Invest Your Time (and Funds) Into Seeking Out Canstruction Orange County’s Design-Build Contest Entries

Webb Foodservice Design’s A Small Difference CAN Bring Giant Change, as displayed at ARTIC. Photo by Dave Barton

How often do you hear that “[l]ocal prominent architectural, engineering, planning and design firms, and students mentored by these professionals” have gotten together to donate time and skills to create public art out of canned and bagged food?

Once a year, actually. 

As part of Canstruction Orange County’s annual Design-Build contest, nine sculptures will be on display this month at South Coast Plaza West/Crystal Court, John Wayne Airport and ARTIC. When the contest ends, awards will be given out, and the sculpture’s contents—32,000 meals’ worth—will be donated to OC Food Bank for redistribution to the poor and food insecure. No exact map to the locations is offered, so consider this a time-saving walk-through to make your hunt more convenient. 

South Coast Plaza West/Crystal Court (3333 Bear St., Costa Mesa, 800-782-8888; has seven of the sculptures. On the first floor by See’s Candies is the largest: How to Train Your Dragon—The CANcealed World. WATG & R.D. Olson’s ode to the cartoon offers a pale Light Fury firedrake guarding a blue castle arch, its tail encircling one of the piers. Both the character and the arch are designed using tuna and sardine cans—as well as those of baked beans, vegetables and Mexican-style hominy—the different labels adding shading to the walls of color. I never located the second sculpture on that floor, LPA’s We CAN Save the Earth, which was supposedly located near Crate & Barrel. The store’s employees said it’d been set up right outside their window but disappeared, and when asked, the plaza’s concierge thought it was still there. 

On the second floor, near Victoria’s Secret, is HNTB’s Connecting Communities, Fighting Hunger, a representation of an OCTA bus built mostly of canned legumes, with the familiar side windows, design flairs and light-blue-and-orange waves all readily recognizable. Bags of black beans pose as asphalt, yellow taco seasoning creates road-dividing lines, and upside-down fruit cups serve as raised pavement markers. The Mars Curiosity Rover has been re-created out of tuna cans by Gensler & W.L. Butler in Fighting Hunger to Mars and Back, set up beside the Everything But Water store. The red planet’s landscape is built of red Stagg’s Chili With Beans cans and crumpled brown paper, while two planets made from yellow and blue albacore cans hang in the sky behind.

The three third-floor sculptures are near Diesel, Pottery Barn Kids and Macy’s. Disneyland Resort Design & Engineering has built There’s a CAN in My Boot!, a larger-than-human-sized Woody doll from the Toy Story franchise tipping his hat and stretching out a leg. It’s constructed with two kinds of Gerber baby food; bags of long-grain rice; and cans of olives, jalapeños, black beans and green chiles. In Terracon & WD Partners’ Peanuts comic-strip-inspired sculpture, Lucy CAN Help, the titular character sits behind a red desk of pasta boxes and cans of Manwich, the words “Engineer is IN” on the front formed with twisted, plastic-wrapped beef jerky, green grass suggested by hundreds of cans of vegetables. In the last piece, SVA Architects aims to inspire the viewer to Reflect on world hunger, its 2,390 cans and a whole lot of tin foil creating a kind of silver mirror cube. 

Down the 405 south from the Plaza, park near Terminal C at John Wayne Airport (18601 Airport Way, Santa Ana, 949-252-5200; to save yourself some mileage on the trek to the Baggage Claim Area, where Fluor’s Somewhere Over the Rainbow, U-n-I-CAN End Hunger! sits. Sweet corn, fat-free refried beans, tomato sauce, kidney beans and packets of mustard bring life to a tall, gold-horned unicorn, its rainbow mane cascading to the floor in red, pink, orange, green, blue and purple rivers.

Wrap things up by taking the 55 north to the 5 north to the 57 north, exiting on Katella. Turn right, then make another right, and you’re at the Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Corridor (ARTIC), home of the last sculpture. The Corridor (2626 E. Katella Ave., Anaheim, 714-385-5123;, itself pretty glorious, houses Webb Foodservice Design’s A Small Difference CAN Bring Giant Change on its top floor, made from 6,726 cans of organic black beans, pitted olives, split peas, green beans, leafy spinach and sardines; Gatorade; and beef jerky, among other items. The Iron Giant’s torso towers over several treetops, a tiny Hogarth sitting on the alien robot’s shoulder, all guaranteed to make fans of the animated movie smile.

Kudos are due to Fluor for its presentation of the competition. Applaudable in every regard, it’s a fine thing that so much volunteer work has gone into caring for the needs of our brothers and sisters, making art, AND offering something worthy of an Instagram post or two. Like to do your part? Make a direct donation to the organization via its website; dropping as little as $1 allows you to vote for your favorite piece online at

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