How Buildings Learn : What Happens After They’re Built

Cover, How Buildings Learn : What Happens After They're Built

Author(s): Stewart Brand

Publisher: Penguin USA (Paper)

ISBN: 0140139966

Order From: Amazon.com
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Reprint Edition
Paperback Publication date: October 1995

From Kirkus Reviews , 04/15/94:
Brand, founder of The Whole Earth Catalog and CoEvolution Quarterly, launches a populist attack on rarefied architectural conventions. A hippy elder statesman (once one of Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters), Brand argues that a building can “grow” and should be treated as a “Darwinian mechanism,” something that adapts over time to meet certain changing needs. His humanistic insights grew out of a university seminar he taught in 1988. Catchy anti- establishment phrases abound: “Function reforms form, perpetually,” or “Form follows funding.” Thomas Jefferson, a “high road” builder, is shown to have tinkered his Monticello into a masterpiece over a lifetime. Commercial structures, Brand says, are “forever metamorphic,” as a garage-turned-boutique demonstrates. Photo spreads with smart and chatty captions trace the evolutions of buildings as they adopt new “skins.” Pointedly, architects Sir Richard Rogers (designer of the Pompidou Centre in Paris) and I.M. Pei (the Wiesner Building, aka the Media Lab at MIT) are taken to task for designing monumental flops that deny occupants’ needs. Later sections track the social meanings of preservationism and celebrate vernacular traditions worldwide (e.g., the Malay house of Malaysia; pueblo architecture; the 18th- century Cape Cod House). Brand also documents his own unique habitats. He lives with his wife in a converted tugboat and houses his library in a metal self-storage container. Here, as throughout, Brand’s self-reliant voice rings true–that of an engaging, intellectual crank. Brand makes a case for letting people shape their own environments. His crunchy-granola insights bristle with an undeniable pragmatism. — Copyright ©1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

Synopsis:
All kinds of structures–domestic, commercial, institutional–are examined as they change with time and with varied usage in this fascinating, vividly accessible book that beckons toward a new frontier in architecture. 340 illustrations and photos.

Like people, buildings change with age, forced to adapt to the needs of current occupations. This provocative examination of buildings that have adapted well, and some that haven’t, calls for a dramatic rethinking in the way new buildings are designed, one that allows structures to grow and change easily with the environment. Photos.

Booknews, Inc. , 12/01/94:
Kind of like the theory that a literary text is never closed, but is temporarily appropriated in its reading and rereading, Brand, of Whole Earth Catalog fame, proposes that buildings adapt best when constantly refined and reshaped by their occupants, and that architects can grow from artists of space into artists of time. As a resource or just as a read, Brand shows how to work with time rather than against it. He provides loads of examples and loads of photographs and drawings. 11×8.75 Annotation copyright Book News, Inc. Portland, Or.

The author, Stewart Brand , 07/26/97:
Now a BBC TV series In July 97 the BBC aired a 6-part TV series called How Buildings Learn. I was the writer and presenter. It got lovely reviews in the Brit press. I hope it gets picked up for US broadcast. A British edition of the book (from Orion Books) came out at the same time as the TV series. It’s better manufactured than the US edition from Penguin, so the 350 photos read more clearly. You can probably get a copy from Blackwells on the Web. Maybe Amazon will pick up the Brit edition as well? However, the US edition has some harsh comments about buildings by architect Richard Rogers that were expunged from the British edition because he is aggressively litigious about all criticism.

Customer Comments

from Toronto, Canada , 10/09/97, rating=10:
excellent, thought-provoking, calm I’ve hesitated to review this book because I’m personally suspicious of glowing praise. However, this book deserves it. Brand’s starting point is the observation that most architects spend most of their time re-working or extending existing buildings, rather than creating new ones from scratch, but the subject of how buildings change (or, to adopt Brand’s metaphor, how buildings learn from their use and environment) is ignored by most architectural schools and theorists. By looking at examples (big and small, ancient and modern), Brand teases out patterns of re-use and change, and argues (very convincingly) that since buildings are going to be modified many times, they should be designed with unanticipated future changes in mind. Of course, the same is true of programs, and I found again and again that I could substitute the word program for building, and programmer for architect, everything Brand said was true of computing as well (but much better written than any software engineering polemic I’ve ever read).

04/03/97, rating=9:
Explores Architecture and Change I learned of this book while previewing a presentation by a superior software professional working to come up with some principles and ideas for building flexible systems, and whose son (an architecture student) had sent a copy to her. Several metaphors that she included, taken from the book, were so compelling I had to buy a copy immediately. The book turns out to be interesting on many levels, interesting about buildings, unintentionally full of metaphors for software geeks like me, intriguing about what happens when concrete and steel meet the realities of change and human nature. Now if I could only find a book about How People Learn…

02/16/97, rating=9:
A must for architects and preservationists This book is one of my required texts for my master’s degree in historic preservation. Preservationists are often overly concerned with restoring buildings to a specific period and this book should change their minds! The concept of a building as a living breathing CHANGING entity is something that anyone involved with buildings should take to heart. Brand’s book is well written and easy to read, and anyone who has ever been in love with a building should read it!

08/08/96, rating=8:
Very much in the tradition of A PATTERN LANGUAGE (Chris Alexander et al), about how building evolve through remodeling over the decades. Several excerpts: Art begets fashion; fashion means style; style is made of illusion; and illusion is no friend to function…. Formerly stylish clothing you can throw or give away; a building goes on looking ever more out-of-it, decade after decade, until a new skin is grafted on at great expense, and the cycle begins again–months of glory, years of shame…. Real estate is an astonishingly unexamined phenomenon. Books on the history of architecture outnumber books on the history of real estate 1,000 to 0, yet real estate has vastly more influence on the shape and fate of buildings than architectural theories of aesthetics.

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