When North­eastern pro­fessor Jerry Hajjar thinks about the future of building design, he envi­sions a booming new industry that hinges on sus­tain­ability. This means dis­man­tling aging build­ings and reusing the com­po­nents in new struc­tures, rather than lev­eling the build­ings and starting from scratch.

The basic con­cept is this: At the end of the useful life of a building, instead of demol­ishing it and recy­cling the mate­rials, we think about whether we can decon­struct it and refab­ri­cate,” said Hajjar, chair of the Depart­ment of Civil and Envi­ron­mental Engi­neering.

Hajjar has teamed with Mark Web­ster, a struc­tural engi­neer at the firm Simpson Gumpertz & Heger, to explore this new approach to building design with a $250,000 grant they recently received from the National Sci­ence Foun­da­tion to begin their work.

It’s called design for deconstruction.

Jerry Hajjar

The pri­mary part of a steel building that’s not decon­structable is the com­posite con­crete floor slab, which is poured inte­grally with the steel girders on which it sits,” Hajjar said. But his team pro­poses the use of new tech­nolo­gies such as remov­able clamps instead. For example, pre­cast con­crete planks could sit on top of the steel girders, held in place with clamps, he explained.

Testing whether such decon­structable building designs can with­stand extreme forces will be done in the new Lab­o­ra­tory for Struc­tural Testing of Resilient and Sus­tain­able Sys­tems, or STReSS lab, at the George J. Kostas Insti­tute for Home­land Secu­rity in Burlington, Mass.

The lab is the first of its kind in the Boston region. “It’s a pow­erful lab,” said Hajjar. More than 400 tie-​​down anchors span the 2,000-square-foot “strong-​​floor,” each capable of with­standing 200,000 pounds of force.

The design-​​for-​​deconstruction project rep­re­sents a new direc­tion for Hajjar’s work, which has tra­di­tion­ally focused on the struc­tural impact earth­quakes and other extreme events have on steel build­ings, bridges and other infrastructure.

I prefer to think of it as aug­menting our earth­quake research,” he said. “We’ve been devel­oping new sys­tems to make struc­tures safer, more eco­nom­ical and more secure. A long overdue com­po­nent for struc­tural engi­neering is sustainability.”

To that end, Hajjar’s lab is also looking at inte­grating new mate­rials — like steel foam — into building design that can improve energy effi­ciency. If build­ings were designed with sus­tain­ability in mind — not just from an archi­tec­tural per­spec­tive but also the engi­neering per­spec­tive — their impact on the envi­ron­ment could be sig­nif­i­cantly reduced, he said.