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The Evolution of Contemporary Deconstruction

Published on: Feb 21, 2023

In my distant days as a partner within Creative Business Strategies, I focused on raising money for entrepreneurs and developing new technical and scientific breakthroughs, including silicon chip manufacturing, machine learning software and robotics. Today, technology has passed me by so quickly that I struggle trying to permanently increase the font size of my Outlook emails. Since 1993, I have been engaged in deconstruction, which, being part of the construction industry, whose size represents over 4.3 percent of the US GDP and is our country’s 12th largest business sector, is still deeply rooted in 19th century technology. However, in the past 30 years, more and more technology and science have impacted the building materials corner of the world.

In TRP’s first years I was fortunate to be at a conference where the speaker was passionate about reuse and, in particular, building materials. This Birkenstock wearing, roll-your-own smoker and last of the hippie generation saw deconstruction as an employment vehicle for an underserved population – so much so that the use of a generator was a no-no, since it reduced workers’ hours.

At about the same time, I visited some old Northern California port buildings that were being deconstructed and was amazed at the dangerous conditions of the site and the lack of simple head gear, let alone boots, gloves and safety glasses.

Now move forward to the late 1990s and the pilot deconstruction of four buildings at fort Ord. Not only were all types of PPE required, but during the abatement of asbestos and lead, special suits and breathing apparatuses were required, and abatement workers received blood tests before and after abatement work was performed. Yes, safety is very scientific.

A quick jump to 2001, and Jon Giltner’s invention and introduction of the Nail Kicker®, a handheld pneumatic denailing tool. Jon is a structural engineer by education and profession and the president of Reconnx, Inc. (www.NailKicker.com). Not only does this tool save lots of arm muscles, but in my experience has reduced total deconstruction labor costs on a typical 2,000 square-foot house by at least one full crew-day.

The goal of deconstruction is to save the maximum amount of building materials for reuse, but ultimately, each project has leftovers for recycling, such as metals, glass, wood products and concrete. While concrete recycling dates back to the 1980s, it has only been within the past five to 10 years that robotics have replaced human hands on the sorting lines of major recycling centers, transfer stations, and landfills.

Thinking lumber salvage, deconstruction and, now, robotics, I agree (but just for today) with Urban Machine, the brain child of Eric Law and his little band of young engineers: This machine, now just moving from testing to manufacturing, is a giant step forward in the deconstruction and larger construction industries. It is built to remove surface materials (dirt, debris, paint, etc.) and then nails and other embedded metals. And it is especially suited for larger dimensional lumber, such as 4x4, 4x6 and larger. It may also be used on 2x material. (www.UrbanMachine.com).

One small step for evolution; one giant step for deconstruction.