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Photo: William Kempton
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The world’s first 3D printed gingerbread house
is a Norwegian stave church

Liquor, computer controlled nozzles and some sweet engineering –
William Kempton has a new spin on an old tradition.

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“A student asked me ‘why not print something in gingerbread dough?’”

When William Kempton, industrial designer and teacher from the Oslo School of Architecture and Design, was presented with this 3D printing idea, it didn’t take long before he found himself at the forefront of gingerbread innovation.

This being Kempton’s first attempt at a gingerbread house, it would probably have made sense to pick something simple for his first attempt. Instead, he chose the Borgund stave church in Lærdal as his model.

“The church was great for printing because it doesn’t have much in the way of structures stretching outwards. Instead, it narrows gradually toward the top, with a lot of weight at the bottom”, Kempton says.

“Also, using a Norwegian symbol felt important. A stave church is very recognizable and distinct.”

Various technologies have been utilized for building gingerbread houses in the past.

However, this has usually been for cutting or printing building blocks that are then assembled in a traditional fashion. Kempton’s goal was to instead print the whole thing in one big piece.

Pushing gingerbread dough out of a computer controlled nozzle presented him with two great challenges:

“First, gravity is not very kind. Second, heated materials usually grow softer.”

Early attempts had a habit of collapsing in on themselves, so adjustments both to harden the dough and streamlining the subsequent process were needed (Kempton has posted a thorough explanation of his process on Medium).

Oslo
Credits
Oslo.
Photo: Alexandre Chappel

Credits
Oslo.
Photo: Alexandre Chappel

Along with large amounts of starch and flour, Kempton switched out water for another, less traditional ingredient he picked up when attempting to 3D print with clay.

“Liquor evaporates faster than water, allowing the clay to stay solid. We applied the same principle to the gingerbread dough. It is completely edible, although the starch is a bit much. Not grandma’s favorite recipe, but it does the job.”

After figuring out what temperature the 3D printer nozzle should be, Kempton also had to model an internal support structure for the church to keep it from caving in on itself.

 

“This would have been pretty complicated to build with ordinary methods?”

“Well, this is my first attempt at a gingerbread house, but I imagine the inward curve behind the church would have been somewhat difficult.”

Kempton’s mix of tradition and technology has already led to international media sending him e-mails, while Norwegian broadcaster NRK already have an article out.

In the commentary section, not everyone was taken with Kempton’s approach.

“So now we’re replacing the Christmas tradition of ‘drawing and building a gingerbread house with your kids’ with ‘sitting around watching a machine do what we previously thought of as the highlight of Advent’.”

Kempton is pleased that his gingerbread house can inspire technological debate.

“3D printing food often provokes discussion. It is a question of automation, of leaving our labor to a robot. At the same time, this opens up new possibilites for people who would not necessarily be able to make food on their own.”

Oslo
Credits
Oslo.
Photo: Alexandre Chappel

Credits
Oslo.
Photo: Alexandre Chappel

Even though his building methods are less than traditional, Kempton makes sure other parts of the tradition are upheld.

“Are you bringing the church home as a Christmas decoration?”

“I feel I have to. And then I’ll have to smash it. like with all gingerbread houses.”

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