The Challenge

Things are going to get really nerdy really fast. Tables and charts and Rhino models will be making an appearance. It’s not too late to escape this blog if that’s not what you’re expecting.

(Pause to allow exit)

For the past few years I have been toiling for the building boom in NYC and elsewhere: towers made of concrete, steel, or combination of the two. Lately there is even talk of making them out of wood. The projects are always complex, with large teams of consultants and multi-disciplinary coordination. Then one day it occurred to me that, hey, it would be easier to build towers with cake – It won’t require a 50 year life span, we won’t need to accommodate any request for mechanical duct penetrations, and the end result would be sweet!

I thought I’d give it a try. But when I consulted with my deity, Yoda, at the altar of my portal to the world (a.k.a. computer), he said: “Do, or do not, there is no try.” Guess I’m committed.


So as engineers are wont to do, I proceeded to breakdown the challenge into different parts, to be tackled separately:

Internal structure: Cake, as a rule, has low compressive and tensile strength, which is why it’s soft, and you can bit into it easily. Unless it’s last Christmas’s fruitcake, in which case it’s probably hard as masonry units. To build tower out of cake, an internal structure is needed to control lean/bulge/sag. Traditional tiered cakes make use of dowels, but modifications are required to reach new heights.

Geometry: Modern towers are rarely the rectangular extrusions of yore: irregular floor plates, rounded/chamfered corners, tapering and twisting forms are all fair game in the service of architectural expression. Precise measurements would be required to accurately represent the geometry. 3D computer models can help to determine how to divide the cake into pieces for baking and assembling. Care is also required to achieve levelness, plumbness, and sharp edges.

Façade a.k.a. Frosting:  In tiered cakes, borders and flowers can be used to hide minor imperfections between layers. But modern buildings often feature clean lines. Fondant or icing may have to cover the cake continuously from top to bottom, an unusual approach. In addition, replicating the visual aesthetics of glazing or metal panel using edible material would require some research on cutting edge cake decorating technology.

Weight/transport: For the sake of the muscular men/women who will help me move the cake upon completion, I’d like to be able to estimate the weight of the finished product. Alas, even after exhausting my google-fu, I have not been able to find recorded values of common cake densities. How has no one else wondered about this before? I shall have to take matter into my own hands and start a table.

Journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. The best way to work out the issues above is to pick a tower and try to build it. But which one? So many skyscrapers in New York City, and indeed in the world.

That’s a decision for another day.


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