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Deconstruction – Why and How

Building deconstruction is the methodical dis-assembly of a building to reuse, reattribute, and recycle materials.  Deconstruction has been around for thousands of years – in fact the original finished pink granite cladding on the Great Pyramids of Giza (built 4,000BC) was removed/de-constructed extensively in the 15th century for use in mosques, with the last stone taken to build an arsenal in Alexandria by Mohammed Ali Pasha in 1848. Unfortunately, during the industrial revolution a combination of better equipment, rising labor costs, and cheap materials made the destruction and disposal of buildings the popular, and economic choice.

Recently, a concern for the environment, a realization of the toxicity of building products, and a 10-fold increase in the cost to dispose (dump) of materials has made selective demolition more popular, and economically viable. Metal recycling has been at the front of this revenue stream. Simply removing, separating, and recycling materials reduces the fees associated with disposal, while generating a revenue stream from the sale of the recycled metal. On a deconstruction project overseen by Belles Firm of Architecture, Inc., all the nails were removed from reclaimed lumber. The nails were put in barrels, and recycled.

The re-use of materials can also reduce the embodied energy necessary to replace an existing building with a new one. As part of a deconstruction project overseen by Belles Firm of Architecture, Inc., fiberglass insulation was removed from the walls, cleaned, repackaged, and available for re-use. The energy (embodied energy) necessary to re-make this product was saved with no loss of material usability. This will become a major consideration as municipalities adopt (and even require) buildings be constructed to a “Green” Standard such as LEED or Energy Star.

As methods for the deconstruction of buildings have improved, owners, contractors, and architects have discovered there is even greater value in saving and reclaiming materials than simply recycling them. Rather than ripping metal apart, and sending it to a plant for recycling, a contractor can carefully take the building apart and sell the pieces for immediate re-use. This often involves the services of an architect to see that pieces are removed safely, without damage, and maintain their re-sale value. At the same time that the building industry has gotten better at deconstruction, the internet has grown to provide an easy, cost effective way to market and sell the reclaimed materials.

The services of an architect can provide added value to the materials that are being reclaimed. An architect can advise to which products can be re-used as-is, which products will require repair/refinishing, and which products can be reattributed. Plumbing pipe, conduit, and code compliant devices can be re-used. Wood timbers, once properly graded, can also be re-used with little reworking. An architect can advise as to the code compliance and grading for re-use. Reattributed items have the potential for the greatest design impact, and most economic gain. Architects have devised creative ways to reuse boiler room doors, organ pipes, etc. These obsolete items can become “building art” rather than demolition debris.

The end result is a project that is better for the environment, uses less energy, costs less to construct, AND has added value that makes it worth more!

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