The Sustainable Initiatives Deconstructing Detroit

As architects we generally see ourselves as providers of new buildings; we also often see architecture as a way to remedy social ills. For many architects, when presented with a social problem, we try to think of a design for a building which addresses it. But what happens when the problem itself is a surplus of buildings?

This is exactly the situation that Detroit finds itself in today. Thanks to the rapid decline in population since its heyday in the mid 20th Century, the City of Detroit is home to some 78,000 vacant structures. While politicians worldwide win public support by promising new construction and growth, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing proudly announced his plans to demolish 10,000 empty homes before the end of his term.

The process will be inherently wasteful. Fortunately, some are making the best of the situation, with sustainable initiatives that create jobs and economic benefits for residents. Read on after the break to find out how.

One of the demolition sites listed on the Recycle Detroit website. Image © Christopher Siminski

One such initiative is Recycle Detroit, a project by Christopher Siminski, a Masters student at Lawrence Technological University. Many buildings, demolished by the government or collapsed from neglect, have not been taken to landfill, leaving piles of waste material scattered around Detroit. Siminski's website provides an interactive map of these sites, detailing where there are materials to be salvaged, and the types of material at each site. The map is added to by users, who can document sites they find. His map provides residents of Detroit with a free resource to locate free building materials and share information about their city - all while reducing waste and costing nothing.

Another initiative is Reclaim Detroit, a non-profit organization which provides an alternative to demolition: deconstruction. The process of deconstruction aims to dismantle a building piece by piece, leaving the building's individual components in the best possible condition for reclamation. Though the process takes more time and requires more people, Reclaim Detroit is able to keep the cost of deconstruction competitive by selling the salvaged materials. Another benefit to the person paying for the deconstruction is that the value of the salvaged materials is tax deductible as it is classed as a donation.

The process of deconstruction provides more jobs than demolition, which means that the work of Reclaim Detroit is vital in a city with such high unemployment, as evidenced by their profile of one of their Deconstruction Specialists Billy Brown.

Both Recycle Detroit and Reclaim Detroit are initiatives that look at demolition and the contraction of Detroit in a different way. Where many see a symptom of decline and regression, they see demolition as a resource, which rather than being a wasteful way to remove the homes of people long gone, could be a way to benefit the lives of those still living in Detroit.

What initiatives did we overlook? Let us know in the comments below!

About this author
Cite: Rory Stott. "The Sustainable Initiatives Deconstructing Detroit" 25 Aug 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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