Tractors, Graveyards and Tomato Soup

These items may seem to have nothing in common, but tractors, graveyards and tomato soup were all major topics of conversation and intense thought at Pack Place in downtown Asheville last October.  These were three of the seven design themes that were made into reality at Canstruction Asheville’s annual design/build competition.  This was my second (and most fun) year volunteering with the non-profit organization.  An architect friend of mine asked me to be involved in Canstruction because the board wanted more diversity of design professionals to be involved, and not just architects, as historically was the case.  I could not believe my eyes when I first saw photos of past competition entries – an octopus, a roller skate, and an eagle, all made completely out of full cans of food!  In the Canstruction competitions that take place around the world every fall, these mystifying structures are built by talented design professionals who compete amongst each other to build structures for fun and to win bragging rights.  However, in Asheville, the competition has grown to something much more unique and, well, Asheville.

Canstruction Asheville links together design professionals (i.e., architects, landscape architects, artists and designers) with young students in the community to design and build large, eventually-edible sculptures.  Then, after all the fun and sweat, the ‘building materials’ are donated to the local food bank MANNA.  So far I have mentored students from both Asheville and Enka High Schools and, for the most part, it has been a real pleasure getting to know these kids.  Once they put down their cell phones (and were loosely bribed with food), they really worked together well and came up with some cool ideas.  The hardest part was getting them to back away from their coveted computer design software (e.g. AutoCAD and Google SketchUp) and break out the old fashioned pencil and paper.

I work to create ecologically-sound and aesthetically-pleasing landscapes, and although there aren’t seemingly a lot of similarities between designing a graveyard scene that consists of canned deviled ham, olives, and sweet peas and designing a landscape with native plants, design principles are universal.  And it’s not just about design, it’s also about building relationships and community.  So, after participating in my second year of Canstruction Asheville, I have come to the following conclusion as to why it works and ends up being so fabulous.

Canstruction is a great community event because it supports the following three (3) items, including:

  • Partnerships between students and mentors;
  • An opportunity for professionals to give back and share their knowledge; and
  • Everyone involved works together to accomplish something really special (and has a lot of fun at the same time).

Last year, we raised over 10,000 lbs of food for WNC! This adds up to approximately one day worth of food given out by MANNA, but to the people who receive the aid across WNC and to the kids who raise it, this is a huge accomplishment.

Canstruction may just seem like a cool competition to get your child’s school involved in, and it is, but it’s also about building relationships and encouraging kids to participate in something outside of school and the home in which they can feel a sense of accomplishment.  This was very apparent after last year’s awards ceremony, when I heard several excited teenagers discussing strategies for next year’s entries – most of which sounded quite intriguing!   So, for my first mentor-mentee partnership since I’ve begun working as a design professional, Canstruction has prompted me to challenge everyone to do the following: pick an event happening in your community this year, donate your time, your interest, and your skill – and the possibilities and rewards are endless!

If you’re interested in participating in Canstruction, either as a school representative or a professional, check out the non-profit’s website for more information –

To donate to Canstruction Asheville, please visit MANNA’s website and select “Canstruction” in the donation drop down menu –

Dena Chandler, Landscape Designer

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