Taking a building apart used to be nearly as profitable as building it in the first place. When buildings were deemed unusable, materials – everything from windows to wiring – would be stripped and taken to the next construction site.
But as demolition methods became cheaper (particularly in proportion to labor), this careful approach to deconstruction fell away.
It may be poised to come back. Numerous studies from the past decade point to the costs of the conventional construction/demolition cycle and small-scale efforts to reuse materials across projects have begun to take off across the world.
One such example can be found in Aarhus, just a short walk (and an even shorter cycle) from the station. Frederiksbjerg School is clearly new, its square windows and stepped form cutting a visually contemporary profile. But where so many new buildings stand out – their façades too clean and perfect – Frederiksbjerg fits in.
The school’s façade is composed entirely of recycled bricks, all taken from disused neighborhood buildings (among them a hospital from the late 19th century.) The mix of sources meant that not all bricks matched perfectly, requiring bricklayers to rinse and evaluate the half million bricks almost individually. Up close, this gives the facades a patchwork appearance; chalky whites and deep reds standing out in the weathered tan canvas. From afar, it dissolves into its surroundings. It’s as if it has been there forever.
While an intensive process, preparing the recycled bricks ultimately required less energy than making new ones. Recycling existing materials – rinsing and all – still helped the school achieve a lower carbon footprint than comparable new structures. While still relatively unknown, the opportunities afforded by deconstruction far outweigh the difficulties. And as the mainstream understanding of sustainability continues to broaden (it’s more than just green roofs), it’s likely that will become even more common.