Track 1: Decline vs. Revival: Tempering the Impulse to Tear Down and Start Over

APT Student Scholar Abstract

1 - Deconstructing the culture of demolition: Exploring deconstruction as a preservation strategy

Tuesday, September 25
10:30 AM - 12:00 PM
Location: BNCC- 101AH
Faculty Advisor: Curt Lamb, Master of Architecture, GSD; Ph.D, Yale – Boston Architectural College

The Secretary of Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties offers solutions for every stage of a building’s life cycle, guiding restoration, rehabilitation, even rebuilding. While this rubric is comprehensive, it offers no strategy to deal with the number one cause of death: demolition. Copious efforts have been directed at defining and cataloguing significance in the built environment, but the preservation movement has yet to address the question of what ought to be done when demolition is inevitable. Since heritage value is commonly ascribed to whole buildings, not their individual materials, preservationists consider their work complete once a demolition permit is issued.
A building, like a person, has a finite lifespan. Death cannot be stopped entirely, but it can be executed with dignity. Significant but unsaveable historic structures, unregistered but at-risk buildings, and the vast stock of vernacular structures of our older neighborhoods deserve a final treatment that respects their history, significance, and value. A viable alternative to demolition already exists within the sustainability movement: whole-building deconstruction. Deconstruction is a process of disassembly that removes materials in the reverse order of construction, saving as much as possible for reuse and recycling. By examining the growing body of deconstruction literature including government publications and policies, C&D industry reports, and deconstruction feasibility studies, this paper will examine the physical, environmental, social, economic, and policy aspects of deconstruction practice, assessing each for its impact on heritage materials and values. It will be argued that thoughtful inclusion of deconstruction as a preservation tool will allow historic preservation to put forward a holistic, sustainable strategy for the stewardship of the built environment that encompasses every stage of a building’s life cycle.

Learning Objectives:

Tina M. McCarthy

Boston Architectural College

I began studying the intersection of heritage and sustainability as an undergraduate at Hampshire College. My undergraduate thesis examined the contemporary housing crisis on Native American reservations, focusing on solutions that promoted heritage and self-determination through traditional sustainable building techniques. Inspired by the strength of these connections, I entered the MDS Historic Preservation program at Boston Architectural College, graduating in May of 2018. My Master's thesis explores building deconstruction as a preservation technique, pushing the boundaries of heritage practice and challenging sustainability to account for heritage values. In the future, I hope to continue the interdisciplinary nature of my work through my business, Hilltown Homestead Services. Founded in 2017, our general contracting firm supports the cultural and environmental landscape of rural western Massachusetts, offering construction and restoration services for both residential and agricultural buildings, as well as organic land management consulting. In the future, we hope to add deconstruction to our building preservation services, providing full life-cycle support for the built environment that respects cultural and ecological values while promoting continued agricultural land use.


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Jonathan Spodek

Jonathan C. Spodek, FAIA, FAPT has over 30 years of experience in the architectural and preservation fields. He currently has a limited architectural practice in Indiana and serves as a Professor of Architecture at Ball State University. As a Professor in the College of Architecture and Planning at Ball State University, he teaches design studios and courses in building technology that include building documentation, historic building construction materials and techniques, and evaluation/diagnostic methods. Mr. Spodek’s research interests focus on non-destructive building evaluation. He has also received several research grants to develop work on using sustainable construction practices on existing/historic housing. His initiatives in academia focusing on building preservation provide a scholarly component to his professional work as an architect.


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1 - Deconstructing the culture of demolition: Exploring deconstruction as a preservation strategy

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