Re-Imaging the 21st Century Built Environment

By: Dr. Rex LaMore, PhD, Director, MSU Center for Community and Economic Development

Most of us have some daily visual reminder of the end of useful life for a human built structure. Certainly those of us who live in the industrial Midwest can conjure up unfortunate images of abandoned manufacturing plants, commercial properties, or empty homes that are no longer in use. Even in areas of the United States where the demand for land is high enough to keep vacant properties from piling up, we should be reminded that the man-made built environment is transitory and not eternal. It seems a simple observable fact—but one that we constantly ignore.

It is that blind indifference to this observable phenomenon that Domicologists seek to understand and, where feasible, rectify. For the past few years colleagues at MSU, in partnership with off-campus thinkers and doers, have been imagining what would be the implications of recognizing that the built environment has a “life cycle” and that we should plan, design, construct, use, reuse, demolish, and deconstruct with that life cycle in mind.

On the surface, the implications of such a paradigm shift seem very appealing. Would we be able to reduce and possibly eliminate blight from our communities? Might we lessen our reliance on limited natural resources by increasing our reuse of structural materials (wood, cement, metal, plastics, etc.)? Might we devise more equitable and just methods of financial assurances that shift the financial burden of blight removal and contaminated site cleanup from vulnerable communities, new enterprises, and taxpayers to those who caused the pollution and abandoned the structures? What new products and processes might we create that reuse materials in more economically efficient and environmentally sustainable ways? What industries and jobs exist in a structural circular economy that can create opportunity and wealth in places now abandoned and neglected? What public policies and private practices can we employ to help us realize these ends? These and many other questions are posed in recognizing that our built environment has an end of useful life, and we should behave accordingly.

Over the past year, the Domicology team saw progress on a number of fronts, including: material research in utilizing salvaged wood in cross laminated timber, led by Dr. George Berghorn, MSU Construction Management; the completion of a feasibility study on the collection and reuse of materials utilizing the Port of Muskegon, in partnership with the West Michigan Regional Shoreline Development Commission; the publication of a peer review journal article by Dr. Zhao Tatiya, with support from other Domicology team members, on a “Cost Prediction Model for Building Deconstruction in Urban Areas” in the Journal of Cleaner Production, 2017.

Additional team members presented several conference papers to both practitioner and academic audiences, guided student research at the undergraduate and graduate level on several topical areas, and piloted a special topics course on Domicology for students at MSU. In May CCED will release a structural material reuse study Michigan businesses involved in the reuse of structural material as well as a policy brief examining what local governments are doing to reduce the structural material waste stream and increase salvage material reuse in new construction. These will serve as an important building blocks for future Domicological endeavors by improving our understanding of the reuse economy in our state.

Also in May we look forward to expanding our network through a series of presentations and events beginning on Monday, May 7th, 2018 at MSU’s Kellogg Center, where we will be hosting the “Re-Imagining the Built Environment Forum,” designed to provide a broad set of stakeholders an opportunity to learn about the work that is being conducted and discuss the roles that others can play in the reduction of the negative impacts associated with structural abandonment, and the loss of natural resources associated with our current unsustainable practices.

This and more are happening to advance the science of Domicology and help change our current built environment paradigm to one that is more economically, socially and environmentally sustainable. To learn more about Domicology, visit our website at or contact:

Rex L. LaMore, Ph.D., Director
Center for Community and Economic Development
University Outreach and Engagement
Michigan State University
1615 E. Michigan Ave.
Lansing, Michigan 48912

tel: 517/353-9555

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