How Buildings Learn by Stewart Brand

Joe Gregorio

Just finished "How Buildings Learn" by Stewart Brand and I very much enjoyed it - a good read not because he gives any pat answers or solutions, but because he refuses to do so, outlining the problems, pointing at the apparent contradictions, and in the process exposing vast vistas in how we build and live in buildings that have yet to be explored or investigated. The Appendix is just a summary of all the questions raised in the book and it's ten pages long.

The book introduces a vocabulary, the six S's, (Site, Structure, Skin, Services, Space Plan, and Stuff), which make up the components of a building and have different rates of change. That in itself made the book useful as I went back myself and looked at all the renovations and additions we've made to our house in that context and it was enlightening.

The book is actually a pretty stinging indictment of most architects and architecture schools, as most of the focus is on the look of a building - on how well it photographs - and not on how well it works. It's actually shocking to learn how infrequently an architect will go back and talk to the people living or working in a building to see how well it is working. One of the few architects that is praised, and frequently quoted, is Christopher Alexander. I own several of the "yellow books" and I'm quite a fan, so it's not much of a surprise that I liked this book also.

My only wish is that the book was done in color, fully realizing that many of the comparison shots wouldn't work very well since the first of the pair was usually 50 or 75 years in the past, I'd still like to have seen contemporary color shots of many of the sites discussed.

FYI, there was a TV adaptation of the book that is available on Google Video.

Posted by Barnaby James on 2008-09-01

I enjoyed the book also. Did a little review of it here.

Posted by Patrick Mueller on 2008-09-01

Here are some interesting quotes from "How Buildings Learn" that I found also relevant to software design:

Posted by Bill Higgins on 2008-09-02

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