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The Avant-Garde of Adaptive Reuse: How Design For Deconstruction is Reinventing Recycling

As an idea that was developed fairly early on in the movement for sustainability, and picked up significant traction a few years into the new millennium, "Design for Deconstruction" has been around for some years. Yet still, considered on the scale of building lifespans, the idea is still in its infancy, with few opportunities to test its principles. In this post originally published on Autodesk's Redshift publication as "Recycled Buildings or Bridges? Designing for Deconstruction Beyond Adaptive Reuse," Timothy A Schuler looks at the advances that have been made, and the challenges that still face, the design for deconstruction movement.

This summer, the Oakland Museum of California announced a new public arts grant program. Except instead of money, selected artists would receive steel. Tons of it.

The Bay Bridge Steel Program emerged out of a desire to salvage and repurpose the metal that once made up the eastern span of San Francisco’s Bay Bridge, originally constructed in 1933 (it was replaced in 2013). The steel in question, sourced from “spans referred to as ‘504s’ and ‘288s’ (in reference to their length in feet),” according to the application material, would be available for civic and public art projects within the state of California.

The program represents a unique opportunity to adaptively reuse infrastructure, upcycling what might have been waste. And yet any instance of adaptive reuse is inherently reactive because the design process is dictated by an existing condition.

San Francisco’s Bay Bridge being dismantled for use in the Bay Bridge Steel Program. Image © Sam BurbankSan Francisco’s Bay Bridge being dismantled for use in the Bay Bridge Steel Program. Image © Sam BurbankSan Francisco’s Bay Bridge being dismantled for use in the Bay Bridge Steel Program. Image © Sam BurbankSan Francisco’s Bay Bridge being dismantled for use in the Bay Bridge Steel Program. Image © Sam Burbank+ 9