the great building heist

Youtube: Brick Theives in North St. Louis

Youtube: The Brick Eaters

NY Times: Can You Steal a Whole Building? Thieves Cart Off St. Louis Bricks

The term curb appeal has now, officially, gained new meaning. The illegal harvesting of bricks, a relatively new phenomenon in cities like Cleveland and Detroit, has detrimental effects on any kind of recovery or revitalization hopes. Where these bricks were once manufactured on macro scales, they are now being harvested from crumbling facades across the country to supply the demand in other parts like New Orleans. The Bricks are claimed to be sought after by “developers throughout the south for their quality and craftsmanship.”

In some cases these “building thieves” harvesting these highly sought after bricks, have taken down entire buildings that are publicly owned. As Mr. Moore in this article pointed out, “The whole block is gone — they stole the whole block…They’re stealing entire buildings, buildings that belong to the city. Where else in the world do you steal an entire city building?” So this seems to be yet another great example of urban mining and material extraction from once thriving cities that now are seeing their built landscape disappear literally “brick by brick.”

The opportunities for people to mine value from the built landscape has happened for centuries. In fact, it reminds me of the many pilfered remains of roman and greek ruins while in Europe. So many of the once pristine monuments were mined for the metals that once held the stones of these great buildings together. Now we can see the remnant holes that riddle the facades that are still standing.

There are a few things we could take from this article.

One. There is a much higher demand for the archeaology of things made in the past, and the processes required to make them that just aren’t a part of the products we buy today. The lengths that people will go to, proven by this article, to make these materials available to people demanding them is very telling of what is missing from our products today. There is no story or archeology behind them…

Two. We now have to give kudos to the Romans. We severely overlook the useful lifespan of the clay brick. How many times could a brick be usefully applied to different applications. Its ability to be disassembled (albeit, a pretty labor intensive disassembly) and maintain its form and function throughout are outstanding. It seems to retain a value as well- which is especially nice considering the amount of energy that goes into firing these things.

Three. How do we keep the supply and demand for this material within the same locale? Instead of taking bricks from Detroit and selling them in New Orleans where the higher demand is, how could one legally sell them for the same price in Detroit? Why not use the bricks to repair many of the other buildings before they succumb to conditions beyond disrepair? That way Detroit could keep the material equity and value within the city, just have it redistributed to revitalize other deteriorating conditions.

Four. The fact that something as simple as a fire hose and water spray is a part of the adhoc stolen brick market’s disassembly process is just plain cool. Now we’re not condoning illegal business practices, but you have to admit, it is pretty interesting.

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One response to “the great building heist

  1. time to go grab some bricks!!!

    old casket company warehouse burns down in Syracuse last night!

    http://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2010/09/syracuse_fire_chief_calls_mars.html

    not really, just kidding, but seriously- where do you think they’re really going to take all those bricks too? Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore? yeah right….c’mon you know better than that!

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