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This summer, the Oakland Museum of California announced a new public arts grant program. Except instead of money, selected artists would receive steel. Tons of it.
The Bay Bridge Steel Program emerged out of a desire to salvage and repurpose the metal that once made up the eastern span of San Francisco’s Bay Bridge, originally constructed in 1933. (It was replaced in 2013.) The steel in question, sourced from “spans referred to as ‘504s’ and ‘288s’ (in reference to their length in feet),” according to the application material, would be available for civic and public art projects within the state of California.
The program represents a unique opportunity to adaptively reuse infrastructure, upcycling what might have been waste. And yet any instance of adaptive reuse is inherently reactive because the design process is dictated by an existing condition.
But what if buildings, bridges, and highways were designed for disassembly? What if the built environment was designed in such a way that it could be easily and infinitely refashioned? What if the Bay Bridge could have been deconstructed, beam by beam, with no waste whatsoever? What if there was such a thing as recycled buildings? […]