Montana State University

Canned: MSU students build structure that breaks Guinness record

July 30, 2008 -- Carol Schmidt, MSU News

A new Guinness Book of World Records mark is in the can for five MSU architecture students who built the world's largest sculpture made of canned food goods at the recent Rothbury Music Festival. From left, Agatha Frisby of Duluth, Minn., Matt Aune of Helena, Jordan Leppert of Fargo, N.D., Emily Van Court of Cheyenne, Wyo. and Nick Diggins of Santa Rosa, Calif., built a structure out of nearly 46,000 cans of food. The structure, a large hand holding a can, was designed by John Brittingham, MSU architecture professor. All of the cans, and an additional amount donated by concertgoers, was donated to Michigan food banks, in an activity coordinated by the Colorado-based Conscious Alliance. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.   High-Res Available

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Five Montana State University architecture students got canned in a big way this month, setting a new Guinness record for building the world's largest canned food sculpture.

The students broke the record by building a giant helping hand from nearly 46,000 cans of food at the Rothbury Music Festival in Rothbury, Mich. The students were: Jordan Leppert of Fargo, N.D.; Nick Diggins of Santa Rosa, Calif.; Matt Aune of Helena; Emily Van Court of Cheyenne, Wyo. and Agatha Frisby of Duluth, Minn.

The sculpture was designed by John Brittingham, professor and co-director of the MSU School of Architecture, with assistance from Ciaran Fitzgerald, an MSU adjunct architecture professor. The giant sculpture was built from 45,725 cans of tuna fish and beans donated by Whole Foods Market. All of the canned goods, plus an additional 16,344 pounds of food collected at the three-day music festival, was donated to food banks in the Detroit, Mich. area. The project was coordinated by Conscious Alliance and documented by a National Geographic film crew.

"It was a good experience working together as a team," said Leppert, adding that building a canned food sculpture is definitely more hands-on than most of the conceptual work done by architecture students. While the five students had a few helpers to carry cases of cans and tear down the sculpture, they did nearly all the work.

"I'd definitely do it again," Diggins said. "It was a good learning experience."

Brittingham and Fitzgerald began planning the 16'x 32' x 10' sculpture in February, when Brittingham was approached about the project by Conscious Alliance. The goal was to build a structure that would break the previous record for a canned food structure -- built in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2004, consisting of 25,656 cans formed into a rocket.

"I decided to do the project because it sounded like good fun for a good cause," Brittingham said. "And frankly how many people do you know that own a world record?"

Fitzgerald actually recruited the students, who received graduate credit for participating. Before spring term ended, they worked with the design and spent time every week at the local food bank practicing with 2,000 cans of food. They estimate that they spent several hours practicing each week in the two months leading to the festival.

"But we'd only get to the top of the fingers because we didn't have more cans to practice with," Frisby said, adding that no one had any idea how the sculpture would look until it was completed.

The students also experimented with the school's rapid prototyping machine and the school's computer numerically controlled milling machine to help them generate the required forms for the build. In all, they spent 41 hours in three days building the structure. All five, who were in the middle of summer school during the festival, had to make up a week of missed work, but they said it was worth it.

"The only time we might have wondered what we were doing is when a huge storm blew in and we were holding the tent down over the steel cans while lightning was striking all around us," Van Court said. She added that all of them are a little sick of looking at tuna and bean cans, but were excited to do something that went to a great cause.

The work had its advantages, too. The students had a front-row, and sometimes backstage, view of a festival that included performances by Dave Matthews, Snoop Dog and John Mayer, among others.

Aune said that despite all the hard work, he's interested in working on another architecture project for next year's festival that will involve sustainable materials. Organizers are talking about building housing for disaster relief victims made out of shipping containers.

"This is good practice for our profession -- working on client relations about what they want to build," Aune said. "It's just a little different way of doing it."

Besides, Diggins said he likes the way it will look on their resumes.

"Broke a Guinness World Record," he said. "That's an accomplishment."

To read other stories about the MSU School of Architecture, go to:

John Brittingham (406) 994-3832,