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In the News!

Earth-friendly demolition is topic of WSU lecture

October 23, 2004

BY JOHN GALLAGHER
FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER

The term "green building" usually means creating structures in environmentally sensitive ways. But a slowly growing segment of the green-building movement concerns itself more with demolishing buildings the right way than constructing them.

One of the gurus of this so-called deconstruction, or architectural salvage, movement will outline its goals and practices at an address in Detroit next week.

Jim Primdahl, a Portland, Ore., director of the Used Building Materials Association, will lecture at Wayne State University's David Adamany Undergraduate Library at 7 p.m. Wednesday. His lecture, open to the public, is co-sponsored by the nonprofit preservation groups Architectural Salvage Warehouse of Detroit, Cityscape, Preservation Wayne and the Detroit Sierra Club. Admission to the lecture is $6 for the public and $5 for members of the sponsoring groups.

Reached in suburban Washington, D.C., this week, where he was supervising the removal of older houses at a site in northern Virginia, Primdahl said deconstruction can divert as much as 85 percent to 95 percent of the material in an old house from a landfill into recycled uses.

"We go after as much of the material out of a building as we possibly can," he said. That includes brick and concrete that can be crushed and used for structural fill or road-paving materials, or clean wood scraps that can be mulched for landscaping ground covers. Nails can be salvaged, and the plate covers on electric switches can be reused. Even old insulation can be bagged and recycled.

The difference between deconstruction and ordinary demolition can be vivid. Primdahl cited another demolition company taking down an old house in northern Virginia near where Primdahl is currently supervising removals. The other builder told Primdahl he sent 12 large containers of scrap material to a landfill from a single house. Primdahl's crews typically send just two containers per house to the landfill, mostly old plaster, drywall and other materials that cannot be reused.

"That's kind of what deconstruction is all about," he said.

The most visible aspect of the deconstruction movement is the retailing of used architectural elements, including brass fixtures, fireplace mantels, stained glass windows, and the like.

Mainstream auction houses and junk shops have long traded in such materials; activists hope retailing such items at a nonprofit center will provide income to help support the movement's other activities.

In Detroit, local supporters plan to set up an Architectural Storage Warehouse at a site to be determined. The warehouse will operate on a nonprofit basis to support environmentally sensitive demolition and recycling.

Primdahl is a carpenter by trade who has been involved in green building initiatives since the late 1980s.

From 1998 to 2001 he was the director of DeConstruction Services of the Rebuilding Center in Portland.

Prior to that, Primdahl was associate director of Habitat for Humanity International's Department of Environment in Americus, Ga.

Contact JOHN GALLAGHER at 313-222-5173 or gallagher@freepress.com.

Copyright © 2005 Detroit Free Press, Inc.

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