This is part of a series of blogs about the building of a new seed office headquarters for Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (SESE).
You couldn’t tell at a glance, but beneath a labyrinth of woody vines and bushes, piles of large structural steel units lay, slowly sinking into the earth. Here they slept in their coma of non-use, the occasional rodent family or insect colony the most prominent sign of life around them.
At one point in the history of Acorn, the intentional community that SESE calls home, previous members worked in demolition, with the perk of being able to take home any building materials that they wanted. During this time, they encountered some notable finds, namely enough steel columns, beams, girts, and purlins to comprise the major structural components of a steel building.
This was over a decade ago. Every so often, Acorn members would prod at the pile, rediscovering the find for themselves and entertaining grand notions of reassembling them into a useful structure. In one such instance, the urge to do so was particularly tenacious; with the unfurling plan to build SESE a seed office headquarters, an adjacent warehouse would further advance our long-term goal of centralizing all of SESE’s functions into one area. Prompted by this latent possibility, member Paul decided to ask a local steel building expert to look at the piles and advise us accordingly.
It was confirmed that we had enough trusses to put up a building, but that our components were a Frankensteinian compilation of two or three dissimilar buildings, and that at least some of the parts of the building had already been once salvaged and pieced together, further obscuring its configuration. We were advised that working with a salvaged building, especially if we were trying to do it ourselves, would likely be much more complicated and frustrating than we could foresee.
The cost of buying materials for a stick-frame barn was within our means, and it would be much easier to assemble. However, in line with our general values, the practice of just buying something new in the name of convenience, with the accompanying high embodied energy and heavy environmental impacts, made us cringe. We figured if anyone was in a situation that favored reusing resources at hand, it was us—we have both the values to compel us and the labor to make it happen. Although reusing salvaged materials such as giant steel beams is less of a trademark to the sustainable building movement than that of sinuous earthen structures or living roofs, we reasoned that insofar as sustainability is concerned, little can beat building with a pile of slowly rusting materials in your backyard.
Hence the challenge was born. Stay posted for details about the first step of the building process: the foundation.