Artisans in ancient Mesopotamia discovered colored glass when rogue chemicals snuck into the firing process. In the Middle Ages, manufacturers of stained glass created an array of colors by applying metal oxides to glass and setting them on fire.
These gorgeous light boxes were made with melted gummy bears.
Marta Alonso Yebra discovered the unlikely technique in 1998, when she was an architecture student in Madrid. She had to design a temporary pavilion for an architecture competition in Germany and faced a touch challenge: The structure needed to allow a view from within, but the staging area for student designs was an all-white room. She had to figure out how to build a pavilion that either had windows or was transparent, but that wouldn’t get washed out against the white backdrop.
She decided to “build a wall full of colors.” But building with colored glass was impossible because “we didn’t have the tools or skills.” Yerba considered melting plastic to replicate stained glass, but she worked in a cramped space and couldn’t risk hot-boxing it with the toxic fumes that often coat plastic.
“I tried to think of every material we could find in ordinary life that wouldn’t be toxic,” she says. One day, by total chance, she was snacking on gummy bears. “I realized, wait: This is very beautiful, and it’s similar to plastic, but we can eat it. I was sure if I melted it, it wouldn’t be toxic.”
Most gummy bears are made of corn syrup, sugar, dextrose, and gelatin (sugar-free gummies use a hydrogenated syrup called Lycatin). It was a perfect cocktail of ingredients for creating gooey tie-dye that became rigid again as it cooled. Yerba and her colleagues melted gummies by the potful, dribbling the goo into glass cases to create color gradients and splotchy patterns. She experimented with cooking her own dyed gelatin, but prefers brand names. “Haribo—I don’t know why, but the German guys are doing it the best—works really, really well,” she says. Plus, “it smelled terrific.”
Years after creating the student pavilion, Yebra was still obsessing over the material. She’s even dabbled in painting with melted gummy bear pigments. Eventually she returned to a more architectural form: light boxes.
She and her design partner Imanol Caldéron Elósegui, who work together as Mayice design studio, have spent five years crafting a series of thin square-foot metal boxes with gummy bear-infused glass fixtures. In essence: They boil down pots of gummies—Yebra says each piece requires about two pounds of bears, or about six standard bags of Haribos—and drip different colors into the glass case, creating a marbled effect. Even after it settles, Yebra says there’s a fruity aroma.
The designer hopes to someday create an entire wall or even a building using the melted snacks, in which case we can think of the light boxes as small-scale prototypes or bricks hinting at a much larger ambition. “It’s completely possible,” she says. “I’m working with a glass company and they think it would be really amazing to have a room where the floor and the falls were white floors, and in the middle as a divider you have this wall made by the colored glass.” Until then, Mayice will be showing the light boxes this May at Wanted Design, during ICFF in New York.