What if demolishing a building were a gentle process, more like taking apart a puzzle than bulldozing? Wilkinsburg artist Dee Briggs
hopes to dismantle an abandoned home she purchased, so that each part can be reused.
In a Kickstarter video
she created to help fund the project, Briggs explains that initially, she was going to tear the house down and build a side yard for herself, since the Wilkinsburg home is beside her own. However, after learning the history of the 139-year-old home, she decided the property needed to be treated with love.
The first step for Briggs was painting the house gold.
"The House of Gold
project is a metaphor, and it's meant to remind people to see the value in people and places before they're gone," Briggs writes of the project. "Would you remember me if I weren’t gold? Probably not," Briggs writes from the perspective of the house, whose narrative she has reconstructed and re-told.
"In 1875, Caroline Richmond owned this land….. Caroline, David and the kids lived here for almost 30 years," Briggs writes as the house, located in front of a bus stop at 1404 Swissvale Ave. "In 1906 I was sold to Martha Daugherty. She was 22 years old at the time and her husband Henry was 27. They were beautiful, kind, brown people and I was very happy to be their house. Henry was a house painter (I think he would have loved seeing me gold)."
The Daughertys also lived in the house for 30 years before it was again sold to Joseph Marcotulli, an Italian immigrant who arrived in the United States in 1909, according to Briggs. "He, his wife Mary, and their kids .... lived with me for almost 60 years. Joe built a storefront in my basement that faced Park Avenue and his wife ran a corner store in it. Everyone in the neighborhood called the market Mary Marcotulli's," Briggs writes.
Taking the house apart piece by piece will pay homage to its history, and Briggs has assembled a team devoted to ensuring what she calls a "gentle demolition." "Simply put--I don't want to throw this house in the garbage," Briggs writes on her Kickstarter page.
However, taking the house apart by hand is more expensive than simply knocking it down, and Briggs says she will need to raise $30,000 in order to complete the demolition. "Supporting this project will give this house a chance at a new life and greatly reduce what goes in the landfill," the sculptor and architect writes on her Kickstarter page.
The first team of people in the home will be from Construction Junction
, an organization that will take the decorative elements out of the home so they may be re-sold to area residents.
Then, Briggs’ team will take over: "Instead of one guy, one day and a big machine, the house will be dismantled by at least seven people working together over the course of three weeks," Briggs writes, "And most of all it will create an important case study that tracks the real costs of taking a house like this apart and reusing it so that it can be shared with others.”
When the demolition is finished, Briggs writes that she hopes to use the space to benefit the community.
“I'm sure there will be challenges - starting with relocating the groundhog who seems to have moved in," she writes, adding that she's sure the project can be completed. “It will be a labor of love for me for sure but I think it’s worth it and I hope that you do too,” Briggs writes.
She has already raised over $9,000 from 84 backers, but with the Kickstarter campaign expiring on Sept. 25, she needs all the help she can get.