The Bartlett School of Architecture


Engineering and Architectural Design MEng Students Build Bridges for Winter Feastival

28 February 2024

Last month, the programme’s students and staff took on a light-hearted and collaborative challenge of designing edible and structurally sound bridges on a tight budget.

Students gather around a bridge constructed from flat lasagne pasta sheets

Engineering & Architectural Design MEng (ARB/RIBA Part 1, CIBSE & JBM) is based across three UCL campuses – 22 Gordon Street in Bloomsbury, Here East and UCL East’s new Marshgate building in Stratford. As a result, the students have access to the campuses' full range of facilities, but are not often all together as a complete group across all four years of the programme. The MEng Winter Feastival, which took place in January, provided an opportunity for all years and tutors to come together for two days to take on a fun, low-pressure design brief.  

Students and staff from across the programme gathered at Here East to embark on a novel and collaborative building challenge: to build edible bridges that could bear weight and still satisfy the taste buds. Tutor-led design cooperatives gathered students from years 2, 3 and 4 to take on the challenge, while first year students worked on a separate Living Bridges challenge.

To approach the main challenge, co-ops were formed with six to nine students, with students randomly selected from each year group to collaborate on each project. Design tutors were also randomly assigned to each co-op from all years and across three UCL departments - The Bartlett School of Architecture, the Civil Environmental Geomatic Engineering (CEGE) and the Institute of Environmental Design and Engineering (IEDE). 

Each bridge was required to span one metre and withstand rigorous testing. While the event was just for fun, with no assessment involved, it offered students and staff an unusual way to showcase their inventiveness and design skills. Through model-making, drawings and conversations, tutors and students developed their edible bridge designs. Working to a maximum budget of £50 per co-op, students bought most of their ingredients from a local supermarket. Some sourced just past sell-by-date food and others raided their lunchboxes for likely building materials. They improvised a form of glue by melting sugary condiments and sweets like marshmallow in the studio's microwave, while fresh vegetables were woven and interlocked with Japanese joinery to create unique load-bearing structures. 

After designing and building their bridges, the MEng students pivoted to the task of judging the winners, testing their designs by using bags of sugar as weights to discover each bridge’s breaking point and to evaluate the weakest point of each bridge. They also worked out the carbon footprint of each bridge, using metrics like the materials’ air miles from their points of origin, and finally subjected the bridges to taste tests. 
Three bridges were awarded sustainably-minded prizes for structural elegance, environmental innovation and the best-tasting bridge, with the winners being given first choice of any remaining, unused food from the challenge, ensuring nothing went to waste. The challenge also resulted in some unusual engineering evaluations afterwards. One group determined that their bridge collapsed because they “hadn’t baked it for long enough”, while others attributed structural failure to a shortage of confectionery – “we ran out of marshmallows and so the bridge collapsed”.

I thoroughly enjoyed the Winter Feastival event! It was a great social event and a fantastic way to kick off the second term. The event provided an amazing opportunity to meet and work with students and staff from all years. It was a fun design challenge, bringing everyone together. It was a very enriching and enjoyable experience.”

—Beliz Gurman, Engineering and Architectural Design MEng student, Year 4

More information

Images: Luke Olsen