When Michael Gainer moved from Boston to the Rust Belt city of Buffalo, New York, he had no idea he’d end up in “deconstruction”—not the collected works of Jacques Derrida but the controlled demolition of architectural structures.
Gainer arrived just as the city hoped to start its 10-in-10 plan: removing 10,000 abandoned homes in under ten years. “I started crunching the numbers,” Gainer explains, “and the total resources involved, for a city already struggling with poverty, meant that $150 million would be spent simply on taking down old structures. I knew there had to be a better way.” Gainer, who had some experience dismantling barns in Massachusetts, and who was inspired by a meeting with David Bennink of RE-USE Consulting, promptly came up with Buffalo ReUse, a nonprofit organization offering its own “community-minded alternative to demolition.”
Along with Buffalo ReUse’s core staff of ten, Gainer now works directly with the city to take down old houses, salvaging and reselling the parts, from doors and flooring to intact banisters. The first house they took down netted an incredible six tons of lumber, all of which went back onto the construction marketplace and into future homes. This is “green demolition,” as Gainer points out, keeping perfectly good building materials out of the local landfill.
Buffalo ReUse now has its eyes set on an ambitious mentoring and training program for city residents—particularly young men, aged 18 and older, with whom Gainer often works. Most of them have never had a job before, and Buffalo ReUse is their first experience of professional responsibility. All told, organized deconstruction could representa new model for “how to turn the corner in our aging industrial cities,” Gainer suggests—transforming what would otherwise have been mere ruins into a resource for the urban future.