A frosted vanilla cake shaped like the Hirshhorn Museum rests on a white cake platter.

Pull out your favorite round cake pan and bake the Hirshhorn Museum! In honor of the bundt-like shape of the Museum, and the Hirshhorn’s architect, Gordon Bunshaft, we bring you the Bun(dt)shaft Cake-off!

We want to see your creations! Share on social media @hirshhorn with #Hirshhorn

Time: 60 minutes
Skill Level: Advanced
Topic: Imagination


HMSG building at night, photo by Christopher Smith

What do you see? Look closely. Notice the building’s round shape. What other details do you notice about the building’s structure? You might notice the building has legs that elevate (lift) it off the ground.

What does the building’s round shape look like to you? In this photo, we think it looks like a spaceship illuminated in the night.

Aerial view of Hirshhorn museum and National Mall

Aerial view, Arts and Industries Building and Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.
From 120mm color negative.

Look at this image of the same building. This photo is taken from the sky, looking down. What do you notice about the building’s shape now?

You probably notice that the center of the building has a hole inside. In this photo, we think the building looks more like a doughnut, bagel, or a bundt cake.

Constructing a building requires a lot of time for planning and building. The architect who designed the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden was named Gordon Bunshaft. He wanted to create a unique building for holding art collections, and designed the Hirshhorn Museum to feel like a large sculpture on the National Mall.

Talk together: Most buildings have square or rectangular shapes. How do you think a round building might be constructed to have a round shape?

Black and white image. The beginning of construction of the Hirshhorn Museum. A crane is in the center of the building’s forming circle.

Smithsonian Institution Archives, Acc. 11-009, Image No. 71-3359D

Take a look at this photograph. What do you think is happening? How can you tell?

This photo shows the Hirshhorn Museum building under construction. You can see building materials surrounding its round skeleton and a large crane in the Museum’s inner circle.

Archival photo of Hirshhorn museum being built

“Record Unit 371, Box 4, Folder October 1984”

Look at this image. What is changing? What is the same?

The Hirshhorn Museum was largely constructed using poured-in-place concrete. That means construction crews built “formwork”—materials that create the shape of the building—then poured concrete into it, over a steel base that reinforces the structure. Here, you can see the outer wall beginning to emerge as well as the first row of windows in the inner ring.


For this project, we take inspiration from the Hirshhorn Museum’s unique architecture and its resemblance to the bundt cake. Thankfully, baking a round cake is a little easier (and faster!) than building a round museum!

How often do you get to use cake as an art medium? Dig in and create your own miniature—and edible—Hirshhorn model. It turns out you can have your cake and eat it too!

Bundt cake mold

  1. Determine your method. The goal is to have a cake shaped like the Hirshhorn, which is round, with a round hole in the middle, and there are several ways to do that. You can bake your mini Hirshhorn in a 6” or 9” round cake pan, and use our template to cut out the center. The directions in this activity use this method.
    • Other methods include:
      • baking your mini Hirshhorn in a traditional Bundt pan or other tube pan.
      • using two round cake pans: one large and one small. For this method, place the smaller pan upside down in the middle of the larger to create a hole during the baking process. * If you choose this method, we suggest weighing down the upside down pan with an oven-safe item like a ramekin with pie weights or something similar.

Three eggs, oil, cake mix, frosting, a spatula, and a baking pan on a table.

  1. Gather your materials. You’ll need:
    • Baking pans of choice
    • Cake and and frosting recipes of your choice
    • Printed template, cut out
    • A knife and spatula
    • Decoration materials of your choice
      Note: Caregivers, be a good sous-chef and ensure safe knife handling techniques and oven use according to your lead chef’s abilities.
  2. Bake your cake according to the recipe you choose.
    Little girl is mixing cake mix
  3. Give the cake time to cool. While you wait, prepare your frosting and any other decorations you plan to use.
    A baked chocolate cake, frosting, chocolate, blueberries, a spatula, cut-out template, and ground almonds displayed on a table.
  4. Cut out the hole. Align the cut-out template on top of the cake. Use a knife to cut the hole. We used two large salad forks to lift out the extra cake from the middle. Note: You can do this step before or after removing the cake from the baking pan. Note if you are using a bundt or tube pan, or you used the small pan within the big pan method, you can skip this step.
    Bundt cake with hole cut out in front of a girl smiling
  5. Look at the two circles of the cut-out template. What do you notice? Yes, they’re slightly off-center. Instead of having two circles where one is centered within the other, the Museum’s circles have a 4-foot eccentricity. (When two shapes share the same center point, they are called “concentric.” Eccentricity is the word that describes how the shapes’ centers are different from each other, in this case, with the inner circle shifted four feet to one side.) To make our cake match the building, we’ll use a template that follows the building’s off-center inner circle.
  6. Frost and decorate. We used vanilla frosting with ground almonds to mimic the rough texture of the exterior of the Museum.
    Big lumps of frosting are on the cake.
  7. The Hirshhorn is wrapped in precast concrete panels. Concrete, like cake, is made of ingredients: mainly small stones (called aggregate), cement (which binds everything together like glue), and water. The Hirshhorn’s concrete panels used ground-up stones—a specialty granite known as Swenson pink—lending the building a warm, pinkish hue. What would you add to your frosting to give it a texture similar to that of the building?
    Finished cake with white frosting and crushed nuts rests on a wood table