Deconstruction is an age-old concept of reusing existing structural components to create new facilities. It is an alternative to the ills of demolition around the world, essential for creating a sustainable environment. It is also called “construction in reverse”. The ultimate goal of Deconstruction is to responsibly manage building materials to minimize consumption of new raw materials by using existing materials from demolished sites and finding ways to reuse them in another construction project. An enormous amount of waste is produced due to the demolition of building structures in most of the countries which can be reused through reprocessing or re-manufacturing of materials, thus reducing the input of new resources and giving a new life cycle to the materials. The raw material for construction had been traditionally manufactured into the desired product but the new definition of manufacturing is taking salvaged items, performing repairs, rectification, or adaptation to what society needs. About 25 % of the demolition waste can be reused while 70% can be recycled. Deconstruction leads to increased diversion rate of demolition waste from landfills which can be potentially reused from existing building components. It supplies useful materials, increasing ease of material recycling at recycling centers, re-manufacturing enterprise, and building material yards. Building designed for deconstruction is easier to maintain and adapt to new users which in turn saves the shell of the building or adapts interior spaces to meet new needs. Buildings that have been designed with deconstruction in mind are often easier to maintain and adapt to new uses. Saving the shell of a building or adapting interior spaces to meet new needs ensures that new structures have a small environmental impact. The current trend in sustainable architecture involves the use of high-grade durable material. The deconstruction of Fort Ord Barracks in California involved simple buildings with lots of valuable lumber and few finish materials. The challenge was faced with Hazardous materials, which in this case were asbestos and lead-based paint.

Typical Fort Ord Barracks building
Typical Fort Ord Barracks building to be deconstructed, part of the “urban forest” that is being harvested for new construction projects ©

Another example of deconstruction includes temporary accommodation for 17,000 athletes at Olympics and Paralympics Games Village, Stratford, where residential units were created according to the code for sustainable homes. Some of the key approaches used in the design were interchangeable cladding panels and generally full-storey in height. The kitchen, facades, bathrooms, and balconies were manufactured off-site and the partitions were movable so that space can be reconfigured.

Olympics and Paralympics Games Village
Olympics and Paralympics Games Village, Stratford ©

Though deconstructionist a very environment-friendly and sustainable practice, it faces several challenges over conventional demolition. The existing buildings have not been designed for dismantling or dissembling, so the tools for deconstructing existing buildings don’t exist neither is the recertification of used components possible. Most of the construction firms operate under a tight profit margin and generally, they are not willing to jeopardize their profit margin by implementing reused programs or expanding their demolition practices to deconstruct; they feel that it is simply not worth the financial risk to be environmentally friendly. The use of salvaged materials can be both beneficial and detrimental depending on the material’s durability, desirability, and longevity. The challenges can be easily overcome if there are changes in design and policy. The largest barrier to non-traditional construction and demolition techniques is that they are not cost-effective as well as the industry does not have the appropriate tools to make an educated decision about their building options.

Design for deconstruction works alongside with sustainable design and recycling. Designing for deconstruction is a difficult concept for architects as they conceptualize their buildings as being timeless and no architect intends on spending intensive labour creating a building only to be torn down. The main problem faced today to practice deconstruction is that architects or builders of the past designed their creations to exist forever and did not make the necessary provisions for disassembling in the future. Even today materials are not produced keeping recycling in mind. Moreover, even though architects want to design sustainable buildings that can later be reused for other purposes, the clients don’t want to opt for new building techniques as they are accustomed to and prefer traditional techniques. Architects can contribute to the environment by designing buildings that facilitate adaptation and renovation.

Chartwell School, Seaside
Chartwell School, Seaside, California