Transforming Structural Abandonment in the 21st Century: 2021 Student Domicology Primer

By Jhovonne Fernandez, Research Assistant

For several decades, many U.S. cities have experienced significant economic and population decline that has resulted in large amounts of structural abandonment. This abandonment has pervasive social, environmental, and economic consequences that disproportionately affect already struggling communities. In response to this problem, scholars at Michigan State University have focused their efforts on understanding the complex circumstances that lead to blight in order to create potential solutions. One such research area focuses on altering our perceptions of the built environment from the traditional linear model to a cyclical system. Domicology examines the continuum from the planning, design, and construction stages through to their end of use, abandonment, deconstruction, and reuse.  

This year's student primer was developed during a Spring 2021 course in the School of Planning, Design & Construction at MSU entitled “Transforming the 21st Century Built Environment: Advancing the Science of Domicology.” The course was co-taught by Dr. Rex LaMore, faculty in the Urban and Regional Planning Program and Director of the MSU Center for Community and Economic Development, and Dr. George Berghorn, faculty in the Construction Management Program. The primer seeks to expand on the existing knowledge surrounding structural abandonment, explore various implications of “design for deconstruction” principles, as well as assess the social, environmental, and political factors involved in adopting domicological practices. This primer and the primers developed in 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020 serve as introductory readings for those seeking to explore the various concepts of sustainable development and the life cycle of structures.  

The first paper in this year's primer, Utilizing Salvaged Materials in Tiny Homes by Samuel Fitzgerald, covers the current alarming state of structural demolition in the United States and offers an alternative paradigm of what is possible in the creation of housing using salvaged materials from deconstruction. In this paper, tiny homes are presented as a viable housing alternative with added benefits because of their size and the possible availability of building materials with an increased demand for salvaged materials. Policy Considerations in Addressing Blight and Abandonment in U.S. Legacy Cities Detroit, Michigan by Ashley Bellant introduces readers to Domicological principles to form policy recommendations in rust belt cities, such as Detroit, that have experienced dramatic drops in population size resulting in limited resources and policies to protect the communities living in these areas. Establishing a Global Supply Chain for Recycled Construction Material by Jamie Leonard presents the framework and capacity for global supply chains that focus on the recent migration of people to urban areas from rural communities and the increased demand for housing in population hubs. In exploring legacy cities, including Detroit and Baltimore, the author offers a new perspective on the possibilities for new supply chains that reduce demolition. Education Implements for Designers Regarding Commercial Deconstruction by Matthew Hall demonstrates how architects and designers hold a key set of responsibilities to the built environment and the choices every client makes about their property. This paper lays out a set of tools and methods that should be incorporated into architecture and engineering pedagogy for a sustainable future of circular economy for building materials. These tools include considerations for demolition and removal plans, material management plans, BIM tools, and other strategies that can divert waste from the landfill.  

The research contained in this primer is by no means a complete work; as the built environment is a multifaceted area of study, so too are its implications. Contributors to the primer include selected students of the special topics course and represent several disciplines in the built environment including planning, construction, environmental sustainability, and other disciplines. We would also like to extend a special thanks to our editor, Jhovonne Fernández. For more information on the study of Domicology, we invite you to visit We also welcome external research on the subject of the life cycle of structures, which can be submitted via the website. We hope that you find these selected writings stimulating and informative as we seek to transform our understanding of the built environment. 

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