LIVE BUILDING: Recycled Architecture

by , 01/23/07

jason middlebrook

Having come to the end of its useful life, it’s not uncommon for an old building to be unceremoniously bulldozed in advance of new development. Officials at the University of California at Riverside had another — more sustainable — idea for the doomed Wurms Building, however.

UCR enlisted artist Jason Middlebrook to create Live Building, a performance art project in which he harvested and recycled all usable materials in the structure prior to its demolition on December 16th last month.

With the goal to reduce the amount of waste headed to the landfill Middlebrook, an internationally known artist who’s work has often explored the relationship between nature and humanity, gutted the Wurms Building and used his salvage to build unique furniture and functional objects. He writes:

“The usable parts of the building create new objects that contribute to people’s lives. Each object has a sustainable foundation. I want people to see that the building and its history was significant to the site and to the community. Its memory will live on in the objects it produces.”

The Wurms Building was scheduled for removal last month in anticipation of renovations to an adjacent structure that will become UCR’s new Culver Center for the Arts. Middlebrook was commissioned when UCR was looking for an artist who could create a public art event reflective of the building’s history in Riverside as well as the site’s future as part of UCR’s growing ARTSblock.

+Live Building

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  1. royal March 7, 2007 at 4:48 pm

    This is cool, but J’s idea to make such salvage a law is ridiculous. What would make sense would be to sort items at the dump and allow people to scavange what they’d like. Currently in my city (Savannah) it’s illegal to take trash away from the dump. But nudge nudge, wink wink, and the dump attendants let me take away whole truckloads of demolished brick that I used to make a lovely new walk in front of my house. Getting rid of “no scavenging” laws is the an awesomely cost effective way to encourage sustainable living. Just stop making it illegal for someone to reuse your old trash. Simple. Cheap. Encourages civil freedoms, even.

  2. Jason Middlebrook February 5, 2007 at 1:50 pm

    Dear Inhabitat and contributors who wrote in,

    Thank you for showing an interest in my project and thank you the vaulable information regarding the conference. I will look into this. I wanted to clarify something about the project that isn’t that clear from the way it has been presented in this context. My idea was to salvage as much material to make one of kind art objects. As an artist I approached this project with two goals in mind, one to make as much art/ furiture out of what ever I could salavge and secondly to raise money from the sales of these objects for the community in such forms as homeless shelters and local charities. Some of the writers that wrote in don’t seem to see the green aspect of this. My intent was not to save the material as reuseable material for other buildings. My intent was to make art out of the material. This is part of the green movement that has yet to be really explored. People spend millions of dolars at places like Target and Ikea every year in this country, it’s time people started to think about the choices they are making when it comes to purchases of form over functionable objects. Buying furiture from receyled materials is equally as green as removing all the mortor from every brick and dropping the bricks off at some reusable building supply yard. People ahve been doing that in California for 20 yrs. I was trying to rasie awarness with the way we design, build, tear down and rebuild again. There are resourcesfull materials in every tear down which people can make things out of which can be beutiful objects that they live with. That is how the third world functions, you need a table you make it out of found materials and what you have in front of you. That is being greener than green.

    Jason Middlebrook

  3. PaulS. January 27, 2007 at 2:24 am

    Matthew told us, with snippage >The hardest part of the salvage was removing the old mortar

  4. Matthew Whiting January 25, 2007 at 2:57 pm

    I salvaged bricks from a house demolition about 3 miles from my house, by calling the number listed on the developers sign at the site and getting permission to haul some away. I plan on using them throughout my yard and even learning some masonry skills in the process. The hardest part of the salvage was removing the old mortar. Pounding them against each other was bone jarring and tiring. I’d suggest for anyone that is planning on salvaging more than an armfull of brick to make a scraper that could be used to scrap off both sides at the same time. I’m envisioning something like a pop can crusher that has a hollow big enough for the brick with something sturdy enough to scrape off the mortar, (doubled over sheet metal?)

  5. PaulS. January 25, 2007 at 4:11 am

    The terms “usable parts” and “usable materials” are important to this story. It sounds nice, in theory, to reuse and recycle building materials, but, as you see on the LiveBuilding site, only a tiny percent of the original building’s mass and volume has been re-used. The same is true of demolition of most other structures. Separating reusable and recyclable materials from unusable and un-recyclable materials is rarely cost effective and often simply not possible. The best examples are seen in 19th century and early 20th century wood frame buildings that are relatively easy to dismantle and their components can be used whole, e.g. windows, door frames, fireplace mantles, etc. Good quality individual boards also are often salvaged, something I have personally done. However, so many 20th century structures require unprofitable amounts of labor and time to recycle and the usability value of the old materials themselves is nearly zero . For example, the salvage value of the iron rebar inside concrete structural members is so low that it’s not worth it to jackhammer it out. I would like to know what Mr. Middlebrook did with all the bricks and other masonry from the bulldozing of the walls. There’s not much that can be done with it, so it probably did go to a landfill.

  6. Bob Falk January 24, 2007 at 1:01 pm

    If you are interested in this topic, you should check out the Building Materials Reuse Association (BMRA) at The BMRA is holding its international conference on Deconstruction, Building Materials Reuse, and Construction and Demolition Waste Recycling on May 14-16, 2007 in Madison, Wisconsin. Go to the conference link at the BMRA web site for more information. Bob Falk, Conference Chairman (

  7. J. January 23, 2007 at 8:05 pm

    Actually, it would be tremendous to see all citizens – in each and every western country – insisting that bylaws be changed so that what UCR did “at their discretion” (i.e. recycling all usable materials) becomes what MUST be done for commercial and residential buildings!

    On that scale, the impact would be awesome — not just save trees but, more importantly, the ‘saved’ processing by not producing new product.

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