Trash to treasure: How Google thinks about deconstruction

Circularity is simple in concept but can be complex in practice — especially in industries that have long operated on a “take-make-waste” model. What challenges do you face?

First and foremost: existing office parks were not designed for deconstruction. Most of today’s existing commercial buildings were built between 1960-2000, an era that relied on adhesives and composite materials, which make these structures challenging to dismantle. Furthermore, buildings can contain hazardous materials that shouldn’t be reintroduced into new construction.

In our white paper, we identified three additional barriers to deconstruction: regulatory hurdles, a limited deconstruction workforce, and an under-developed reuse marketplace. Luckily, there’s progress already being made in these spaces. 

Given these challenges, what are you doing to build circularity into Google’s future workplaces?

We need to approach all elements of design with circular economy practices in mind. Our goal is to create workplaces that are resilient to change and don’t need to be demolished every twenty years. This requires thoughtful design — from adaptive reuse of existing buildings and avoiding building new structures in the first place to using healthy materials and small details like designing joints that can be mechanically dismantled. 

Back to your childhood dollhouses, what was a deconstruction or reuse example of your own that makes you proud?

My family recently remodeled our home, which happens to be the home I grew up in. Whenever possible, we have attempted to donate or reuse materials. We’ve found ways to reuse wood to replace our backyard fence, and we’ve donated our older appliances. My 5-year-old son even decided to repurpose old packaging material to make his last Halloween costume. I guess as they say, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”!