Let’s Watch Our Terminology

By Ted Reiff

Years ago, in order to keep abreast of news dealing with deconstruction, building-materials salvage, adaptive reuse and historic preservation, I subscribed to several Google alerts, one of which was "deconstruction." Almost immediately, I started receiving links to content dealing with the term deconstruction as used in contemporary philosophy and social science — a usage popularized by the French philosopher Jacques Derrida.

Whoops! Not my kind of deconstruction.

In my corner of the world, deconstruction means the reverse of what happens when a building is constructed. Buildings go up brick by brick, board by board, element by element. De-construction simply flips that process, taking down buildings brick by brick and board by board.

For a more formal definition, I consulted the Merriam Webster Learner's Dictionary and found: "De, 1. a: do the opposite of <deactivate> b: reverse of <de-emphasis>," and "2. a: remove (a specified thing) from <delouse> b: remove from (a specified thing) <dethrone>."

Today, even with the word "building" attached to my Google alert, I still get good ol' Jacques. More distressing, I get articles about demolition — blowing up a bridge, wrecking a concrete building, running an excavator over a wood-framed house. A conspiracy nut might conclude that journalists are attempting to cushion the fact that buildings are being reduced to rubble and thrown into big holes in the ground. Neither the grinding of concrete nor the recycling of steel members constitutes deconstruction. Both are demolition. They may involve recycling, but they sure aren't deconstruction.

Deconstruction contractors recycle materials all the time, but only those that cannot be reused. Which brings me to the difference between recycling and reuse.

Referring to Merriam-Webster again, to recycle is "to pass again through a series of changes or treatments: as to process (as liquid body waste, glass, or cans) in order to regain material for human use."

Note the words "changes" and "process." Recycling changes the form of an item, and to change the form requires the application of energy. In contrast, reuse requires no additional energy, other than the energy needed to remove the item from its original location.

Simply removing cabinets from a kitchen does not involve deconstruction. To deconstruct the cabinets, you'd have to take them apart and reduce them to hinges, knobs, panels and screws. Simply removing them from their current setting is not deconstruction. I'd label it "soft-strip" or simply "removal."

In my world, deconstruction is a learned skill that enables all the materials in a building to be reused. Practically anyone can remove a door or a cabinet, but only a skilled deconstruction team can deconstruct an entire building. Words do mean something.

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Location and Contact Information

TRP ReUse Warehouse - Oakland
9235 San Leandro Street
Oakland, CA  94603
(510) 383-1983; toll-free 888-588-9490
Hours: Mon-Sat 9:00-6:00 Closed Sunday

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3015 Dolores Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90065
Hours: Mon-Fri 10:00-5:00; Sat 10:00-4:00

Please visit our partnering warehouses:

Salvage Too - Rockford Reuse Center
907 S Main Street
Rockford, IL 61101
(815) 963-6236
Hours: Tue-Fri, 11:00am-4:30pm

The ReUse Warehouse
1400 East Geer Street
Durham, NC 27704
(919) 219-4913
Hours: Mon-Fri, 2:00-6:00; Sat, 9:30-5:00

Second Chance Building Materials Center
1423 West Grove Street
Boise, ID 83702
(208) 331-2707
Hours: Mon-Sat, 9:00-6:00; Sun, 12:00-5:00

Roaring Fork Valley Habitat for Humanity
7025 Hwy 82
Glenwood Springs, CO 81601
(970) 945-7733
Hours: Mon-Fri, 10:00-5:30; Sat, 10:00-5:00; Sun, 11:00-4:00

Stardust Building Supply
3901 E. Thunderbird Road
Phoenix, AZ 85032
(602) 459-9803
Hours: Mon-Sat, 8:00-6:00; Sun, 10:00-4:00

Habitat for Humanity ReStore, Salt Lake Valley,
1276 South 500 West
Salt Lake City, UT 84101
(801) 263-0136
Hours: Mon-Sat 9:00am-6:00pm; closed Sunday

Habitat for Humanity ReStore, Summit & Wasatch Counties
6280 N. Silver Creek Drive, Silver Summit, UT
(435) 487-9015
Hours: Wed-Sat 10:00-6:00; closed Sunday

Recycle Utah
1951 Woodbine Way Park City, UT 84060
(435) 649-9698
Hours: Mon-Sat 8:00-5:30; Sun 10:00-4:00

Reuse Depot
50 West Madison
Maywood, IL 60153
(708) 223-0502
Hours: Wed-Mon 10:00-6:00p; Closed Tuesdays

New England Reuse
400 Sackett Point Rd
North Haven, CT 06473
(203) 230-2638
Hours: Mon-Fri 9:00-5:00p; Saturday 9:00-1:00p

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