Modern build­ings are designed to with­stand the forces of earth­quakes. But what about gin­ger­bread houses?

That’s what a group of engi­neering stu­dents sought to dis­cover on Wednesday, as they put their hol­iday struc­tures to the test in the Depart­ment of Civil and Envi­ron­mental Engi­neering’s Earth­quake Engi­neering Center.

It’s just an incred­ibly nerdy approach to building gin­ger­bread houses,” said Sarah Casey, a junior civil engi­neering major, who orga­nized the first event of its kind for the North­eastern stu­dent chapter of the Amer­ican Society of Civil Engi­neers. The group plans for the event to become an annual tradition.

The friendly com­pe­ti­tion was just what a few dozen stu­dents needed to take a break from their busy aca­d­emic sched­ules at the end of the semester. Four teams spent last Friday con­structing their gin­ger­bread houses of graham crackers, rein­forcing them with ingre­di­ents like pret­zels, marsh­mallow fluff and candy.

For the com­pe­ti­tion, the stu­dents used the Col­lege of Engineering’s earth­quake sim­u­lator, a shaker table that mimics seismic forces. The lab is run by Mishac Yegian, a Dis­tin­guished Pro­fessor in the Col­lege of Engi­neering.

The four houses were judged on cre­ativity, crafts­man­ship, height and sta­bility. One was sub­ject to jokes almost imme­di­ately after it started to col­lapse prior to the competition.

Uh-​​oh — this looks like Frank Gehry archi­tec­ture,” joked Yegian, refer­ring to the world-​​renowned archi­tect. “If you don’t know any­thing about Frank Gehry archi­tec­ture, Google it! He builds struc­tures that look like they had already collapsed.”

One house, mod­eled after a clock tower, was pegged early on by the crowd as the most likely to fall first. But for the majority of the com­pe­ti­tion, it held steady — as did the other three structures.

All four were first sub­jected to increasing forces mod­eled after real-​​life earth­quakes. Then, when those forces failed to bring them down, the gin­ger­bread houses were treated to stronger har­monic forces that vio­lently shook the tables until the houses col­lapsed to the floor of Yegian’s lab.

Every­body did so well with this,” said Bob Tillman, an asso­ciate pro­fessor of engi­neering who attended the com­pe­ti­tion to root on his stu­dents. “We’ll have to make this much harder next year.”