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Cannily built structures pit local teams

Architects and others vie in Canstruction, and the hungry are helped.

September 28, 2006|Cynthia Dea | Times Staff Writer

CARE for some "Sole Food"? How about "Chick-CAN of the Sea"?

These two items won't be found on any menu, considering that they refer to a giant Converse sneaker and a mermaid. But although they're edible if you have a can opener handy, these quirky, punny structures, built with thousands of cans of tuna, franks 'n' beans and tomato soup, are a taste of previous entries on the national circuit of Canstruction, a design-and-build competition that makes its L.A. area debut this week.

Beginning Friday (and through Oct. 4), visitors to the Westfield Fashion Square in Sherman Oaks will get an eyeful of this year's massive fabrications created by 10 teams of local architects, designers and engineers using only canned goods.

Since it was established in New York in 1992 by the Society for Design Administration, Canstruction has taken place in more than 70 cities across the U.S. and Canada. Its ulterior motive is to address the needs of the hungry.

"It's great that the project is fun for everybody, but ultimately it's about how many cans we get delivered to the food bank," says Damian Carroll, chairman of Canstruction Los Angeles. He's also a field representative for Pasadena Democratic state Sen. Jack Scott's office, one of this year's organizers, along with the American Institute of Architects Los Angeles and the Society for Design Administration.

Bins will be available for the public to drop off canned food, and those donating five or more items are eligible for a voucher for various discounts at participating mall retailers. After the display, the structures will be disassembled and the cans donated to Los Angeles Regional Foodbank, an organization that redistributes food to charities throughout the L.A. area.

For the L.A. Regional Foodbank, communications manager Darren Hoffman says, Canstruction has come none too soon. The organization faces a 10 million-pound deficit in supplying local agencies this year.

"We're so excited that this got off the ground here in L.A.," says Hoffman. "It's a big donation."

With teams using as many as 1,000 to 5,000 cans per structure (at a maximum of 10 by 10 by 8 feet), he estimates a donation of somewhere between 20,000 to 40,000 cans, which could provide about 30,000 meals.

Those competing are just as enthusiastic to finally have Canstruction in L.A. Architect Heidi Sawyer, a member of DMJM Design's team and the steering committee, has taken part in five of the contests in New York.

"When I was interviewing out here, I asked, 'You guys do Canstruction, don't you?' The interviewer looked at me with a blank face," says Sawyer, whose previous team's entries have included a bottle of Elmer's glue, a bowling pin and a giant toaster titled "A Toast to New York."

So when the call for entries went out to the local architecture and design community, Sawyer says, "I knew we just had to join the competition because it's such a great event."

Since the cans must be in good condition when donated to the food bank, the labels must remain intact and most adhesives aren't allowed to keep cans in place, engineering expertise and careful stacking are keys to a successful entry.

Teams compete in several categories, including best structural ingenuity, best use of labels, best meal and the coveted jurors' favorite. Winners will have the opportunity to compete nationally in San Antonio in 2007.

Sawyer says it takes about two months to prepare for Canstruction. It starts with assembling a team, brainstorming a basic design, researching which cans to use and creating a 3-D computer model of the structure. Then comes the actual construction, which at this year's event runs from 9:30 p.m Thursday to 9:30 a.m. Friday.

Working through the wee hours shouldn't be a problem for a particular group of professionals notorious for pulling all-nighters.

"It starts late, but there will be plenty of adrenaline," says Sawyer. "Architects are pretty competitive."


Los Angeles Canstruction

Where: Westfield Fashion Square, 14006 Riverside Drive, Sherman Oaks

When: Opens Friday. Hours: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. Ends Oct. 4.

Price: Free; attendees are encouraged to bring donations of canned goods.

Info: (818) 783-0550

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