Fall in Boston usually brings familiar sights – fallen leaves on the Common, seasonal flavors returning to Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks, and moving vans getting stuck on Storrow Drive as students return in droves. For Boston’s architectural design and construction community, there is one more autumn scene to mark the season: towering sculptures of donated canned goods. For the past 25 years, the Boston Society for Architecture has hosted Canstruction Boston, a charity competition benefitting the Merrimack Valley Food Pantry. The competition generates huge donations of canned goods and other non-perishables as Boston-area engineering, architecture, and contracting firms put their creativity and structural expertise toward designing and building themed sculptures out of these unconventional items. Finished structures can measure as large as ten feet cubed, with no adhesives allowed. Walking among these massive structures at the annual exhibit is awe-inspiring. The non-perishable masterpieces show the best of our professional community, showcasing creativity, technical prowess, and commitment to service. In a typical year, competing firms spend months planning their entries before assembling them in a pizza-fueled day at the BSA Space in Boston’s Seaport. As we know, however, 2020 was anything but typical. I spoke with Adam Murphy and Susi Amaral of the Simpson Gumpertz & Heger (SGH) Canstruction Team for an inside look at this year’s competition.
With restrictions on gathering due to the 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic, Boston Canstruction announced in September 2020 that the competition would go virtual. Instead of producing masterpieces out of physical cans, teams would submit a model, rendering, or sketch of their design, following a theme of “That’s Entertainment!” These representations would then be displayed online. Since models or sketches are a standard requirement of the competition in any year, Adam and Susi stated that their team’s design process didn’t change very much with the new format. However, they did have to hold their design meetings remotely. The biggest difference, for both the competitors and the receiving food pantry, was the lack of cans. While teams typically promote their builds on Facebook for the coveted “People’s Choice Award,” this year had higher stakes. The SGH team shared, “Our social media push was larger this year with an aim of raising funds for the charity portion of the competition. Because the Merrimack Valley Food Bank would not be receiving our cans from the build this year, we really wanted to provide some sort of donation to help out with their own purchase of cans, supplies, or anything else they may have needed. We created a Facebook Fundraising Page where contributions exceeded our initial goal, which was amazing to see.” In addition to funds raised from entry fees and sponsorships, Boston Canstruction’s fundraiser on Facebook raised over $3,000 for the Merrimack Valley Food Pantry.
Designs from the 17 entered firms ranged from entertainment industry logos (Ann Beha Architects, SGH) to movie scenes and props (Dimeo Construction, EYP Architecture and Engineering). As always, theme interpretations varied – including a magic trick-themed design (PCA) and a giant Air Jordan sneaker (Payette). Local universities were also represented, with entries from Northeastern University Chi Epsilon and the Wentworth Institute of Technology Construction Management Club. Top awards went to Wilson Butler Architects, Dimeo Construction Company, Margulies Perruzzi Architects, and Arrowstreet Architecture and Design.
Adam and Susi had the following takeaways on Boston Canstruction 2020: “It was a great opportunity to see folks we had not seen since the closing of the office back in March of 2020. We also enjoyed the fundraising aspect of the competition this year and providing MVFB with a donation. In-person meetings to help with project collaboration is one of the great strengths of people in the EAC world. Being able to collaborate, bounce ideas off each other, and prepare for the October CANstruction build were sorely missed for sure. However, the virtual competition still gave us some opportunity to collaborate and show off our model. We very much look forward to the time where we can all meet in person again.” At this time, it’s not clear what’s in store for Boston Canstruction 2021 this fall. One thing is for sure – when it comes to fundraising for a good cause and showing off their creativity, the Boston AEC community certainly has a Can-do attitude.
You can view the 17 competition entries from Boston-area AEC firms at https://www.architects.org/25-years-of-canstruction-boston , along with a retrospective of 25 years of Boston Canstruction. The event sponsors are also listed here.
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