Seventh annual event to be hosted at Telus Spark with proceeds to the Calgary Interfaith Food Bank

Throughout March, some of the greatest minds across Canada are recognizing National Engineering Month. To kick off the celebration on February 29th, or on leap day, engineering firms throughout Calgary will design their own structures to be entered in a competition.

The catch is that the structures will have to be built using only canned food.

The 7th Annual Canstruction Calgary – themed The Universe: Yours to Discover – will be hosted at Telus Spark. Following the competition, all of the cans will be donated to the Calgary Inter-Faith Food Bank.

Fluor’s team (from left to right, Frank Laxshimalla, Rob Mitchell, Ken Kernaghan, Simon Wong, and Lynne Zingel,) building Marvin the Martian in an undisclosed location.
Photo by: Kyle Napier
The competition has been held in New York since 1992, and has since spread internationally. Amanda Condie, Canstruction chair and marketing manager at Fluor, initiated Calgary’s development into the competition through Fluor.

“We’re just so proud of this event because it allows our teams of engineers and builders to showcase the teamwork and their capabilities in creating these wonderful things,” she says.

This year, a dozen different oil and gas, engineering, and construction firms will be entering alongside three schools.

The guidelines are outlined beforehand, and the entries must maintain the integrity of the labels for the cans, with “no gluing or permanent affixing allowed.” Any number of people with any number of cans is allowed to be involved with planning and design, but only five people are allowed in their 10-by-10 foot work area at any given time; the structure must fit in that area, and be a maximum of eight feet high. Build day starts at 9 a.m., and the structures will be judged at 6 p.m.

“We provide the tools and the guidelines, but it’s really up to the team to develop the exhibit that they want to create,” says Condie. The teams also have to provide their own cans.

With awards commending the use of labels, structural integrity, best meal, juror’s pick, and best use of theme, the direction of each project differs, and each individual entry requires months of planning.CANoe City of Calgary Best Meal Winner, Canstruction Calgary, 2011
Photo courtesy of Duane Starr

“You’re always wondering, ‘How are they able to create that?’” Condie says.

Julie Brewster, coordinator for the Calgary Inter-Faith Food Bank, says that there’s often playful competition between the firms.

“It’s a bit of a smack-down between them all, which for us, is fun to watch because the more the company gets involved, the more fundraising they do, the more VPs kick in a little bit of extra funding from budgets, the more food they can buy,” says Brewster. “We of course try to encourage them to buy food that we need, so then it goes out to hungry Calgarians in the end.”

Produced by Chelsea Barclay

So far, over 286,000 pounds of canned food have been donated in Calgary within the past six years.

Assuming that each pound costs an estimated $2, Brewster says that $599,312 has been raised, including $26,000 in funds through cash donations, all through Canstruction and the engineering companies involved.

The overwhelming majority of the cans used for the build are tuna.

“Those tuna cans stack really nicely, so, from a structural standpoint, they work really well, and from our standpoint, it’s one of those items that we have to purchase, and this helps us with how much we actually have to purchase throughout the year,” Brewster says.

TiCANic Fluor Canada Structural Ingenuity Winner, Canstruction Calgary 2009 Structural Ingenuity Winner, Canstruction International Competition 2009
Photo courtesy of Duane Starr
Rehana Rajabali, a development engineer in training for the City of Calgary, is involved as a structural designer this year and has been part of the team that won the 2007 Best Use of Labels Award.

“This is the kind of competition where there certainly is a desire to win and show off the creative talent that each of the teams has, but really the winner in this case is the population, the citizens of Calgary who are in need,” says Rajabali. “It’s a great opportunity to see design and good will come together.”

Brent Rowat, a program manager with Suncor, has been competing for five years, and says it’s a surprisingly great way to get the family involved.

Rowat’s son assisted with the teardown of their Canstruction project in 2007, and, out of his son’s own genuine interest, “actually got his school science teacher in Grade 8 to do a mini-Canstruction in the school.”

Following the Feb. 29 Calgary contest, winning entries will have a photo to be judged for the international competition in New York. Calgary builds will remain at Telus Spark for a week after build day.

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knapier@cjournal.ca