The Anglican cathedral in Christchurch, New Zealand, has been damaged by two major earthquakes, and what to do with the building has become a controversial matter. The Diocese of Christchurch decided to build an architecturally unorthodox temporary cathedral and eventually to replace the damaged building, which is considered dangerously unstable.
I was surprised that a recent story on the cathedral speaks of the “deconstruction” of the building. Erecting a building can be called construction, so it is not unreasonable to call tearing down a building deconstruction. Conventionally, however, the systematic elimination of a structure is referred to as demolition. The only definitions I could find for deconstruction relate to philosophical or literary analysis. Is a new definition for deconstruction coming into vogue or are people inventing jargon to replace a perfectly serviceable word, namely demolition?
The question is this: Is demolishing a building different from deconstructing it? Before I read the entire article, I thought that deconstruction might mean disassembling, the careful dismantling of a structure, preserving at least some of the pieces for future use. What is clear from reading the article (and certainly from reading the court opinion that is the subject of the piece) is that what is being referred to is stripping the building down to the level of about 2 meters. Apparently, the walls are unstable, but the foundation is not (or is not a hazard, in any case).
I am inclined to think that the use of deconstruction in the story (and in the court proceedings) constitutes an unnecessary and unwise neologism. The diocese was given notice “in accordance with Section 38(4) of the [Canterbury Recovery Act of 2011] that your building is to be demolished to the extent necessary to remove the hazards.” If deconstruction, as used in the New Zealand discussion means nothing more than tearing down, the word is unnecessary and pretentious. Demolition, dismantling, or tearing down would each serve as well. If deconstruction is intended to mean dismantling down to the sill, I suspect that the need for the word is insufficient for it to achieve widespread comprehension (and therefore acceptance).