The history of deconstruction, salvage and reuse in a larger perspective

Thematic Session at the 8th International Congress on Construction History (8ICCH)


In June 2024, the 8th International Congress on Construction History (8ICCH) will be held at ETH Zurich (Switzerland). Since the 6ICCH in Brussels (2018) it has become a strong tradition to include thematic sessions in the congress programme. These thematic sessions aim at bringing together researchers to discuss focal topics in a particularly fruitful atmosphere of mutual exchange.

Ine Wouters (VUB Architectural Engineering), Stephanie Van de Voorde (VUB Architectural Engineering), Maxime L'Héritier (Université Paris 8 Vincennes-Saint-Denis) and Philippe Bernardi (Université Paris Panthéon-Sorbonne) jointly organise a thematic session on 'The history of deconstruction, salvage and reuse in a larger perspective'. A description of the topic and objectives of the session can be found below. The official Call for Abstracts can be consulted on the 8ICCH website, including an overview of all thematic sessions. If you want to participate in this session, don't hesitate to contact us!


Topic and objective of the session

The process of demolition and the salvage and reuse of construction materials have received growing attention in recent scholarship in the field of construction history. However, the focus is often on specific projects, periods, tools, practices and materials. In this mini-symposium, we encourage scholars to broaden the scope and go beyond the level of individual case studies. We invite papers that focus on one or a combination of the following topics:

  • Study evolutions in time, ups and downs, turning points of the demolition, salvage and reuse process from medieval times up to the twentieth century to shed light on the following questions: Which factors caused a peak and decline in salvage and reuse? How did the fluctuations influence the organization of (skilled) labour within the demolition industry, the available tools and equipment, the location of facilities for sorting and stocking salvaged materials, the procedures for reselling salvaged materials?
  • Compare the approach between different countries, regions or cities: What is the influence of local regulations and organisations? Which impact do local materials and construction techniques have? How do the material flows relate to the urban metabolism? What is the spatial impact of the salvage industry?
  • Re-establish the link between construction, demolition and reuse by following concrete construction materials in their entire life cycle to question the builders’ practises and their adaptation to certain constraints: What are typical patterns or trajectories? Which parameters are determinant in each phase, from construction (e.g. assembly techniques), demolition (e.g. time pressure, eventual sorting of materials, availability of storage space) to reuse (e.g. degradation, fashion and cost)?
  • Relate deconstruction and reuse to the construction practice and building culture in general, in a quantitative or qualitative way: How common was the reuse practice? Were the same people involved in construction and deconstruction projects? How did the price of reclaimed building materials relate to the cost of new building materials? How did the circular building industry relate to the larger socio-economic, political, technological and cultural context?
  • Reconstruct networks of involved actors and professions (e.g. demolition contractors, skilled and unskilled labour, second-hand material traders, designers, clients, public building owners, policy makers, planning services, heritage organisations, antique dealers): How do they collaborate and communicate? How are information, knowledge and skills transferred?

By going from isolated cases and fragmented stories to larger, interconnected narratives on deconstruction, salvage and reuse, we set out to add a new layer to recent scholarship in this particular field. In addition, by properly recognising deconstruction/salvage/reuse as an inherent part of the common construction practice, it opens up opportunities to recalibrate research in Construction History at large. Furthermore, beyond the field of Construction History, this symposium harbours the ambition to create a larger awareness of past circular practices and to show how the evolution of circular practices is deeply rooted in societal transitions.


Contact information

Prof. Ine Wouters (VUB Architectural Engineering,  email)

Prof. Stephanie Van de Voorde (VUB Architectural Engineering,  email)

Prof. Maxime L'Héritier (Université Paris 8 Vincennes-Saint-Denis, ArScAn CNRS laboratory,  email)

Prof. Philippe Bernardi (Université Paris Panthéon-Sorbonneemail)