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

4.30  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,006 Ratings  ·  85 Reviews
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.
Published April 13th 1995 by Viking Books (first published 1994)
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I was the nerdy little girl that checked out books of floor plans from the library - like 10 books at a time - and just went home and looked at them. Picked out features I liked in a plan, looked at how a person or a family would use a space in terms of both furniture and movement. Thought about elevation and sunlight.

And majored in English in college, mostly because the math required by architecture degrees was intimidating, and architecture students were intimidating. Also, I didn't want to MA
Jan 29, 2009 Dianne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
You will love this book if, like me, you think that modern and postmodern architecture has gone terribly, terribly wrong. (Conversely, if you worship Frank Gehry, I. M. Pei, and their ilk, you will probably be offended.) Stewart Brand argues convincingly that the buildings that survive are those that can be flexible enough to adapt to the changing needs and tastes successive generations of inhabitants. He is particularly trenchant in his criticism of the overprogrammed, over-designed, sculptural ...more
Dec 23, 2009 edh rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: adult, nonfiction
This is my reading reaction I posted to my blog:

From my last post - this was the only book referred to in the New South Wales matrix that I hadn't yet read. So I set out to grab a copy of How Buildings Learn and discover more about its metaphor for a potential library future.

I think I have always been interested in architecture - take me to any city and I am perfectly happy wandering around to see what I can see in the streetscapes. I knew why I had this intere
May 16, 2015 Dale rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Stewart Brand's thinking about architecture seems to have two basic elements: a strong influence from the design patterns approach of Christopher Alexander, and Brand's own interest in the time dimension. Much of the book is infused with deep contempt for the practice of architecture as it has become in the past century. He reserves special scorn for Frank Lloyd Wright and for contemporary 'magazine architects'. Brand's view, hardly controversial, is that architects should focus on designing bui ...more
Jan 03, 2016 Kendra rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is super fascinating, well written, and clear - it's about how buildings change over time and how architects can better adapt to that process of change. I want to read an updated version! The parts about MIT are showing their age, especially because Brand can clearly claim prescience about the Stata Center's roof leaking.

Go find the dead tree version though - the e-book formatting for Kindle is terrible.
Jul 24, 2008 Kristian rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Architects, designers, contractors, DIY enthusiasts, Anyone and Everyone
Recommended to Kristian by: Tony
If you are an architect you should lose your license for not having read this book. Anyone interested in building, architects, contractors, home-renovators, property managers, real-estate agents, DIY weekend warriors, all of you need to read this and better both yours, your clients, your renters, and your buildings lives... This book puts into wonderfully written word why european cities have evolved the way they have, and why nearly every new construction area in America seems like a joke. Old ...more
Alex French
Feb 10, 2015 Alex French rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Just as awesome as I hoped when I put it on a 'to read' list years ago.

Has changed the way I'm able to pick apart many houses I drive by in NH, and think about houses that I'm very familiar with.

The suggested reading in the back put half a dozen new books on Amazon wish-lists for me.

It would be interesting to see updated info/ideas, particularly covering green/sustainable building practices.

A lot of the ideas are applicable to many areas of interest, including programming, enterprise IT, and org
Feb 26, 2016 Benjamin rated it really liked it
This very interesting book argues (with both convincing prose and fascinating pictures) that buildings are not so permanent as we might wish and that there is much to be gained by understanding their life-cycle. Three of Brand's larger points that are worth remembering follow.

Maintenance is mandatory, despite the fact that everyone wishes to ignore it. Architects find executing it to be someone else's job and planning for it to be beneath them. Human nature makes occupants avoid it as well: you'
Deane Barker
Feb 15, 2016 Deane Barker rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a wonderful examination of an interesting topic: how do buildings change over time? How do they age? How are they modified?

This is something I've never really considered. I guess I new that buildings get remodeled, but the dynamics of that remodeling reveals things about the building and how people use it. Buildings change over time in response to what people need.

Another truth: boring buildings are super functional; and exciting, conceptual buildings tend to be less so. Several case stu
Aug 11, 2015 Sunny rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A quote on the cover says, "A classic and probably a work of genius". Darn right! If you are planning or dreaming of building anything - from a home, to a major addition, to a commercial space to a government building, this book is a must-read. Internal office configurations for organizations are also covered.

First you'll be captured by the dated before-and-after photos, showing how various buildings evolved over the years since they were built. Then start reading the text for lots of useful les
Nov 03, 2014 Zach rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've come to enjoy flaneuring around neighborhoods of old homes with bric-a-brac additions, spidery porches, and scars of old windows. Three summers at Greenfield Village trained me to think of the lives of, and contained within, these buildings as they trudge indifferently through time. My inner dialogue was a novelty show of unanswered questions: Why is this the only house on the block with small windows? What was it like to live here before it was chopped into apartments? Who in the Sam Hill ...more
Jun 11, 2016 Bart rated it it was amazing
This is a wonderful if at times too-autobiographical book about buildings as adaptive systems. A few highlights:

Such agglomerations become highly evolved, refinement added to refinement ("the bridge is at a comfortable angle"), the sensible parts kept, the humorous parts kept, the clever idea that didn't work thrown away, the overambitiousness conservatory torn down, the loved view carefully maintained, until the aggregate is all finesse and eccentricity. The measure of a successful evolution is
A great book about architecture, construction and (a little) interior design. This book, while not about computing, can serve as a reference for ho to (and not) build software that can evolve. Brand's book is a wonderful companion to Christopher Alexander's classic books on architecture and pattern languages.
Nov 07, 2012 Angela rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Random twitter title

Kind of applies to UX.
Nelson Minar
Apr 10, 2014 Nelson Minar rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fun book, documenting what changes take place in buildings after people live in them, adapt them to their needs. It's an interesting spin on architecture, looking more at how a building works for people than how it looks as a piece of sculpture. Plenty of practical information here if you're thinking of building a space, and plenty of aesthetic information to change the way you think about buildings.
The coolest thing for me with this book, though, was how it seemed to inform my understanding o
Joe Gregorio
Sep 01, 2008 Joe Gregorio rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 20, 2012 Eric rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Stewart Brand gives his book an intriguing and provocative title, How Buildings Learn. Perhaps a slightly better, though less flashy, title would be How Buildings Adapt, since that is truly what Brand discusses. The author is an ardent supporter of buildings, though he prefers the "low road" ones (those that are commercial, common, conservative) over the "high road" ones (those that are highly designed and unique). Why? Because Brand is much more interested in the way people interact with buildi ...more
Jan 28, 2010 Maura rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thought this would be more about building materials and how they change or weather. It has turned out to be about that but so much more! From criticism of architecture as art to condemnation of certain well-known architects, the author injects some common sense into building design, focusing on what makes some buildings work well while others are rampant failures. The pictures are wonderful as they show the progression of city blocks as well as individual structures.

I really liked what one bui
Mar 26, 2008 Michelle rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: designers, nerds, urbanists
Stewart Brand approaches architecture as an anthropologist, critiquing the field for its current focus on evaluating and prizing empty, perfect buildings show in perfect light in glossy magazine spreads. He calls for evaluating buildings after they've been inhabited for a while, turning the focus from the external facade to the experiences of people who own or work in the building. He also talks about two types of most beloved buildings, and how to build those characteristics (either a building ...more
Feb 14, 2013 Nick rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Before I read this book, I had primarily read books that approached architecture from two very different ways. The first was a traditional artistic/historical approach, for instance, a survey of American architecture through its most famous architects and how these architects inspired each other. The second approach was from engineering standpoint, specifically skyscrapers. How were they built? What kind of design elements were used to balance the loads and forces of such gargantuan structures?

Jun 30, 2009 Ben rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: architecture
I was mildly enjoying this book until I got to the chapter entitled 'Magazine Architecture'. In it, Brand heaps all architects together with I.M. Pei who he strongly critizes for a building he designed for MIT complaining that it is only aesthetically enjoyable to the detriment of the functionality of the building. Well, Brand should take his concerns to MIT because they obviously had priorities in mind while hiring Pei seeing as they could've saved several million dollars by hiring a lesser kno ...more
Bim Oliver
This book is Stewart Brand's highly subjective treatment of the building design and construction industry, which, Brand claims, is short-sighted, narrow-minded, and disengaged. But it suffers from Brand's absolutist perspective. What he likes is perfect. What he doesn't like is lousy. The problem with this perspective is that Brand ends up being as un-circumspect as the very people he's criticizing, and the book reads as shallow and self-righteous rather than as enlightening or insightful.
Sep 08, 2012 Lindig rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I read this book when it first came out in 1995 and so don't remember the details very clearly. While I think Brand is an interesting thinker, his approach here is not what I'd call deep. Germs of ideas are scattered all through the book, as is his bottom-up idea of building spaces for people. But I remember being a little disappointed in his analysis -- I didn't think it presented a fully comprehensive argument.

While I too loathe I.M. Pei's work in general, I wouldn't go so far as to say we don
Stephen Yoder
Jun 01, 2016 Stephen Yoder rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I love the way that this book shatters the notion of buildings & architecture as fragile, immutable creations, leading to the realization that some buildings learn better than others. I will have to re-read this cross-pollinating book again because we all must figure out what can change and what cannot.
Jan 12, 2015 Leslie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The most fun, and interesting take on how buildings evolve (or devolve) over time. Even those not involved in public history, architecture, or urban design will find it interesting. Brand is a total eccentric in the most wonderful of ways. Look up his bio and read this--you won't be disappointed.
Kevin Schroder
For the amount of research involved, the book is quite simplistic. A missed opportunity. Makes a great 20page article but not a book. Also, don't purchase this in Kindle the formatting of the illustrations is very confusing.
Jul 18, 2015 Nick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great primer on architecture. Author suggests buildings should be built with the Japanese "wati kasabi" virtue in mind: that in a beautiful thing there is always some part which is lovingly and carefully done, and some parts which are roughly done, because the compensation between the two is necessary. In essence, provide enough flexibility in the architecture so buildings can adapt to a variety of uses over time.
Jun 05, 2009 Mitchell marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
I am very interested in reading this book. Dr. Andrew Gibbons spoke about this book during his session at the #TTIX conference. He referred to the layered approach to building a building and how each part of the building is in a sense isolated from other parts. The framework is a separate process from the sheath or skin. The same can be said of educational resources they have different layers. His discussion of this book reminded me of the how well the book spoke to educational design.Emotional ...more
A fascinating look at how buildings go on to have second and third lives--- how they're retro-fitted and re-built and re-purposed and renovated. Brand looks at buildings good and bad, and talks about how craftsmen and contractors do more than architects to make buildings reflect human needs and purposes (the Japanese have known this for decades, and Japanese architectural firms set up field offices at sites to work with contractors on modifications). He talks about what "preservation" and zoning ...more
Jul 08, 2014 Kaethe rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Brand is all over the library, in terms of writing projects. As far as I know, this is the only book that looks at the way people transform spaces over time. Fascinating.
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Stewart Brand was a pioneer in the environmental movement in the 60s – his Whole Earth Catalog became the Bible for sustainable living, selling more than 10 million copies worldwide. Brand is President of The Long Now Foundation and chairs the foundation's Seminars About Long-term Thinking.
More about Stewart Brand...

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“A library doesn't need windows. A library is a window.” 22 likes
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