7.2 Building Design: Design for Deconstruction

Author: Sophie Charron

ABSTRACT: Design for deconstruction aims to responsibly manage materials used in construction to be reused and in turn reduce the need for new raw materials.

Source: Engineering drawing of designing for deconstruction by Rethinking the Future


Design for deconstruction, otherwise known as design for disassembly, is building with a consideration for the complete life cycle of a structure. When this design is employed, we’re able to responsibly manage materials that are left over due to building demolition or renovations to repurpose them, give them new life and ultimately reduce our consumption and need for new raw materials.

Acquiring materials for construction can be very linear. Raw materials are mined or logged, depending on what they are, and then made usable for us. After it is distributed to the supplier customers can purchase them. They are used to serve their purpose and then usually go to landfills at the end of the structure’s life. Design for deconstruction aims to close that loop by reusing the resources that we’re putting to waste. Typically, the raw materials used at the start of the cycle are manufactured specifically for what it’s going to be used for. So, in our designing for deconstruction loop the materials that otherwise would have been thrown out may need to be modified to fit its new purpose.

Key Principles

A few of the most common benefits of design for deconstruction include designing for prefabrication, preassembly and modular construction which facilitates deconstruction and transportation of units. This assures structures can be put together or taken apart offsite and packed to easily fit together which makes transportation more cost effective. Simplifying and standardizing connection details between any unit pieces allows for more efficient construction and deconstruction. The reduction of potentially hazardous materials and steps needed for the construction and deconstruction process places greater consideration for worker safety. Minimizing building parts and materials required reduces material consumption. Including adhesives, fasteners or sealants in construction will allow for easier deconstruction and more salvageable pieces to reuse. Designing with materials intended to be reused from the beginning will reduce building complexity to allow for a more adaptable and flexible shell that extends the life of the structure.


Some challenges to design for deconstruction could arise when pre-existing buildings are not constructed with this design principle making disassembly while maximizing the materials being salvaged more difficult. There may not be proper tools to execute this. Construction firms also may not be willing to sacrifice a higher profit deconstruct rather than demolish completely.

Case study

During the London 2012 Olympics, 17 thousand athletes needed temporary accommodation. Residential units were made in accordance with the code for sustainable homes. After the games the units were made into new homes. Some design for deconstruction features included cladding panels that were interchangeable and full storey in height; bathrooms, kitchens and balconies that were manufactured off-site; and movable partitions to reconfigure the space.

Although this design principle was explained in terms of building design, it’s important to note design for deconstruction can be put into use for most structures.


Balodis, T. (2017). Deconstruction and design for disassembly: Analyzing building material salvage and reuse. doi:10.22215/etd/2017-11923 https://curve.carleton.ca/system/files/etd/75676d84-d07f-41e0-951e-cb93c90a7d5d/etd_pdf/3ba5a49f42fd83942d887562b90314c8/balodis-deconstructionanddesignfordisassemblyanalyzing.pdf

Hewitt, C., Pulaski, M., Horman, M., & Guy, B. (2004, June). Design for deconstruction.

Retrieved February 16, 2021, from https://www.aisc.org/globalassets/modern-steel/archives/2004/06/2004v06_deconstruction.pdf

Khan, M. (2020, November 23). Designing for deconstruction – rtf: Rethinking the future. Retrieved February 16, 2021, from https://www.re-thinkingthefuture.com/rtf-fresh-perspectives/a973-designing-for-deconstruction/


Sophie Charron is a fourth-year undergraduate student currently studying fashion communications at Ryerson University in Toronto. She is committed to fostering a more sustainable lifestyle and hopes to utilize her passion and knowledge to make a positive change within the fashion industry.

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