Partner Schools
Print Archive
Peer Review


Partner News
Peer Reviewed
Poetry & Fiction


Cities + Places
Design History
Design Practice
Film + Video
Health + Safety
Politics + Policy
Public + Private

Design Observer

Job Board

Comments Posted 12.17.12 | PERMALINK | PRINT

Gallery: Abruzzo Bodziak with Kate Bernheimer & Andrew Bernheimer

Fairy Tale Architecture: Snowflake

“‘Oh! my darling Snowflake!’ cried the old woman, and led her into the cottage.” Click images to enlarge. [All images by Abruzzo Bodziak Architects]

Fairy tales have transfixed readers for thousands of years, and for many reasons; one of the most compelling is the promise of a magical home. How many architects, young and old, have been inspired by a hero or heroine who must imagine new realms and new spaces — new ways of being in this strange world?

In three installments this week, we continue a series of architectural fairy tales we began last winter. Participating firms — Abruzzo Bodziak, Bernheimer Architecture, and SO-IL — have produced works exploring the intimate relationship between the domestic structures of fairy tales and the imaginative realm of architecture. (See the endnote for earlier designs by Leven Betts, Guy Nordenson, and Bernheimer Architecture.)

Houses in fairy tales are never just houses; they always contain secrets and dreams. This project presents a new path of inquiry, a new line of flight into architecture as a fantastic, literary realm of becoming. We welcome you to these fairy-tale places.

— Kate Bernheimer & Andrew Bernheimer

“‘Let us make a little snow child.”


You can count on fairy tales for happy endings — sometimes just an image, perhaps of a soft, little haze rising into the sky. “Snowflake,” an iconic Russian fairy tale, is no exception. Its cold end is sublime. One of my favorite renditions is in Andrew Lang’s Pink Fairy Book, and it was this one I sent to the design team Abruzzo Bodziak.

Lang’s version begins with a childless couple. They love children. They are lonely. They watch the neighborhood children play in the street during a snowstorm and decide to go out and play too. Why not? They are not in an amused mood but perhaps this will help, they think. They decide to build a snow child. “No use making a woman,” the wife (Marie) inscrutably says. Lang adds as an aside that she happened to be in a very good temper, implying this was not often the case.

So they put snowballs together in the shape of a girl. “Two holes were left for the eyes,” by the husband, and then, the next time he looks, the girl stares out of eyes, right into his own. Marie embraces the girl and covers her with kisses. Snow falls from the girl “as eggshell does from an egg” — which is either a beautiful image or a disgusting one, I cannot decide — and then, there she is: real as a human. Marie and her husband take her inside to the tidy domestic scene that has been missing something for a very long time.

And how they love her, as do all the village children. “She was their doll,” and a very smart doll at that, for she could learn anything quickly.

Spring arrives and Snowflake gets sad. Marie is quite worried. Worry blizzards this story from beginning to end. “What is the matter, dear child?” asks her mother. “Why are you so sad? Are you ill? Or have they treated you unkindly?” Snowflake tells her mother that she is well. Yet the child is sadder with each passing day — as the birds sing louder and louder and the flowers burst in the fields.

“‘She was their doll.”

“‘Oh, we will take care of her,’ cried the girls gaily, and they ran into the woods.”

Eventually Marie encourages her daughter to join her friends in the forest. The girls are gathering nosegays, singing and dancing. Some of the songs they sing are happy and some are sad (this is one of those fairy-tale details that nails the poetics). The girls make a little fire and they leap over it, and they tell Snowflake to do the same.

And then she vanishes. Ivan and Marie are heartbroken. They look for her always. Where did their little girl go?
Had a fierce wild beast seized her and dragged her into his lair in the forest? Had some bird carried her off across the wide blue sea?

No, no beast had touched her, no bird had borne her away. With the first breath of flame that swept over her when she ran with her friends Snowflake had melted away, and a little soft haze floating upwards was all that remained of her.
But Snowflake still lives — folded into the pages of a fairy-tale book. Abruzzo Bodziak has illuminated the Lang version with glowing and eerie motifs: silhouette cutouts of trees, of the dress Ivan and Marie designed for the child. Their work is sculptural and flat at the same time, a new expression of the old form of fairy-tale silhouette, practiced by Hans Christian Andersen in the past and artists like Kara Walker today. These designs remind me of the childhood hearth where I made paper dolls by the fireplace. I’d hold them up against the backdrop of flames and imagine them there; I’d forgotten till now.

Walk into this paper forest. It’s like walking into a favorite book.

— Kate Bernheimer

“‘And they all began to sing and to jump one after another across the fire.”

“A little soft haze floating upwards was all that remained of her.”

Three Questions for Abruzzo Bodziak from Kate Bernheimer

What was it about this fairy tale that drew you to it as an architect? A childhood memory? An image?

In our work, we seek to create specific atmospheres, and the unsettling nature of this story seemed a good testing ground. The concept of a human made from snow is intriguing, and we found this more mystical, somewhat dark take on the Frosty story deserving of attention.

It’s a simple, yet emotional narrative. We opted to render the story of Snowflake by creating imagery that depicted the moodiness we saw within it, using photography and simple model-making. We wanted to create these effects in reality, without the use of Photoshop and liked the idea of making something with our hands, since the couple in the story do the same to create Snowflake. Our tools were light and paper; we used paper folding and cutting techniques, some from our own childhoods.

Was there anything in the fairy tale that presented a specific problem for you from a design perspective, and how did you solve that problem?

It is a short fairy tale, with little description or elaboration: we saw it as a kind of low-resolution series of some very powerful concepts. As such, rather than insert invented detail, we sought to render those elemental moments in a series of tableaux: a girl made from snow, the protectiveness but isolation of home, then a foreboding forest, the fire that transforms the girl into vapor.

In our office we often use paper models and origami techniques as a quick way to effectively represent form. We liked the synergy that developed between the story and the modeling medium — in the final scene, it is fire that destroys snowflake, but representing fire within our paper world presented a specific challenge.

An additional question was whether to include the human form, since the scenography plays such a strong role. We decided it would be more powerful not to model actual human figures, but rather to include suggestions of a character or occupied space, through the cottage lit from within, or the hands making a dress.

Where would you like to see your design built? Who would be the ideal person, entity, region — real or imagined — to acquire the plans and execute them?

Since our project is not so much a design as it is a method of suggesting mood with simple technique and low resolution, we find the desire to test these ideas out at a the scale of an occupiable environment.

“Snow lay so deep that it came up to the knees of even the tallest man.”

Editors’ Note

Our ongoing series on fairy tale architecture is curated by writer Kate Bernheimer and architect Andrew Bernheimer, featuring designs by Leven Betts, Guy Nordenson and Associates, Abruzzo Bodziak, Solid Objectives – Idenburg Liu (SO – IL), Rice+Lipka and Studio SUMO.

See also “Writ Small,” by Naomi Stead, on architects, architecture and the idea of home in children’s books.
Share This Story


When Buildings Kill

"The moment for something to happen"

How to Be an Architecture Critic

Digital Deception

Housing and the 99 Percent

Don't have an account? Create an account. Forgot your password? Click here.



Donate to Places: Your Support Makes Our Work Possible


Andrew Bernheimer is the principal of Bernheimer Architecture. He teaches at Parsons The New School for Design.
More Bio >>

Kate Bernheimer is a fairy-tale author and editor. She teaches in the MFA Program at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
More Bio >>

Abruzzo Bodziak Architects, formed in 2009, is a Brooklyn-based studio led by Emily Abruzzo and Gerald Bodziak.
More Bio >>


MORE ON Fairy Tale Architecture

Fairy Tale Architecture: The Juniper Tree
On Places, a design by Bernheimer Architecture for the Grimm Brothers’ “The Juniper Tree,” the tenth in our ongoing series of architectural fairy tales.

Fairy Tale Architecture: Why the Sun and Moon Live in the Sky
On Places, a design by studio SUMO for the Nigerian folk tale “Why the Sun and Moon Live in the Sky,” the ninth in our ongoing series of architectural fairy tales.

Fairy Tale Architecture: The Library of Babel
On Places, a design by Rice+Lipka for the Jorge Luis Borges story “The Library of Babel,” the eighth in our ongoing series of architectural fairy tales.

Fairy Tale Architecture: Monkey King
On Places, a design by Solid Objectives – Idenburg Liu (SO – IL) for the Chinese fairy tale “Monkey King,” the seventh in our ongoing series of architectural fairy tales.

Fairy Tale Architecture: The Little Match Girl
On Places, a design by Bernheimer Architecture for Hans Christian Andersen's “The Little Match Girl,” the sixth in our ongoing series of architectural fairy tales.

Fairy Tale Architecture: Halloween Edition
On Places, a design by Bernheimer Architecture for the Brothers Grimm fairy tale “The Boy Who Set Forth to Learn What Fear Was,” in this special Halloween edition of our ongoing series of architectural fairy tales.

Fairy Tale Architecture: Rapunzel
On Places, in the third of an ongoing series of architectural fairy tales, Guy Nordenson and Associates re-engineer the tower in "Rapunzel."

Fairy Tale Architecture: Jack and the Beanstalk
On Places, in the second of three architectural fairy tales, architects David Leven and Stella Betts reimagine "Jack and the Beanstalk."

Fairy Tale Architecture: The House on Chicken Feet
On Places, the first in an ongoing series of architectural fairy tales exploring magical homes; part one, by New York architect Andrew Bernheimer, reimagines the hut of the Russian witch Baba Yaga.