Volume 18 • Issue 27 | November 18 - 24, 2005

A food drive with a sense of humor

By Rachel Fershleiser

Pei Cobb Freed & Partners is the Pine Street architecture firm renowned for sleek glass and metal designs like the Jacob Javits Center in New York, the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong, and the pyramid expansion on the Louvre Museum in Paris. This week, however, the company experimented with some different building materials: boxes of pasta and canned clams.

It is the firm’s first year participating in Canstruction, the 13th annual charity-food-drive-cum-design-competition that challenges architects and engineers to build massive sculptures from donated non-perishables. The giant clamshell the team built competed with a tuna can mermaid, a canned olive King Kong clutching Mrs. Butterworth, no fewer than three can iPods, as well as nearly thirty other constructions.

“It’s fun, and it goes to a great cause,” says Pei Cobb team captain Jay Lim “so no one minds the late nights.” He thinks the competition brought his firm closer, because everyone from the partners to the tech staff was involved in selecting their design.

Todd Rubin of Gensler, another Downtown architecture firm, agreed. “I’m only two years out of college, and this reminds me of being in school” he said.

On Building Day, the New York Design Center, where the Canstruction competition is held, certainly felt like a university study lounge the night before an exam. Young men in baseball caps passed around bottles of soda and bags of Doritos. In chic showrooms of leather couches and expensive chandeliers, floors were strewn with coffee cups, cold pizza, and resting competitors.

The Gensler team was building several oversized playing cards and stacks of poker chips to create a piece they’ve dubbed “CANsino.” Last year, they built an impressive five-foot metrocard, but this time around they are striving for something more structurally complex, as well as altering the ingredients inside the cans.

“The MetroCard was mostly soda,” Rubin said, “which isn’t very healthy. This time we have fish, beans, tomatoes, and even meat.”

Can contents proved vital to another Downtown team, Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill, who requested hundreds of cans of Goya kidney beans in sauce, planning to use the bright red labels to build the Big Apple. When plain Goya kidney beans arrived instead, their royal blue backgrounds proved catastrophic to the team’s design. Undaunted, the group took off in taxis and collected the proper cans in twos and threes from bodegas all over Manhattan, finishing around 2 a.m.

It’s this “can-do” spirit that helped the event become such a success in the first place. Canstruction President Cheri Melillo conceived the event to bring visibility to the cause and to bring the architecture community together to help. Prizes are awarded for structural ingenuity, best use of labels, and several other categories, but the real achievement is the contribution to the needy. This year’s structures are made up of 132,000 cans that will go directly to the Food Bank For New York City. Additionally, every visitor to the exhibition pays an admission fee of one can of food.

Canstruction competitions now take place annually in 50 North American cities, and each benefits a local food bank. Together, they’ve raised millions of pounds of food for hungry families, but Melillo is still not satisfied. “We want this all over the world,” she says.

Canstruction is on display through November 23rd at New York Design Center, 200 Lexington Avenue at 32nd St. For more information, visit www.canstruction.org.


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