Recovering building elements for reuse (or not): Ethnographic insights into selective demolition practices

Marc van den Berg*, Hans Voordijk, Arjen Adriaanse

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)
395 Downloads (Pure)


The construction industry faces growing socio-environmental pressures to close its material loops. Reuse of building elements can, accordingly, reduce both new production and waste. Before any element can be reused, demolition contractors first need to recover it. Previous research has not yet explored why such firms opt to recover some elements and destruct other ones. This research therefore attempts to understand the (socio-technical) conditions which lead to the recovery of a building element for reuse. Data collection consisted of approximately 250 h of (ethnographic) participant observations during the course of a partial selective demolition project in the Netherlands, complemented with semi-structured interviews and project documentation. An analytic induction method was adopted to analyze the data collected. This resulted in a proposition strongly grounded in the data: a building element will be recovered for reuse only when the demolition contractor: (1) identifies an economic demand for the element; (2) distinguishes appropriate routines to disassemble it; and (3) can control the performance until integration in a new building. In-depth insights and practical strategies are provided for each of the three recovery conditions that this proposition captures. Together, this could guide building practice to promote element reuse and lead to cleaner demolition processes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number120332
JournalJournal of cleaner production
Early online date30 Jan 2020
Publication statusPublished - 20 May 2020


  • Building
  • Circular economy
  • Demolition
  • Participant observation
  • Recovery
  • Reuse


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