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Canstruction NYC 2012: Building Awareness and Breaking the Rules for a Good Cause

02/06/2013 04:32 pm ET | Updated Apr 08, 2013

By Perry Santanachote

Every year for the past 20 years, teams of architects and engineers descend upon the Winter Garden at World Financial Center to do what they do best -- build impressive structures. Using only unopened cans of food, some creative planning and lots of ingenuity, two dozen teams spend a single night turning more than 100,000 cans into pop art for charity. City Harvest collects the cans afterward to help feed 1.5 million hungry New Yorkers.

The 2012 Canstruction competition was postponed in November because of Hurricane Sandy, so 2013 marks the first time two Canstructions will take place in one year. The award gala on February 4 introduced another first -- a new award category that was the inevitable result of two decades of one-upmanship in a field of creative innovators and crazy-smart problem solvers.

Over the years, judges have noticed more and more ancillary materials make their way into the structures, which are supposed to be made of only cans. Each year, the teams get more brazen with bending the rules, and the resulting structures get more impressive. "It's exciting every year to see the teams build structures that seem to defy the laws of gravity and amaze even themselves," said Annie Tan, Canstruction chair.

"The jurors almost came to blows over this decision to create a new category," said Carla Hall, one of the judges and host of the television show "The Chew." "And what to call it! The Cheaters Award?" Another judge, Thomas Loughlin, quickly offered up the more amiable "Best Violator Award."

This new category joins the existing "Best Use of Labels Award," "Best Meal Award," "Structural Ingenuity Award," and the top award, "Jurors' Favorite."

Gensler/WSP Flack + Kurtz won the Juror's Favorite last year with its "Loaded Dice" entry, the firm's first win in 12 years of competing at Canstruction. Back to defend their title, the team went with a design inspired by Jeff Koons' "Balloon Dog." "We wanted the focus of this sculpture to be on the children of New York, who make up one-third of our city's hungry population," said Joseph Fulco, one of the team's co-captains.

The piece, titled "CAN's Best Friend," is made up of 3,500 cans of crab meat (and 400 cans of vegetables to balance out the meal) and took the team well into the night as members meticulously perfected the curves and rotated thousands of cans for precise label placement. "We really challenged ourselves with this," said Fulco. "Last year the challenge was its scale, but the build was relatively easy. This year we wanted to push the envelope."

The challenge was how to construct cantilevers that would be supported by the cans, and literally only the cans. "We ended up using some other materials, but mostly as a guide," said Fulco of his team's deviation from the rules. "We wanted to at least give the illusion that these cans are supporting themselves."

In the end, the "Jurors' Favorite" went to a beautiful, blue spinning top by Leslie E. Robertson Associates. American Express won for their labels. The firm Arup took the prize for "Best Meal" with their citrus bean salad recipe. The "Structural Ingenuity" award went to STUDIOS Architecture for its shattered piggy bank. And the first-ever "Best Violator Award" went to...

"Woof, woof," Hall announced with a wide grin. "Gensler/WSP Flack + Kurtz!"

"CAN's Best Friend" may have broken the rules with its Masonite-board support, but the resulting structure was impressive enough to warrant a special mention.

VIDEO: Timelapse of Gensler & WSP Flack+Kurtz's Canstruction Build

Check it out along with the other Canstruction structures before they are disassembled and donated to City Harvest on February 11. Visitors are asked to donate a canned food item upon entry. Most needed foods right now are tuna, beans and canned vegetables.

Since Canstruction was founded in 1992 by the Society for Design Administration, it has raised millions of pounds of food, becoming one of the largest food drives, with more than 170 cities participating worldwide.

If you missed last year's highlights, they're back for a special build at One Liberty Plaza, including the replica of Alexander McQueen's Lady Gaga shoes and a Converse sneaker that weighs more than a ton.