cupcake architecture

This is ultimately about architecture, so keep reading.

I am not a cupcake chef and I know nothing about baking. However, I believe this new craze for custom cupcakes, fueled by the Food Network shows may be a new vice for me and my wife. We have a great cupcake shop in my hometown (try the chocolate with salted caramel frosting), but we also started visiting them as we travel. That is how we actually got personally introduced to them last year. I can’t say we’ve been to many and maybe I’m a poor judge, but on a recent trip, I believe we found a cupcake that could have been the best baked treat we ever ate.

During our vacation last week to Virginia, we found two great cupcake shops. At Carytown-Cupcakes on West Cary Street in Richmond VA we found a chocolate blackberry syrah cupcake. It was gluten-free and the chocolate was very light. It was also balanced well with the blackberry frosting and the fresh blackberry on top. However, it was at our first find that we discovered the best cupcake we ever ate. The s’mores cupcake at Lola’s Cookies and Treats in Leesburg, VA may be less visually appealing than many of its cousins, but this one had an interior surprise. It’s much like walking into a humble building only to find a spatial and material richness inside. This cupcake fooled surprised us with its simple white frosting over a chocolate cake. When you bite into it, you find rich chocolate frosting hidden under the vanilla infused marshmallow. The graham cracker bits complete the requisite ingredients and the über-fresh chocolate cake topped this off. I find passion for few things apart from architecture and family and my faith, but we found it at Lola’s. I think I could eat these every week if not more often. To be honest, we stopped again on our way home to eat lunch in town and to buy another cupcake.


Now, I’m not a food or bakery blogger; others are doing that much better.  Yet, from a previous comment I hinted at a parallel between cupcakes and architecture. I believe these amazing culinary creations have much in common with architecture and design. Think me crazy, but in my unique imagination there is much to compare. Let me elucidate.

  1. Visual appeal: Need I say any more? Go to the counter of your cupcake shop and see what I mean.
  2. Design: The beauty of this miniature cake is it relies heavily on design. Today’s specialty bakers are well aware of design’s impact on users (in this case, eaters) and sales. It relies on a good composition between the cake portion and the top.
  3. Scale: The fun of designing this confectionary is it is a small gem or a tiny canvas. It ends up being taller than wide by the time its complete which is a pleasing appearance. It’s much like an architectural folly. Another great property is it is inherently a one person treat (actually, we shared ours). It naturally fits in one’s hand too…can you say ergonomic?
  4. Proportion: Much like scale, the proportion is important. The amount of icing and topping is critical to keep in balance with the amount of cake. What makes these custom cakes so delectable is there is often more frosting than the grocery store type. Visually they’re very appealing as you see how bakers stack up the frosting and decorations on top.
  5. Color: As with any food, color is what often catches our eye and interest. Add some fruit or colored frosting and they shout “buy me.” How can you resist?
  6. Sectional properties: Architecture could be judged by the plan (floor plan), but we all know the spatial qualities are understood in section. Here we have a simple round cake in plan, but in section is where we find endless variety. We have filled cupcakes, layered frosting and endless toppers like fruit, sprinkles and other candy gems. How they are stacked makes a big difference in taste and appearance.
  7. Tripartite composition: Since the ancient Greeks, we see the base, shaft and capital components appear in architecture. It is still as common as it was a few millennia ago. With a little vision, we see the same vertical arrangement in cupcakes. (stop rolling your eyes, I’m right about this)


Besides these design features appearing in the goods themselves, what I also appreciate about the shops we have seen or visited is how they contribute to their local communities and how they care as much about their signs and graphics as they do their cupcakes. Think about it, design is so important to our daily lives. Whether it is architecture or cupcakes like it or not, design does matter. In the case of cupcakes, good design is definitely good business.


Now go find your local cupcake shop and buy your favorite flavor. You’ll help a small business and you’ll love the treat.

top photo (s’mores cupcake) is from Lola’s Cookies and Treats website

second photo (chocolate blackberry) is from Carytown-Cupcakes Facebook page

cut s’mores photo is mine…right before we ate it…

…eat in moderation, cupcakes are not a health food but they are a happiness food

cupcake architecture

13 thoughts on “cupcake architecture

  1. Nice! I love to bake, and find cake-baking and cupcake-creation to be a lot like architecture – in the execution stage.

    Last December, I wrote a spec section (recipe) for my famous Christmas cookies, and gave it to my clients. It was fun – recipes are really the same exact thing as spec sections, except that the product is edible…

  2. Great job on the cupcake elevation. I think that I could actually construct this just on the elevation. Cupcake plan and sections not needed.

  3. New York has embraced the rising world of cupcake exploration. If you make it there in some of your travels, “Crumbs” is a stop I think you would be impressed with–this specimen would actually require the section drawing given that many of their cupcakes have a filling in the center. However, if you are a little more adventurous and can wander down to the Lower East Side, “Sugar Sweet Sunshine” sets the bar for avid enthusiasts. Similar to your Virginia experience, all drawings would render a deceiving image of what they manage to bake into their cupcakes. We have had boxes delivered to our architecture office on more than one occasion.

  4. The cupcake prototype elevation cracks me up! I personally love cupcakes. But they don’t compare to a fresh home baked chocolate chip cookie (or twelve) and a tall glass of milk – whole milk not that commy-2% crap people drink. :-\

    1. First of all, switch to decaf…now go get a cookie, sit down and drink your whole milk and be good. Second, I agree, chocolate chip cookies rule. But there is something architectural about cupcakes. I really don’t care for regular cake.

      1. Decaf?! That’s just un-American. :-\
        I’m not really a fan of cake either.
        The architectural quality to cupcakes is interesting. The most important factor for me is the cake to frosting ratio – both in volume and overall visual proportions. If it’s even a little out of balance – too little or too much – the cupcake is ruined.

      2. I totally agree about the frosting ratio. I actually feel that way about many food items. This is why my freakish mind takes food to architecture. So many architectural projects have succeeded or failed simply by good or bad proportions.

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