Sunday Conversation with Chris Yueh

Where you look at a can of tuna or chicken soup and see lunch, others see Baby Groot or “Game of Thrones.” On Nov. 4, teams of architects, engineers and builders from across metro Atlanta had 10 hours to construct huge art displays — out of cans of food. The daylong build was the 19th public art competition put on by Canstruction Atlanta, a nonprofit benefiting the Atlanta Community Food Bank. The design/art competition has grown dramatically to 16 teams vying for bragging rights. The exhibition, constructed in the lobbies of Atlantic Station office buildings, is open to the public through Friday, Nov. 17. After that, all of those cans will be donated to the food bank. “People really need to see in person the level of creativity on display, all of it putting a spotlight on hunger in our community,” says Chris Yueh, director of programs of the American Institute of Architects’ Atlanta chapter and Canstruction Atlanta 2017 committee chair.

Q: Talk more about the competition.

A: Canstruction started out small with only a few architecture and engineering teams participating. Over the years, it has engaged more partners. A lot of credit has to go to the participating teams that come up with their own design, fundraise to buy the cans and assemble the structures themselves. It is a monumental effort.

Q: How much food has been donated through the competition?

A: Since 1992, this event has contributed more than 25 million pounds of food to the Atlanta Community Food Bank. In addition, it has raised more than $75,000 through registration fees and sponsorships. Every dollar the food bank receives translates into four meals for a family.

Q: Is there a limit to how many cans a team can use?

A: Not at all. The structure does need to fit in an area that is 10 feet long, 10 feet wide and 8 feet tall. Last year, a team built a structure that paid tribute to the Prince song “Kiss”made with 11,000 four-ounce tomato cans. Teams can use canned goods of all sizes plus wood, tape, rubber bands, wire and Velcro. The challenge is not just the idea but also the execution. The larger your structure is, the more challenging it is to make stable.

Q: Talk about some of the creations.

A: Over the years, we have had numerous Star Wars-themed structures. We’ve had a number modeled after local icons, from Marietta’s Big Chicken to Atlanta’s Fox Theatre. One year, one team created a human head that showed features of the globe. It was made completely of tuna cans. This year, there’s a Baby Groot from “Guardians of the Galaxy” and a “Game of Thrones” display, as well as the Atlanta Botanical Garden’s Earth Goddess and a USS Arizona Memorial.

Q: Are teams super competitive?

A: All of these teams are comprised of local architects, engineering firms, designers and construction experts who compete with each other on a daily basis for projects. Here, they are competing for bragging rights. There is definitely a level of pride that comes when your structure receives one of the awards, including Best Meal, Best Original Design, Most Cans, Best Use of Labels, Structural Ingenuity and People’s Choice.

Q: Have you ever participated?

A: I never have. I lack the creativity that these teams constantly display. I am honored to participate as this year’s committee chair.

Q: Why do you think the competition has caught on?

A: It captures the imagination. It also offers a true team-building experience and allows people to bond and build camaraderie not only within their offices but also with other firms. Then it delivers a powerful message about the constant battle against hunger in our community.

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The Sunday Conversation is edited for length and clarity. Writer Ann Hardie can be reached by email at