How Buildings Learn

Wow, I really enjoyed Stewart Brand's How Buildings Learn: What happens after they're built!

When I spotted it on my gifted and lovely friend Sandra's shelves (she always has interesting books), she said, 'Oh! That's one of my favourite books!' I flicked through it and thought it looked a bit dry, but Sandra has such good taste that I swallowed my reservations and borrowed it forthwith (isn't one of the great joys of printed books the fax that you can lend them around?)

Stewart Brand is not an architect, but he has plenty of ideas about what architects should study and how  they should behave. He points out how little attention is paid (or was paid in 1994 when this book was written) to the way that buildings actually function, how their inhabitants interact with them, and adapt them to their changing needs. He provides loads of interesting facts about buildings, like this diagram:
… which illustrates how the different elements of a building age and change at wildly different rates, forcing adaptation and alteration or replacement. For example, Stuff (things like furniture placement) can change at a daily rate, or even several times a day; in contrast, the building's Site will never change (unless you build on the edge of a cliff, I guess!)

He realises that we need to think deeply about our buildings before we build -- not to predict every eventuality and try to produce the perfect solution for eternity, but to leave room for flexibility and ease of adaptability -- because our relationship with the buildings we live and work in will inevitably change.

I have a personal stake in this discussion. Our house was first built in 1927 and its core has endured, with various paint jobs, ever since. In the 1990s, Stephen and Colin, who owned the house before we did, updated the kitchen and bathroom, built a back porch and a separate artist's studio in the backyard, filled the garden with native trees, and added their own leadlight and mosaics touches. Five years ago, we added a big living/dining room at the back of the house, bringing the outdoor laundry inside the house, and converted the previous living room into a library, which also gained a window. Later, we lined the roof space to create a light and useful attic storage room. Now we're planning another extension, to add a second bathroom in the space between the house and the studio, incorporate the studio into a granny flat and add a small extra bedroom.

I think because we lived in the house for years before we renovated, we resisted eating up big chunks of the garden, like so many of our neighbours have done. It feels as if the house has grown organically, creeping out of its original footprint but preserving its essential soul intact. In fact, by including a huge window and a window-seat nook in the back room, the garden feels more like part of the house than ever. This still doesn't feel like a big house; we don't have the cavernous single space, (dining/kitchen/family room) that most of our neighbours have added, but we have plenty of room to move and spread, and lots of connected nooks where people can work and read and type and listen to their own devices, but still be within speaking distance of each other.

All the time I was reading How Buildings Learn, I was thinking, this would make a fantastic TV series. Well, it seems the BBC had the same idea. I think you can find it on YouTube.

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