has time to warm to room temperature but not too much time, cleaning and slicing up the fruit
  • 10 mins - prepping the baking equipment – make sure you have what you need clean and the oven is preheated (start first so it will warm while other things are going on)
  • 20 mins – mix it all up, this cake required mixing dry, then slowly adding in some wet in a specific order, then adding in the dairy after it was warmed on the stove to a specific temperature
  • 40 mins – bake, get a baking thermometer and don’t mess with anything too soon, fluxuating temperature in your oven will result in an uneven and unattractive bake 
  • 20 mins – while baking make the filling
  • 1hr at least – cool the cakes and chill the filling, if you rush and combine too soon it will melt the filling, ruining it and your cake
  • 20 mins – assemble the cake
  • 20 mins – clean up (you should be cleaning as you go)

     Also keep in mind if you plan to travel with what you are cooking you will need to make sure you have something to preserve your hard work until its destination, consider if it should be assembled in the carrier for example

     So, it’s a combination of making sure you have the right materials, the right tools, and a good understanding of your timeline and patience.

Considering the construction process, both the cake and the bridge start with conceptual design. The bridge has a structural type. The cake has a cake type.  Initially, it is a vision of the engineer or baker. There is a vast store of information of what happened before, but with the new bridge or the new cake, it is different and unique in its own way. It is special and an act of creation. Building on past experience, the engineer or chef makes a series of decisions to develop the plans/ recipe. 

After conceptual design is complete, it is time to move into production. This is the process of translating to the concept to reality. The bridge has design documents such as plans and specifications.  he cake has a recipe. Both have a construction budget. Depending on the size of the project, the budget is more or less detailed. For Audrey’s individual creations, the budget is somewhat informal. Audrey knows to buy the best ingredients, such as fresh strawberries and not rotten ones.  But she also knows not to go overboard, such as trying to buy the best best strawberries at $420 per pint.  For more complex cakes, such as in a restaurant, the budgeting process is much more detailed and formal, just like for more complex bridges.

Implementation of the contract documents for a cake or a bridge likewise has many similarities. The recipe for a cake or bridge is a detailed blueprint for creation of the concept. But it is not corporeal until it is engaged. So there are twists and turns during project execution. A bridge project will typically have many RFIs as the detailed construction procedure is engaged. Similarly, a cake project will have some adjustments during mixing and backing.

There are differences because when the project is done, you drive on the bridge and eat the cake. But it is interesting to compare the design process of the two. As we get ready for Canstruction 2018, we are grateful to Audrey for the new high-calorie fundraising approach. 


Brooklyn Bridge Cake

Brooklyn Bridge Cake   Photo of The River Cafe is courtesy of TripAdvisor