Help Fight Hunger

Blogger: Belinda Daisey, Architectural Coordinator | Princeton, NJ, USA
August 06, 2014

Have you ever seen the displays created for local CANstruction events? The sculptures, constructed in a 100 square-feet of space, are built of canned food, which is then donated to local food banks and non-profit organizations. CANstruction sculptures range from the practical (say, a giant slice of pumpkin pie made from cans of pie filling) to the fanciful (like the Kool Aid man busting out of a wall of Keebler Zesta crackers)

I’ve admired these constructions for years, but I didn’t think much about the skill that went into them. Throw a few tins of sardines here, a few cans of garbanzo beans there, and presto, you’ve got Marilyn Monroe in all her canned pop art glory. How hard could it be?

Two things:

  1. Those cans don’t just buy themselves. Every can used in the competition is either donated by food vendors, paid for via fundraising… or comes out of your own pocket. Cans aren’t so cheap when you need thousands of them. (And aesthetically pleasing ones, too.)
  2. Apparently cans don’t float in the air the way you hope/expect. If you want to, say, create a giant human skull made of cans, you have to plan the structure. Packing tape and fishing wire only go so far.

So, it’s harder than you think.

With that in mind, the HDR Young Professionals Group (YPG) in Princeton embarked on its first ever competition with CANstruction Philadelphia, where all of the proceeds go to Philabundance, who donate to communities in the Delaware Valley. Our sculpture, “Help Fight Hunger,” was a giant pair of boxing gloves—a fitting tribute to the birthplace and training grounds of Rocky Balboa. It was made entirely from the iconic red cans of Campbell’s soup, a conscious choice considering Philadelphia houses Campbell’s world headquarters. 

Building the gloves was no simple endeavor since the sculpture was planned to be around seven feet tall and six feet wide with many curves and cantilevers. In order to have the curved shape of boxing gloves, we had thin plywood plates on each level, so that the cans could cantilever over one another. A parametric plug-in for Rhino called Grasshopper, allowed us to figure out, both the shape of the plates that hold the cans and the number of cans that could fit on each of them.


This saved us an immense amount of time because we could then take the outline of the plates and cut them on a Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine. It was able to carve out every plate for us with no hand cutting required, making us happier than words could describe. Once we had all of the cans and plywood plates, we did a test build just to make sure it would not completely collapse within two minutes and to see any problems that we had not anticipated. Afterwards, our office helped us take down the seven-foot structure of cans, pack them in a van, and off we went to get ready for Build Night. 

And it is what it sounds like, one night for building. All 16 teams arrived at the Rotunda at Liberty Place in Philadelphia, brought the cans to our designated area, and…READY, SET, GO. Eight hours later, there were 16 creative, witty, and CANtastic designs in the middle of the mall. 

With generous donations from the Princeton office as well as from our two sponsors, Maharam and Gunlocke, we collected over 2,600 cans and raised nearly $1,800! We were already proud of ourselves for creating a structure that was even able to stand (and actually look like something), but our shining moment was when we were announced as the winners of the Structural Ingenuity Award. SUCCESS! Not too bad for our first year out.

Thanks to the entire YPG CANstruction team, Pete Teachen, Chris DePalma, Tara Jasinski and especially Damian Wentzel, who made our design come to life using Grasshopper! And even bigger thanks to everyone who gave time, money, and never-ending support and helping us reach our goal of “knocking out hunger!”

Images courtesy of Belinda Daisey

Reader Comments (3)

Great post! I see and share our Canstruction items all the time, but have never learned about the work that goes into the design. Thanks for writing this!

I share our Canstruction items, too....and am now pleased to know , how the work goes into the design. Thanks for sharing this article :)

WOW! that is an awesome structure!

I have been part of the Dallas CANstruction team for 8 years now and I know how hard it can be to build a can structure but most importantly to raise the funds! It seems like every year is a bit more difficult. However, it's so rewarding to know that all the food collected is going to someone in need. I'm excited that more HDR offices are participating in this event!

Congrats Princeton team!

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