Here at Overland Partners, I work as a designer on numerous architecture projects and also serve as the lead designer/engineer for our entries into the local annual Canstruction competition.

Canstruction is more than just stacking cans of food!

Our Canstruction team tackles this project just like we would a traditional, “real” architecture project.

The design process begins by casting a wide net, considering dozens of concepts. We hold a pin-up of all ideas and concepts, and vote as an office on which concept moves into development. Individuals are given the opportunity to “sell” their concept—bribing the designer/engineer, I’m told, is a good way to get your idea into the top 3! The top few ideas are then researched to ensure the ideas are original to Canstruction.  Finally, the last standing concept, usually just a printed image, is presented to the design/engineer team.

Canstruction 2014 Idea Board

After a theme is established, our client development department takes over to start raising money to purchase cans. They  send out a fundraiser e-blast to encourage donors as well as get t-shirts made for the build team.

._OLAF without his headNovember 1st, 2013 @ 20:49:50

Olaf Canstruction T-ShirtCanstruction 2014_goal setting

My involvement with the other designers begins while client development is busy working to raise money and awareness. My process of taking a two-dimensional image and turning it into a monumental stack of cans has become quite technical over the past years. First, we search, create, or modify a three-dimensional computer model of the concept. SketchUp is used very early to create the overall form of the structure.

2 Sliced Data Model

With the addition of our 3-D printer (Maker Bot), I am able to print the form small enough to hold in my hand. This small physical model allows everyone to clearly understand the dynamics and complexity of the build.

Olaf 3D Printer (Custom)3D Printer (Custom)IMG_4927 (Custom)

IMG_4930 (Custom)IMG_4931 (Custom)

The computerized form becomes the skin for other CAD software to create individual can levels of varied colors. These levels are then populated with virtual cans and counted to determine the amount of money needed to build the final structure.

4 Total Model (Custom)5 Total Model


3 Level Can Population

One Level of Can for the Canstructure


If that isn’t difficult enough, we still have the engineering aspect of the structure:

–       Thousands of cans weigh a lot!  The whole structure must be self-supported, so the first few layers of cans are supporting the entire weight of the structure. It usually takes several pickup trucks to haul cans on build day!

–       Cantilevers are tricky, especially when you are limited to rubber bands, package tape, Velcro, and thin layers of material to help level the cans.

–       Bridging—good luck with that!

–       Can labels provide the colors for the structure.  (Can sizes have an impact on the “pixel resolution” of the structure.  The smaller the can, the more detailed the structure.)

–       Getting the center of gravity correct is paramount—the structure must stand up for at least 2 weeks inside a shopping mall with thousands of people walking nearby.


Final Rendered Model

Final Rendered Model

IMG_5073 (Custom)

Final 3D Printed Model

DSC_0198 (Custom)And that is how you build a snowman!


  • Sreedhar

    Can you please share on how you modeled the snowman in sketchup? I am new to construction, and am trying to find a way to model this in sketchup

  • Steve

    The sketchup model of the snowman was a conversion from a 3D printing model format found online.