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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

4.31  ·  Rating details ·  1,234 Ratings  ·  106 Reviews
Buildings have often been studied whole in space, but never before have they been studied whole in time. How Buildings Learn is a masterful new synthesis that proposes that buildings adapt best when constantly refined and reshaped by their occupants, and that architects can mature from being artists of space to becoming artists of time. From the connected farmhouses of New ...more
Paperback, 252 pages
Published October 1st 1995 by Penguin Books (first published 1994)
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Feb 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
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 rated it really liked it
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 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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.
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.
May 20, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 05, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: planning
This book had a lot of potential. I don't know why, but I couldn't enjoy the text. The illustrations and images were great, and the landscape orientation was very useful for review the evolution of structures, but the words on the page were useless. The idea behind the book, the evolution of buildings, is really cool and I would like to read more on the subject. I wonder if I have have read too many books about buildings and how the built environment affects people that this was too basic for me ...more
Alex French
Feb 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2017
Took me months to slowly absorb this but in the process it has completely changed the way I think about houses, buildings, commercial space, urban space, architecture, and construction, probably forever. As a rank amateur in that field, I needed the best kind of introduction, and this certainly feels like this was it.
Michael Nielsen
Oct 15, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Jane Jacobs is exactly right about this: "A classic and probably a work of genius."
Aug 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
Random twitter title

Kind of applies to UX.
Feb 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: priority-list
This book helped me think about buildings in many ways I'd never considered before. This should be required reading for architects, anyone interested in urbanism, and especially anyone in a facilities role at a company. I'll quote the author's summary of the book:

"The argument goes as follows. Building are layered by different rates of change. Adaptation is easiest in cheap buildings that no one cares about and most refined in long-lasting sustained-purpose buildings. Adaptation, however, is ana
Mike Violano
Dec 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Author Brand of Whole Earth Catalog fame explores the history of buildings and rebuilding in this readable survey of structures. From homes to commercial buildings Brand proves his thesis that form follows use and users over time. The evidence on Main Streets around the world surely supports the idea that business reshapes buildings as their tenants and retail uses evolve.
Brand also takes a few punches at celebrated architects including I.M Pei and Frank Lloyd Wright although each man has left q
Shubham Jain
Apr 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
How do buildings evolve? That's the key idea the book explores. Buildings, contrary to the popular perception, are not meant to stay static after they've been constructed; they're meant to be shaped by their inhabitants—by their varying needs and habits. Generally, buildings are constructed with a lot of assumptions in mind—and they fall flat when people struggle to adjust themselves around them. What can we do make homes and offices more fitting to people's needs? What patterns should we avoid? ...more
Jul 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I did not "read" this cover to cover, but meandered through each chapter. It is a marvelous compendium of information about beloved and important buildings (Monticello and Building 20 to name two) and a treatise on the notion that buildings change and adapt to the needs of each owner and in so doing, are an organic and important development in our environment.

For any fan of architecture or urban planning, or anyone interested in learning more about these concepts this book is a must read.

I highl
Apr 22, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Less about how buildings learn and more about what features of buildings make them flexible enough to accommodate changes in ownership and lifestyle. I'd be interested in a followup. Of the buildings mentioned, how many are still considered loved, flexible space?

A great read if you're the type of person who is fascinated by all the little details of buildings you see from the street, but ultimately felt a little lacking.
Dave Newbold
Jun 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
I'm a fan of Brand and his personal transparency. This is a book about appreciating utility in building space and design. The foibles of modern architecture are described, but its really about how we make our spaces useful and social. I'd say architects should read this, but the wisdom is less about original design and more about how to deal with the results. It's very dated at this point, but still interesting.
André Borges
Apr 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Great book, even for those who aren't architects (as myself). The way it was written (at leats the eBook) allows you to skip some "too technical" details and stick with what matters for lay people on the subject.
I've always had the impression that focusing only on the aesthetic had deep consequences to the biulding, and the book explore this theory greatly.
I enjoyed the pictures a lot.
Jun 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Buildings are built in time as well as space. Bad buildings ignore the former and seek to freeze a space once and for all. Good buildings are designed to grow and change, and recognize that different parts of the building will change at different rates and will not lock in the fast changing parts with the slow.
Jim Kleban
Jan 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Irreverent to architects, but written with a love and insight into humanity, our relationship to buildings, and the passage of time. This book taught me much about what works and doesn’t in buildings.
Dec 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Definitely changes the way I look at every building. Some parts are pretty utopian, but better than the cold dystopia of condo boxes called modern life.
Nov 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Great book for architects to read and reread. I have my students read it as a counterpoint to Problem Seeking, the standard text for architectural programming.
Mar 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book took me way too long to read. Months. But it's jam-packed with building and renovation philosophy that deserve to be read and heard. As a non-architect and non-builder I learned TONS of great insights into creating and managing a building and how to fit it to suit a community's needs.
Mar 19, 2009 rated it did not like it
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
Feb 26, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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'
Nov 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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?

Nov 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Deane Barker
Feb 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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
Joe Gregorio
Aug 30, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
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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.

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“A library doesn't need windows. A library is a window.” 31 likes
“Function reforms form, perpetually.” 5 likes
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