How do local architects and engineers with can-do expertise stack up against difficult parameters? Intriguing, philanthropic Canstruction is a challenge to test their mettle. Teams devise clever, dramatic sculptures made entirely of canned goods for a public art exhibit, and adhere to strict guidelines that seem impossible to fulfill. They assemble their intricate displays within a 12-hour time period and some teams may use up to 3,000 cans for their sculpture.
The national organization Canstruction helps local food-focused nonprofits benefit in cities nationwide, producing eye-catching canned-food art exhibits that are simultaneously design competitions and post-event food drives that use all the cans from the displays. Denver’s version was built in mid-November and remains open daily through Feb. 2. The public is invited to view the exhibit at Stanley Marketplace and vote for their favorite sculpture, all at no charge. Local food-recovery nonprofit We Don’t Waste is the Canstruction host and beneficiary.
Brian Young, project manager at Kephart architecture firm, is on the committee producing this year’s event and also participated in Canstruction with another Denver-area firm in the 2000s. “Our structures kept getting bigger and bigger,” he says. “It was a real challenge, and it was a lot of fun.
“When you enter, you’re given a theme, and teams start the process of coming up with what their sculpture is going to be about,” Young says. “Every team is different. As architects, we like the design problem. So we’ll sit around for hours and try to figure something out and sketch like mad, and then go to the store and research and find cans that stack nicely on top of each other and have the right colors. Some teams come up with their idea, go to the store and buy all the cans they need and build a mockup to see if it works.
“We did it digitally,” says Young of this year’s Kephart team. “We found cans that have the right colors and labels and stack nicely.” The cans were then measured and their dimensions were entered into a 3-D CAD software program called Rhino. “We basically built the model virtually and made sure that everything stacked up. From there we made templates. We had each layer laid out so we knew where each can was stacked and what can went where. So when we were in the field it was a much quicker process than having to guess where things were supposed to go.”
Design wants may compete with Canstruction requirements. “That’s the challenge,” says Young. “There’s a lot of trial and error. It gets difficult when you can’t tape things together, can’t tie things together, can’t change the labels to make the sculpture look like you want,” per Canstruction rules.
This year’s theme is “A Colorado Winter WonderCAN.” Each three-dimensional creation cannot exceed 10-by-10-by-10 feet and must utilize only canned food that has not reached its expiration date. Alcoholic beverages and junk food aren’t allowed, and labels cannot be altered since all of the cans are distributed after the event to nonprofits, local food banks and soup kitchens by We Don’t Waste.
“This is a viable opportunity for industry to demonstrate its commitment to the community and certainly to the issue of food insecurity,” says We Don’t Waste founder and executive director, Arlan Preblud. “One in six children in Colorado is food insecure, meaning in any given period of the month they have no idea where their next meal is going to come from. People need to know that all of us are just one misstep from being in a situation where we need the assistance of the agencies that we support.”
Artists and design experts not involved with the exhibit judge the displays, and category winners such as Best Meal, Most Cans and the overall best team receive plaques. The general public is encouraged to vote for the People’s Choice designation—perhaps the most coveted award among competitors for bragging rights.
Young offers tips on things to look for:
Type of food used. Are all food groups used? “Any kind of thread in the selection of food.”
Structural ingenuity. “Seeing if the cans look monolithic, as if they’re all stacked on their own.” Or sculptures might be gravity-defying.
Creativity and purpose. Is it memorable? Look for creative use of products to tell a story.
Use of labels. Do they add detail? “There’s only a finite color for kidney beans labels. If that’s not quite the color they wanted, see how they used that as an opportunity to make the sculpture look a little different.”
.Denver’s Canstruction opened its call for entries last August and teams were solidified in September. The opening kickoff party, held directly after installation in mid-November, was a social evening celebrating the exhibit—a first look and the opportunity for anyone to talk with the design teams as well as members of We Don’t Waste.
Open daily through Feb.2 at Stanley Marketplace
2501 Dallas St.
Aurora, CO 80010
We Don’t Waste
Denver, CO 80216
Lisa Perry has been writing about Denver entertainment for 25 years and is in her 10th year covering nonprofit events as a photojournalist. She greatly admires and appreciates the good works of We Don’t Waste, as well as the talented Canstruction teams—and that is a sincere opinion, not a canned response.
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