Instructions on Tearing Down a Building

Speaking to a packed hall at the Cooper Union, Olivier Cavens and Dieter Leyssen described their interest not in construction—though as principals of the Brussels-based design studio 514NE, they do plenty of that—but in demolition. “We see the building as a mine,” Cavens said, as photographs documenting various salvaging strategies cycled on the screen behind the pair. A couple memorable examples: chunks of concrete floors being pulverized for use as aggregate in new slabs and the careful inventorying of recovered roof tiles.

The Wednesday night talk was a preview of 51N4E’s new book, How to Not Demolish a Building (Ruby Press), which details the “forensic adaptive reuse” approach Cavens, Leyssen, and their collaborators developed as part of their project to transform a pair of late-modern Brussels skyscrapers slated for dismantlement into a “metropolitan hybrid.” They compiled numerous studies for the vacant towers, imagining novel uses for every phase of the demolition process, currently underway. The endgame, the architects said, was to conserve as much of the va…

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