Deconstruction of historic properties: One city’s response to the demolition epidemic
Posted in: Cultural Resources
Not all historic buildings can be preserved. It’s unfortunate, but requiring deconstruction is a viable option when demolition cannot be avoided. Deconstructing historic buildings has proven to have economic and environmental benefits.
Portland, Oregon, is the first municipality in the nation to mandate deconstruction of historic homes. Low-density housing built prior to 1916 or historically designated properties cannot be demolished by bulldozer. These homes must be carefully dismantled so components may be salvaged and reused. The new ordinance offers incentives to reuse historic materials, reduce landfill waste and create jobs.
While Portland may be the first, others across the nation are considering response to the demolition epidemic. The article Shifting the Paradigm from Demolition to Reuse: New Tools by the National Trust for Historic Preservation likens deconstruction to “organ donors.” While not saving historic buildings, deconstruction provides an opportunity to thoughtfully consider, and possibly save, pieces of our architectural past.
In a second example, the University of Florida’s study, Implementing Deconstruction in Florida: Materials Reuse Issues, Disassembly Techniques, Economics and Policy analyzes the feasibility of replacing demolition and disposal of building materials with deconstruction and reuse.
Some developers have opposed deconstruction due to increased costs. However, deconstruction encourages builders to consider the intrinsic value of historic buildings before choosing demolition.
Personally, I wish redevelopment projects didn’t so often include demolition of historic buildings, but I understand the dilemma cities sometimes face. It is heartening that communities are looking for creative and economically sound solutions.
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