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How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They're Built

4.35  ·  Rating details ·  1,552 ratings  ·  143 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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Average rating 4.35  · 
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 ·  1,552 ratings  ·  143 reviews

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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
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." ...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
Gretchen Rubin
Very intriguing look at buildings, cities, and how time changes a place. Loved the illustrations.
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.
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
Anson Cassel Mills
May 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
What non-architect can dislike a book that so wittily exposes the follies of Frank Lloyd Wright, I. M. Pei, and Buckminster Fuller? Furthermore, as the owner of an unusually shaped structure myself, I can give personal testimony to the validity of Brand’s thesis that the best buildings are those that incorporate simple designs, easily maintained and easily modified. (Ironically, Brand spends some pages describing his own conversion of a tugboat into a houseboat—the result a charming but screamin ...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
Jun 22, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: career, library
This book gets 4 stars for ideas and 2 stars for actual writing. He could have used a better editor. But also, this book was written in 1995!

As a professional in the buildings industry, I am constantly running into the unique contexts each operator finds herself in whether the building is on day 2 of operations or day 2000. Lots of good things to talk about and to consider both at work and in my home renovation journey. Glad I found this book!
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. ...more
Jeff Greason
Apr 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
From time to time I happen to read just the right book, at just the right moment, to really make a mark on my thinking. This was one such time, and book. I got it because of my interest in space and planetary habitats and wanted a different perspective on how to design the structures to be useful over time rather than disposable. But the entire outlook of the book, on how the future is not just unanticipated, but beyond anticipation -- and yet, we are not helpless in the face of that realization ...more
May 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An excellent exploration of how various types of buildings – from offices to homes – adapt to the people interacting with them over time. It's also an informative collection of the common mistakes we make when designing, building, renovating, and maintaining buildings. I can also see lessons from this book being applied to other complex projects. I only wish the quality of the photos was better in the Kindle edition. ...more
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
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.
Aug 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
Random twitter title

Kind of applies to UX.
Jan 15, 2013 rated it liked it
Santiago Calatrava has not read this book.

"If it hold water, it's craft. If it leaks, it's art." -old potters' line
Dec 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book is, nominally, a book about architecture and buildings, but it is actually a book about modernity and the products of modernity. It is a book about most, if not all, of today's professions; architecture is analyzed because its fruits are particularly visible and familiar. Stewart Brand lovingly describes two varieties of production that improve with time: Low Road and High Road; and one variety of production that worsens with time: No Road. Low Road production is carried out by laymen, ...more
Ben Doherty
Jan 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I've been pecking away at this book for about 4 years now. I think I've struggled to get started with it because it's a funny shaped book. It's landscape and in two columns, which sounds like a good idea, but means that it's hard to read without a table. Anyway, I had a good run up at it over the last 3 weeks so I gave it a red hot go, and was rewarded richly!

To a casual reader, it might come across as a catalogue of the ways that Steward Brand hates architects, but it's richer than a simple hat
Samuel Oktavianus
Apr 09, 2020 rated it it was ok
How Buildings Learn is an architecture/urbanism book written by Steward Brand, an American author & environmentalist. My architectural curiosity made me pick up this book on a hunch, but it was mostly because of the magnetizing title. As for someone who isn't familiar with architecture, I've learned a thing or two after reading this. The book is originally published almost two decades ago, so some parts can be a little dated and technical. Oh, and I just discovered the BBC made a documentary bas ...more
Oct 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Buildings are meant to be occupied: this is the credo for this picture-filled book. Too often are high-class buildings designed with nothing but their external appearance in mind with little regard for future functionaility. Too often residential buildings are built hastily and with little communication between people in charge of the structure, services, and space, resulting in maintenance costs that eventually overshadow the initial building cost. The question worth asking is: what kinds of bu ...more
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
Dec 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I've been reading a bunch of books about architecture, and this one (by a non-architect, naturally) is one of the best. With cogent research and analysis, interesting insight, and a bit of humor, Brand makes a really compelling case that architecture is more than just design and construction; it's how a building persists and changes across time. Adaptations are possible in both Low Road (cheap, flexible, unsupervised) and High Road (high-quality, long-lasting, with a consistent purpose) building ...more
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
Jeffrey (Akiva) Savett
Feb 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
I love learning about architecture. Surely I’m a dilettante; nonetheless, I always find books like Brand’s SO interesting. We spend so much of our lives inside buildings and yet, we spend so little time thinking about them.

Brand’s book is an interesting analysis of how buildings—domestic, commercial, and industrial—change over time due primarily to need, but also to technology, the environment, and the community.

This work is considered a classic in the study of architecture; that said, in a FE
Corey Vilhauer
Jun 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Wonderful book that claims it's a book about how buildings adapt, change, and live/die over time, but really is a look into how change affects rigid systems, from how humans wreak havoc on existing processes to how websites get neglected and tangled year over year. I don't know a lot about architecture, but I do know that nearly every lesson learned in this book relates to my job as a web strategist and how I look at the world as a human consumer.

It's also full of fun little bits of shade, great
Wes Cobb
Aug 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An incredibly readable overview of exactly what the title describes: how buildings learn, or evolve, over time. Specifically, the author argues compellingly that best buildings are those that adapt precisely because they are adaptable, rather than built in an obtuse fashion by an architect (often a celebrity architect) for one narrow purpose. The book is also fabulously illustrated with examples that bring the author's principles to life. As the owner and renovator of a 100+ year old house - bui ...more
Oct 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
I loved the quiet, contemplative nature of the book. The author picks up case studies of 'style's of how buildings learn: 'low buildings' which by their very lowness, allow their occupants to freely transform them. Of 'high' buildings, and how these deserve a caring warden to allow their graceful aging and depature. On his own house boat, and the various adaptations he has made within it.

It's quite a meditative read, and it /sits/ with you, leaving you with a new vantage point that dwells, exam
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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

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