Canstruction Fights Hunger, One Can At A Time

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This story originally aired on October 20, 2012.

Where can you find a 7 1/2-foot-tall Nintendo Game Boy, giant Lego man, and shiny silver Slinky made of more than 1000 Lu Sueur sweet peas cans?

At the 2012 Canstruction-Boston competition, of course.

Canstruction is an international design/build competition for architecture, engineering, and construction firms, held yearly in cities from Akron, Ohio to Winnipeg, Canada…and as far away as Hong Kong.

Firms sometimes team up, because building an 8-foot tall structure out of cans takes a lot of planning and quite a bit of know-how. And then there's the cost of all that food. Kerry Heckman is the co-chair of Canstruction-Boston.

“We get really excited when we see the specialty cans because we're like, 'Wow. That team paid $4 a can? That's amazing!' Heckman said.

Running this competition is a year-round affair, but Heckman declined to comment on how much of her time it consumes. “I don't want to give hours," she joked. "My firm doesn't need to know.”

[sidebar title="See for Yourself" align="right"] Interested in viewing the sculptures up close? Boston's entries free and open to the public at 280-290 Congress Street, Monday-Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Or find a competition near you at Canstruction, Inc.. [/sidebar]Each team pays for their own cans and other materials. At the end of three weeks, the sculptures will be dismantled and nearly 60,000 pounds of food, enough to fill two semi-trucks, will be boxed up and carted off to the Merrimack Valley Food Bank. It's enough to feed two meals to every child under 18 in Lowell, the fourth largest city in Massachusetts.

So, what can you build out of 60,000 pounds of food?

Erin Miller and her team from Tsoi/Kobis and Associates built a 7-foot-8 Nintendo Game Boy.

Andrew Childs, a member of the civil engineering honor society, Kai Epsilon, put the finishing touches on a baked bean football, which was taller than the tallest of pro football players.

“Our total can count this year is 3,444...give or take. But I think baked beans make up about 65 percent of that,” Childs said.

The CANfootball still managed to make a balanced meal, with green beans representing the field and some mandarin orange goalposts for dessert.

“At the end of the day, you only feel good doing this,” Childs said. “You get to come together and design something and it's fun to see it come to fruition but at the end of the day, all these cans get donated to people who really need the food.”

Ruth Parr of Prellwitz Chilinski Associates looked worried as her team's intricate design of a winning blackjack hand leaned precariously to one side.

“We forget to bring a level or to check to see if we were plumb,” she said. “The drawings assumed that it would be plumb.”

While Prellwitz Chilinski tried unsuccessfully to keep their sculpture from collapsing, the team from Margulies Peruzzi Architects finished their Krusty the Clown mini-golf feature, made from thousands of cans of corn, tomato sauce, beans, chicken broth and Chef Boyardee.

Mark Margulies has high hopes his team will take home one of the competition's awards. He likes their chances.

“Not everybody gets an award, but pretty much everybody gets an award,” he said.

Jurors picked a favorite, along with a few honorable mentions. Those photographs and designs will be sent off for international judging. Plus, there are awards for structural ingenuity, best use of labels, best sign, best meal, and people's choice. There aren't any prizes, but bragging rights are more than enough.

“We know were doing this to help those who need food and so, we…there are not a lot of anchovies in here, I don't think,” Marguiles said.

There might not have been any anchovies, but there were sardines…lots and lots of sardines, fashioned into an enormous red View Master.

And the team from Payette, led by Bob Carroll and Kacey Miklaszewski, built a shiny silver Slinky…out of 1500 cans of sweet peas.

“We're definitely not a balanced meal. We're going for a sculpture and the look of it,” Carroll said.

“Those poor kids that are going to get stuck eating peas, I know kids love peas, but it'll be healthier, I guess,” added Miklaszewski.

The team spent months mocking up their design in computer software and testing the concept, but after hours of building, it began to collapse under its own weight. The team re-built, with extra supports, proving that constructing a giant Slinky out of sweet pea cans is even more difficult than ti sounds.

Five days after teams completed their sculptures, they reconvened for the ceremonial presentation of 58,391 cans of food to Amy Pessia, Executive Director of the Merrimack Valley Food Bank, who said the donation was the largest the food bank "could ever dream of receiving."

All of the food, even the peas and sardines, will be put to good use.

“I poured through each list of cans, and although the labels and the size of the cans are very instrumental in how the sculptures are going to come out, they all took such care in choosing the right food.”

Teams celebrated their efforts with popcorn and mini-corn dogs, a fitting feast for this year's theme of "Fun and Games.”

The sculptures were on public display for about three weeks, after which they were "decanstructed", loaded back onto two semi-trucks, and sent off to feed the hungry.

This segment aired on July 13, 2013.

Karen Given Executive Producer/Interim Host, Only A Game
Karen is the executive producer for WBUR's Only A Game.



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