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CANstruction blends needs of hungry with architecture

Rob Sabo

When Rob Madsen, designer with HMC Architects, began working on the Food Bank of Northern Nevada’s CANstruction event as an architecture student at Truckee Meadows Community College, he had no way of knowing it would lead to a job at HMC.

But Madsen’s work on the event in which he designed sculptures made from cans of food so impressed a principal at HMC that when a position at the firm opened, Madsen won the job.

Thirteen student and professional teams begin constructing their sculptures in this year’s competition on Tuesday. Their work will be on display through Saturday at TMCC’s Student Center. The event, now in its sixth year, benefits the Food Bank of Northern Nevada. Last year’s event raised 30,000 cans of food for the organization.

Madsen says competitive juices will be flowing between the two architectural firms in the contest, HMC and Hershenow + Klippenstein Architects.

HMC’s sculpture did not place in the event last year, and the firm is hoping this year’s entry a spin on the Dr. Seuss classic “Green Eggs and Ham” has the moxie to bring the firm’s team to the podium.

“The nature of our business is competitive we always strive to be better at the next project and bring something better to the table than the next firm,” Madsen says. “There is a little bit of bragging rights, but we also are trying to reach out to the community that we are a part of.”

With several members of its CANstruction team certified as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design professionals, HMC will incorporate shipping elements such as pallets and the cardboard flats holding the cans into its design, Madsen says.

“Nothing goes to the landfill. We will try to utilize everything right here on site.”

Madsen says one of the biggest benefits of the CANstruction contest outside of feeding the hungry is that it allows him to move away from production work and creatively design a project. But the event also provides hands-on training in CAD design for high school and even elementary school students.

John Copoulos, principal with J.P. Copoulos Architects in Carson City, is in his third year of mentoring a team from Carson High School. Copoulos also has recruited interns for his firm after they excelled in the event.

Students at Carson High come up with their own designs, and Copoulos helps them with CAD modeling to see if the sculpture can be built, as well as how many and what types and sizes of cans are needed.

Carson High School last year entered four teams in the contest. One team sculpted an airplane, another a Hostess Twinkie broken in half. This year two teams will sculpt a globe of the world in a hand, while the other does a bridge. Teams work on their sculptures from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., but Copoulos says Carson’s

teams have half that time.

Students are off for the day during school hours, and the bus takes them back at 2 p.m. They have one

shot to be successful.

“It’s all really valuable to them,” Copoulos adds. “Up until this time all they have been drawing are house plans and details of mechanical parts. This is the first time drawing and building what they draw, and it is a challenge learning how meaningful their drawings are to actually building something.”

Copolous says typical sculptures each require more than 3,000 cans, which are purchased at discount prices from area wholesale food distributors by the American Institute of Architects and private donors.

Fred Graham, principal with the Worth Group and co-chair of the event, says participating architects and teams spend as much as four months working on projects. He says the CANstruction event not only adds to the learning process but also increases awareness of the Food Bank of Northern Nevada’s mission.

“It is more of an event designed to create awareness for the plight of the hungry,” he says. “With the economy the way it is, the desire is to make this come off really well. A lot of people out here are hungry, and this provides a creative means to showcase it.”