Results of PresPoll #8: Deconstruction

March 2021

This month’s poll asked about deconstruction. Fundamentally, preservationists are in the business of saving historic structures, not tearing them down. But pragmatic preservationists acknowledge that sometimes historic buildings won’t survive. Rather than accepting that demolition debris go straight to the landfill, preservationists who responded to this survey see deconstruction as a potentially valuable tool. For years preservationists have been told, “you need to get closer to the environmentalists.” Well, that directive has clearly been heard. The number one positive benefit of deconstruction cited by respondents was not saving architectural elements, but about reducing the amount of recyclable material sent to the landfill.

American preservationists have long been proponents of the adaptive reuse of buildings. With the emerging support for deconstruction indicated from this survey, many have now become proponents of the adaptive reuse of building materials. The results of the survey give a sense that the question on the minds of preservation professionals is not “do we preserve, or do we deconstruct,” but rather, “how can we make deconstruction a useful tool to advance both historic preservation and the larger environment?”

As we explained in the survey, for polling purposes we defined deconstruction as “The systematic dismantling of a structure, typically in the opposite order it was constructed, in order to maximize the salvage of materials for reuse, in preference over salvaging materials for recycling, energy recovery, or sending the materials to the landfill.” A link to the survey was shared via our three Facebook pages (PlaceEconomics, Heritage Strategies International, and Donovan Rypkema). It was also shared on Historic Preservation Professionals, a Facebook group with approximately 5,400 members that serves as a forum for discussing topics relevant to the field. The link was then shared by other Facebook pages including Build Reuse and Heritage Forward. Additionally, we sent a link to the survey to our international mailing list of more than 6,000.

Based on the responses of 194 survey participants, here are the eight most significant findings:

  • Although deconstruction is an emerging issue for historic preservation, the frequency of any serious discussion is small (See Question 2).
  • Even so, there is far more support among historic preservation advocates and professionals than might have been expected, with 58% falling in the “Believer” category (See Question 3).
  • The support for deconstruction is strongest among Millennials and Gen Xers (See Questions 2 and 3).
  • Fewer than 1 in 20 preservationists have concluded that deconstruction is not a good tool for heritage conservation (See Question 2).
  • Almost 1 in 5 preservationists are discussing the implementation of deconstruction strategies (See Question 2).
  • The potential positive benefit of deconstruction that respondents deemed most important is the reduction of materials going into the landfill, followed by saving embodied energy and other environmental benefits (See Question 4).
  • While deconstruction is viewed positively by all ages and professions among the survey takers, the highest support comes from workers in the non‐profit sector (See Question 3).
  • The more frequently deconstruction is discussed, the higher the level of support tends to be (See Question 3).

Download the full report below to read the findings in-depth!