Access the digital collection
Physical samples from this collection are on display at the Materials Lab from November 2 and into the Spring 2021 semester


Building Reuse, Reuse in Building is a curated collection of building products that endure through multiple building life cycles. The integration of reused materials into the work of architects and builders, and also of materials that enable the reuse of buildings, is critical in minimizing the global impacts of manufacturing, building construction and building demolition.

In a time defined by climate change and resource inequality, the consumption and disposal of materials has come under increasing scrutiny. Approaches to design and build focusing on local, renewable and recycled resources will continue to grow in significance (1), and retrofitting existing buildings or reclaiming their usable parts will become ever more important. This collection introduces a range of material products and assemblies: products that have been reclaimed from existing buildings; products that can be utilized in design for deconstruction of new builds; and products that can be useful in retrofitting existing buildings to meet progressive building standards. 

Construction + Demolition Waste

In the United States, 90% of building materials from demolition are simply thrown away. Along with construction waste, total building waste accounts for 25-30% of our total landfills (2). Forward-thinking cities have begun to introduce municipal ordinances to reduce construction waste—most often requiring reclamation or diversion of demolition materials. The City of Austin requires remodeling or demolition projects of 5000 sq ft or more to divert at least 50% of the construction debris from landfill—or, to dispose of no more than 2.5 lbs per sq ft. Reaching further, the State of California requires 65% of construction and demolition (C&D) waste to be diverted from the landfill, and no more than 2 lbs per sq ft, for similarly sized projects. Pushing standards even further, the City of Seattle requires 70% diversion for a greater number of projects, starting at just 500 sq ft.


A greater number of cities, and also nations, have set policies to prioritize recycling. However, recent research shows that recycling alone is not a sufficient solution for fully addressing resource depletion and overconsumption (3). Upon reincarnation, much ‘recycled’ demolition waste diverted from landfills is severely downcycled into low-value products such as road base (4). 

While some material products can be salvaged and reclaimed, the use of glues, binders, resins, and irreversible fasteners in the product’s assembly or installation limits recyclability and reuse. Many materials are simply not designed for multiple uses, and are limited to single-use only. Current product limitations mean that the successful reuse of building components doesn’t typically occur at the end of a building’s life; therefore, planning for reuse is important in the design phase of a project.

Design for Deconstruction

A design strategy receiving renewed attention is design for deconstruction, or design for disassembly. Design for deconstruction allows for building components to be easily removed for repair or replacement. This is achieved through the use of reversible assemblies and detailing, such as the use of screws over nails. However, there are still misconceptions regarding the consideration of waste in design. Because building “waste” is still considered to have little value (and to be, quite literally, disposable)—there is first a need to shift widespread conceptions of building waste towards valuable resources that are reclaimable, functional, and high-performing. 

Adaptive Reuse

An often better and higher use for buildings, over deconstruction or demolition, is retrofitting or renovation through adaptive reuse. Through strategies such as proper building maintenance and planning for periodic finish updates, many buildings can be preserved beyond their original life-expectancy and upgraded to outperform even new construction. 

Reusing buildings in their entirety is one of the most effective strategies for reducing carbon emissions from the building and construction industries. Buildings can be understood as having many, distinct layers—including the external skin or cladding, primary structure, partitions, mechanical services and appliances, and finish materials. The more layers that can be salvaged and reused, the better the opportunity for reducing embodied emissions and waste. On average, renovating existing buildings releases between 50 - 75% less carbon than building a new one, as the primary structure and exterior envelope can most often be maintained or repaired (5). 

Retrofitting and reuse should not stop at the building level. The building products used in renovation can also incorporate reclaimed, recycled and local materials. Additionally, although resource efficiency (rather than energy efficiency) is the primary focus of this collection, the two often go hand-in-hand and should be considered equally in the planning of both new construction and adaptive reuse. A comprehensive building retrofit will address electricity and fuel waste through improved insulation, doors and windows, lighting efficiency, and advanced heating and cooling systems. Improved efficiencies in these areas will help in reducing a building’s operating emissions (6). Reduction of both operating emissions and embodied emissions is the key to successful adaptive reuse and renovation. 

critical questions

As participants of the building culture, we must ask ourselves the following: 
1) In what ways can construction waste and demolition debris be reclaimed or diverted from the waste stream? How can these materials be reused, or what new products can be made from them?
2) How can we avoid demolition by retrofitting and upgrading existing buildings? What building or operational systems and materials can be used to reduce embodied and operating carbon to reduce overall emissions?
3) How can new buildings or renovations be designed for deconstruction and disassembly to support future waste reduction and longer building lifespans?

Browsing the Building Reuse + Reuse in Building Collection

This collection showcases conventional as well as unexpected building components and precedents that are guided by principles of reuse from the product to building scale. The following characteristics are identified on the digital product page and physical collection label: recycled, recyclable, reclaimed, reclaimable, designed for retrofitting, designed for deconstruction, designed for reuse. Secondary characteristics that apply to many products and materials include: post-industrial content, post-consumer content, rapidly renewable content, zero-VOC. We hope this collection inspires visitors to do more with less, and to always think beyond an object’s first life cycle. 

1. Gorgolewski, Mark. Resource Salvation : The Architecture of Reuse. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 2018. Print.
2. Gorgolewski, Mark.
3. Gorgolewski, Mark.
4. Gorgolewski, Mark.
5. King, Bruce. The New Carbon Architecture: Building to Cool the Climate. Gabriola Island, BC, Canada: New Society Publishers, 2017. Print.
6. Hawken, Paul. Drawdown : The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming. New York, New York: Penguin Books, 2017. Print.