Monday, March 30, 2009

Cincinnati Canstruction

Whether or not you know it by its proper name, you’re probably familiar with the annual Canstruction® event. It’s a food drive – one now organized more than 100 North American cities – that has a sculptural dimension. Participating teams collect or purchase canned goods and form them into iconic structures, using a minimum of outside materials to hold them together. When the contest is over, the canned goods are donated to food banks.

In Cincinnati, Canstruction has attracted entries from some of the region’s top architectural and engineering firms over the 12 years the contest has been put on by the Society for Design Administration and the American Institute of Architects.

This year’s event did the same, but added a new competitor: civil engineering technology students from Cincinnati State Technical and Community College.

It marked the first time that a college group had entered the Canstruction competition in Cincinnati, and only the second time that students have participated. (The only prior student entry was from an elementary school.)

The Cincinnati State team gave itself an enormous challenge: replicating the Ascent, the sweeping, iconic blue-and-white condominium tower in Covington designed by the internationally known architect Daniel Libeskind.

After weeks of planning the five Cincinnati State students – with a bit of help from faculty advisor Carol Morman -- erected their model in the lobby of the Aronoff Center for the Arts in downtown Cincinnati.

Meanwhile, professional teams erected other models elsewhere in the Aronoff complex, the main branch of the Cincinnati Public Library and the Taft Museum.

Unlike the professional teams -- which often rely on substantial corporate contributions and buy their canned goods in quantities so large that they arrive on pallets -- the Cincinnati State students relied on canned goods collected during a food drive on campus, along with cash donations for the purchase of limited quantities of canned goods.

For Preston Andriot, the first-year student Cincinnati State student who led the design team, the learning curve was as steep as the roofline of the Ascent.

The first thing he did was contact the Ascent’s local architects for renderings that showed the exterior design and the building’s footprint on the site at the foot of the Suspension Bridge. Then Andriot reduced the drawings to scale and tried to figure out how to replicate lead architect Daniel Libeskind’s design with cans connected only by tape, Velcro and gravity.

Andriot wound up making a cardboard scale model of the Ascent to help figure out how many cans to use and where to use them. That, in turn, required a crash course in the design, height and diameter of the cans collected in the Cincinnati State food drive – and then some decisions about what kind of canned goods to buy with the money the team had raised.

(The Cincinnati State team wound up using 1,807 cans. The interior core is heavy on Happy Harvest pork and beans, carrots, corn and green beans, while the exterior features Meijer’s beef and chicken broth, mainly because the labels are colored a shade of blue that’s close to the exterior of the Ascent.)

The student group – which also included Jay Foster, Jennifer Queener, Bill Leeker and Tyler Wayne – used a storage room above a Cincinnati State classroom to assemble and refine their model. Then it was off to the big show at the Aronoff.

For their efforts, the team was afforded recognition during the Canstruction awards banquet on March 27 – and the chance to attend an after-awards party at the new Bootsie’s restaurant, right across the street from where their model will stand for the next week.

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