Almost no one who walks past the Boston Society of Architects’ (BSA Space) sleek black exterior would expect to find a giant Tamagotchi constructed entirely from cans inside. But during Canstruction, Boston’s yearly contest and subsequent exhibit, which runs throughout the rest of the month, visitors will find exactly that, along with 24 other giant, brightly-colored structures built from over a thousand cans each.
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. This year’s contest marks the 20th anniversary of Canstruction Boston, and it boasts 25 meticulously created structures under the theme “Celebrate! 20 Years in Boston.”
Kerry Heckman, the chair of Canstruction Boston, admits that organizing the event is certainly not an easy task. During the planning process, which is year-round with a “small hiatus” in the winter, there are thousands of tiny details to iron out while on a “shoestring budget,” she explained, such as the logistics of coordinating with the BSA Space and finding a grocer who can help transport the cans. Heckman said that this year Whole Foods stepped in at the last minute, delivering a semi-truck full of cans on the building day and donated “two semi trucks and drivers to take the cans to the food bank” for when the deconstruction takes place on Oct. 31.
The Canstruction contest is a “labor of love” for the firms involved as competitors and for the organizers in charge, both of whom do their work for Canstruction on top of their full-time jobs. Firms often begin designing their projects as soon as the theme is announced, some choosing to test build their designs virtually or even physically. Each team buys their own cans as part of their donation and spends the whole year budgeting and searching for sponsors. But despite the work, they “just keep coming back,” oftentimes drawing in new firms with them to compete, Heckman explained.
During the competition itself, the teams have a full 12 hours to build their structure, with each team starting at 8 a.m. and some not leaving until just before 8 p.m. They must build “one can at a time,” resulting in a day of “controlled chaos” at the BSA Space. The teams are allowed “no permanent adhesives,” and rely mostly upon a quarter-inch thin leveling material, very small rods, and sometimes even zip ties and rubber bands. But most teams strive to complete the “purest structure” possible, relying solely upon the shape and color of the cans to bring their creation to life. The competition is fierce as the teams compete to win one of seven awards, ranging from the Jurors’ Favorite to the Best Use of Labels, which could bring them to the international competition and are for the most part awarded by a panel of seven judges not directly connected to the Canstruction event.
This year’s competition will bring in a record number of 85,533 cans for the Merrimack Valley Food Bank—more than double what Canstruction gave last year. Heckman said that Merrimack Valley Food Bank is very smart about what it does with the food, pushing the fresh cans that come from Canstruction into storage for the summer months when donations drop, and quickly using the food from the numerous canned food drives that occur during the cold, holiday months.
Board member Allison Scott highlights that within Boston’s thriving architecture and design world, Canstruction allows people in the industry to “think beyond themselves” and give back, while creatively pushing themselves “outside of their comfort zone.”
“The industry wouldn’t be able to survive without creating beautiful and hopeful places for people,” she said.
By drawing people in off of the busy streets of Boston with enchanting, carefully built “can-structures,” Canstruction does just that.
Featured Images Courtesy of Canstruction