top of page

The Economic Argument for Deconstruction

When we gaze upon our cities, we're not just looking at buildings; we are witnessing massive reservoirs of resources. Resources that have been sourced, processed, and molded into our urban fabric. And with the challenges of climate change, it's essential to take stock of these resources as they play a significant role in our environmental impact.

A study from Scotland provides a sobering perspective: constructing an average two-bedroom house emits a staggering 80 metric tons of carbon dioxide. To put this into context, that's the equivalent of six years' worth of carbon footprint for an average adult in Britain. In New York City, the value of buildings in vulnerable floodplains was estimated at over a whopping $129 billion in 2014. That's an immense store of embodied carbon, materials, and investment concentrated in flood-prone areas. And yet, the prevalent practice when these areas undergo urban renewal? Razing everything to the ground.

Let's talk numbers to illustrate the scale of this issue. By 2100, based on current projections, New York City's 100-year floodplain could contain anywhere between 63,000 to 180,000 homes. On the lower end of that estimate, it assumes a steady sea level rise of 1 foot. Yet, with sea levels accelerating, we're likely looking at an increase of 5 to 6.5 feet by the end of the century. This scenario translates to around 116,000 homes in flood-prone areas, valued between $110 to $180 billion, and embodying an estimated 9.2 to 14.2 million metric tons of CO2. Now, if these homes are demolished and dumped, we're talking about adding 133 to 206 billion tons of waste to our landfills.

These figures underscore the significant investments and embodied carbon present in our built environment. More critically, they highlight the potential environmental fallout from not addressing the issue judiciously, particularly when we're in a race against time to reduce our emissions and landfill contributions. The widespread practice of demolishing structures during buyout processes limits our approach to only adaptation and resiliency. We're missing out on a significant opportunity: achieving long-term sustainability and mitigation. We need to shift the way we think about demolition - from creating waste to mining resources.

Enter 'Deconstruction'. As the name suggests, deconstruction is a circular economic practice centered on systematically disassembling structures, preserving valuable materials, and ensuring they live on in new forms. It's an embodiment of the circular economy, preventing wastage and preserving the embodied carbon in materials, all while offsetting emissions that would otherwise arise from sourcing new materials.

While not every building may be suited for complete deconstruction, every structure offers something valuable. Shifting from demolition to deconstruction could boost local economies by creating 'de-construction' jobs, championing a new form of green employment. The salvaged materials, ranging from doors to beams and windows, could find their way back into local communities. Imagine neighborhoods having pop-up home improvement centers, where these salvaged goods are available at discounted rates or even free. The re-sale of these materials could also be channeled back into community projects, ensuring a sustainable loop of benefits. It's a win-win, from reducing environmental footprints to fostering community resilience and engagement.

‘Deconstruction’ isn't just a greenwashing buzzwowrd: it’s an economic opportunity, enabling societies to reap the dual benefits of mitigating environmental impacts while propelling local economies forward. It's a strategy that circumvents the typical detrimental economic aftermath associated with resource depletion, replacing it with a paradigm that thrives on regeneration and cyclical use. Encouragingly, it fosters an economy that is not only robust in its financial turnover but is also intrinsically entwined with environmental preservation and social value creation. From this standpoint, sustainability, particularly through practices like deconstruction, transitions from being an economic burden to an invaluable investment into our collective future. As we build our economies and cities, intertwining them tightly with sustainable practices isn’t merely a choice; it is an imperative that seamlessly blends fiscal responsibility with the pressing urgency to protect our planet.

10 views0 comments


bottom of page