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Building blocks 

& & by Sheri Boggs & & & &

River Park Square is easily one of the most vibrant and kinetic spots in downtown Spokane. Whether it's hordes of weekend shoppers trekking around the interior, or the gleam of glass and steel reflecting off the ever-moving escalators, there's always lots to look at. And right now, that's especially true, considering the bridges, hillsides, rivers and even a train that currently live inside the confines of River Park Square.

How so, you wonder? Did a model train convention come to town? Is there a garden show exhibiting in the mall? Nope, it's better than that. Concrete, water, grass, steel and rock are represented by cans, boxes and bags of food in Spokanstruction, a joint project between area architecture and construction firms and River Park Square. Best of all, when the contest is over, all the food will be donated to the Second Harvest Food Bank.

"My boss, Bob Robideaux, came to me with pictures that had been given to him by Gary Lawton from Lawton Printing. They were photographs of an event of the same type in New Orleans, which was a national competition, with its own Web site," says Marcy Latta, marketing director for River Park Square, of the project's genesis. "Since this was our first year, we didn't want to go national; we just wanted to kind of try it out locally and see how it went."

The rules for the contest were open-ended and did not specify that the finished construction would need to be related to Spokane, and yet most of the finished sculptures are inspired by Spokane architecture or history. A wagon near the entrance is clearly a nod to the big red wagon in Riverfront Park, there are two Monroe Street bridges, and a train recalls the importance of railroads in Spokane history.

"I basically left it up to each firm, how they would go about getting the materials," says Latta. "It was up to them to get the materials or arrange for sponsorships from the local grocery stores."

The participating firms -- ALSC Architects; 3-E Design Group; Wolfe Ballantyne Studio Architects; Integrus Architecture; Northwest Architectural Co.; Bernardo-Wills Architects; Madsen, Mitchell, Evenson and Conrad; Central Pre-Mix and Coffman Engineers -- used all the powers at their disposal, from computer-drafted plans to being able to envision how a product's label would work in the finished construction.

Nowhere is that more amusing than in ALSC's rendition of the Monroe Street Bridge, made even more recognizable by the utilization of Bullseye Barbecue Sauce, the label of which sports a set of familiar longhorns.

"That was a last minute touch," laughs Austin Dickey, intern at ALSC Architects and head of their team. "Somebody said, 'We still don't have the horns!' So we had to run out to the store and find something."

Walking around and admiring all the architecture, it's hard to pick a favorite. Integrus Architecture's Gravy Train is pretty cool, being made up of packets of gravy and boxes of mashed potatoes, but then so is the other Monroe Street Bridge, which spans a crinkly blue cellophane river. But Visual Arts Tourists can vote for a favorite -- yet another way to help the food bank.

"They're setting up a stand right now for the People's Choice Award," says Latta. "Every dollar donated to each construction equals a vote, and that money goes to the Second Harvest Food Bank as well."

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