At Canstruction, Boston Architects Transform Cans Into Art

Kerry Heckman hurried in with hundreds of cans of different colors, shapes, and sizes—not something you normally see on an everyday basis. But she did so with a higher purpose in mind: ending food insecurity in the Greater Boston Area. Those cans she brought into the Boston Society of Architects would become the building blocks for the structures featured in their newest exhibit: Canstruction.

Canstruction, the annual charity competition and exhibition based out of the Boston Society of Architects, is entering its 21st year with an eye to the future with its theme, “Journey into Space.” This year, the 27 participating teams of engineers built structures made entirely out of donated food cans, filling up the halls of the BSA exhibit space with their entries into the competition, which judges the best among them and awards prizes for structural ingenuity, best design, best use of labels, and, you guessed it, best meal.

Started in 1992 by the Society for Design Administration in New York City, Canstruction began as a community service project for people working on the business side of design and architecture firms. By 1995, Boston picked up the event, starting with just three structures in the South Station T stop. Since then, the event has grown exponentially, donating the entirety of the 86,000 cans used in the exhibit to the Merrimack Valley Food Bank, which serves Lowell, Mass., where they represent a large percentage of the donations the food bank receives on a yearly basis.

“It is not so much about fighting hunger, but food insecurity,” Heckman said. “[It’s] people that have jobs that still struggle to feed their families.”

When deciding to donate to the Merrimack food bank instead of the Greater Boston Food Bank, where the cans have traditionally been sent, Heckman explained that in the Lowell community, donations dwindle after the holidays to a level where they cannot meet the demand, especially during the summer—it’s at this time that the food bank uses its donations to bridge the gap.

“People don’t think about donating over the summer, but people are still [as hungry] then as they are during the holidays,” she said.

This past Saturday, the design teams gathered at BSA Space, where teams brought their planned structures, often devised months in advance, to life during a blitzkrieg 12 hours during which they must complete their structures. The teams must build their structures one can at a time, with many getting so excited about the competition that official judges have to be called in to resolve disputes, Heckman recalled.

The teams are allowed no permanent adhesives as part of their designs, with most relying on quarter-inch-thin leveling material and rubber bands. However, the majority looks to finish their structures using the least amount of extras possible, relying solely upon the shape, color, and labels of the cans to bring their creations to life.

After the event, the structures will serve as an exhibit from Oct. 9 through 28. Although the exhibit is free to the public, several structures require small donations to light up and show their full might. Food bins are scattered around the first level in which passersby can donate canned goods for the food bank.

“BSA and BSA Foundation are honored to host Canstruction every year,” Tamara Roy, BSA President, said in a press release. “This is a transformative way to show the power of design and the positive impact it can have on the lives of [those] in our communities.”

The competition serves as the charity for many of the teams, which feature professional engineers and consultants competing for a good cause, as well as bragging rights for a whole year. Each team, many who come back year after year, buys its own cans as part of its donation, with many featuring as many as 5,000 cans.

Also, the exhibit features corporate sponsorships that also pledge large donations to the food bank, this year featuring Goya and Whole Foods, among others.

This year, large-scale versions of Buzz Lightyear, WALL-E, Spaceships, observatories, UFO sightings, and even Pink Floyd’s iconic prism from its album The Dark Side of the Moon make an appearance. However, there were several conspicuously absent, which Heckman expected to see.

“I’m surprised no one did anything with either Star Wars or Star Trek,” she said. “If someone did a Wookie, they would have won by default.”

The most important thing about the competition, Heckman continued, is that the participants understand that it’s a charity and they like to give back to the community. Many of the cans are exactly what the bank needs—non-recyclables—as the teams strive to use the right products in order to make their donations significant.

Featured Image by Juan Olavarria / Heights Editor

About Juan Olavarria 70 Articles
Juan Olavarria is the Metro Editor for The Heights. He is double majoring in Economics and Philosophy. He enjoys watching Liverpool FC and has to frequently remind himself to stop trying to defend the merits of a midfield diamond. You can follow him on Twitter at @Juan_Heights.