Saving Abandoned Buildings With a Hyperlinked Novel, a Wiki-Guide and Homemade Tapioca Glue


Photo: carderel under a Creative Commons license.

Usually, when we talk about saving old buildings from demolition and redesigning them as green buildings, we talk about the architect who did the work, the city that commissioned it, or the family that set off on its own to prove it could be done. We note statistics and percentages.

But writer Greg Crawford is turning that mindset on its head, and he's doing it with a hyper-linked novel, homemade tapioca glue, a Kickstarter-funded publishing company, and a wiki-style manual to saving the world's abandoned buildings.Repurposing existing buildings is TreeHugger's bread and butter. Using already-built buildings and time-proven designs cuts down on wasted materials and energy. Lloyd reminds us of Steve Mouzon's quote: "The greenest brick is the one already in the wall."

Crawford sticks with this logic, but apart from that, his approach is unique. He wants to take the work of redesign away from the architects and engineers, to make it something everyone can do and will want to do. He calls his project, which "relates to design and sustainability in a unique and radical way," a:

compilations towards an intelligent strategy to revive our neglected structures; a systems-theory approach towards adaptive-reuse; an integration of radical architecture, permaculture, design, systems theory, input and output schemes, food systems, imagination, and more.

I'll break it down into three parts:

A Very Very Novel Novel

The keystone of Crawford's project is his novel, Fall_Apart_Park_. A failed, abandoned city is remade into an educational entertainment park based on the themes of decay, transformation and rebirth. Crawford calls the work a blend of fiction (the plot itself) and non-fiction: it makes reference to real people, politics, ideas and projects.

The cool thing is that these topics will be hyperlinked, so that as you read, you can pause to explore the ideas that underpin the novel. Crawford calls this "offering opportunities to engage as a participant rather than as a consumer," though I'm not so sure: although the sources are various, you're still consuming (reading).

A New Kind of Publishing Company

Crawford plans on publishing Fall_Apart_Park_ as an e-book (available for download via Creative Commons) and as a physical book. For the latter, he wanted nothing to do with a traditional publishing company, so he decided to start his own. It's called The Afterwords Archive, and it's no more conventional that the book it's publishing.

Crawford will be making the books by hand, using homemade tapioca glue for the bindings, homemade ink and paper, and a reliance on what he calls "found, harvested, or otherwise reappropriated materials." He needs some cash to get it off the ground though, and has started a Kickstarter campaign to raise $4,000. If you want to donate, do it quickly: Crawford is about $1,700 shy of the goal and only has until June 5 to get there.

You can watch his pitch for the book and the company here:

An Open-Source Guide to Saving the Abandoned

Crawford's project also involves a guide that will help others repurpose abandoned buildings. He's writing it as a wiki, meaning anyone can add or modify content, through Appropedia. The guide is just getting off the ground, but Crawford envisions a "'one-stop-shop" for abandoned-transformation information." Once finished, the guide, titled "Abandoned," could be Afterwords Archive's second published title.

Will It Change the World?

So there's a lot going on here, and most of it is great. I admire Crawford's rejection of the status quo, and his emphasis making design accessible and interesting. But I don't think it will be as "foundational" as Crawford expects, and that's because it's lacking in practical know-how.

Looking at the three chapters of Fall_Apart_Park_ that are available online (on the Kickstarter page), there's little hint of how one might actually go about making a dying building or city into a thriving one. The Abandoned isn't much help either. It's got the thought process down, but is silent on issues of how to salvage materials, how to build new walls, draw blueprints, whether or not you should wear a hardhat.

Ultimately, I think Crawford's project is more thought-provoking than result-producing. That being said, being thought-provoking and original is a wonderful and indispensable quality, one the green movement can always use more of.

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Abandoned and old building success stories:
In Italy, a 300 Year Old, Fire Ravaged Farm House Is Restored
Renovation Turns Old House Into Green Healthy House With Near Zero Heating Bills
New Lessons From Old Buildings: Bin Laden's Medieval Hideout

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