The Promise of Commercial Deconstruction Revisited

Six months have passed since I wrote about the importance of commercial deconstruction and materials salvage, in an earlier e-letter. Since then, developments in this arena have been explosive.

February and March: At the request of StopWaste.org and the San Francisco Department of Environment, TRP participated in a study concerning the viability of creating a relocatable distribution center for commercial materials. The architectural firm Gensler with Madrone, a commercial deconstruction company, spearheaded the study, with TRP providing research and information relative to current practices. The results were published in the “StopWaste book” (the Book). The idea was to rethink the market for reused commercial materials, review relevant supply chains and consider distribution options. More on this below.

Late February: I received an email from a contractor who wanted TRP to help his client identify the salvageable materials in several buildings, totaling 1.1 million square feet. With assistance from Deconstruction and ReUse Network (DRN), TRP produced a report identifying all reusable materials for which homes could be found, with specifications stipulating how each of the materials would be removed, protected and palletized. The report was delivered three weeks later.

July: TRP was asked to replicate the previous process on two more commercial projects: a 10,000 square-foot building in Palo Alto and a 275,000 square-foot office building in Redwood City. On the first project we completed a survey of the materials to be salvaged for reuse; on the second our proposal is being considered by the construction manager.

August: We are currently preparing a proposal for the developer of two commercial office buildings of approximately 25,000 square feet each.

Research for the Book (see above) found that, in most cases, when undergoing renovation, commercial building structures remain in place while their interiors are demolished and rebuilt for new tenants. Consequently, materials available for reuse are limited to interior fixtures — doors, cabinets, plumbing, some lighting, flooring, furniture, etc.

In the San Francisco Bay Area it is not uncommon to find three and five-year leases, as opposed to traditional leases of 10-plus years. Consequently, lease terms often require the lessee to leave the premises in “warm lit space” condition, meaning that any tenant improvements must be removed by tenants when they leave. So even though the building itself is not reduced to rubble, there is a constant turnover of tenants and a continuous flow of used or tenant-improvement materials. The Book presents a case for the temporary storage and distribution of these materials, or, borrowing from Ernest Hemingway, “A Movable Feast.” See: StopWaste Book.pdf.

Until large distributors and reusers enter the field of commercial deconstruction, TRP is looking for partners who can assist with current logistical challenges. To date these partners are architects, deconstruction contractors, and distributors of salvaged building materials and furniture. Meanwhile, we are talking with various stakeholders about forming a public-private partnership to acquire permanent real estate for the storage and distribution of materials for which immediate users cannot be found.