on 20 February 2004
We assume a building is permanent when it's built and will pretty much remain the same. But the reality is that buildings are dynamic, they constantly change, as the owners or occupiers make small or large scale alterations. Brand's book highlights the fact that no building is permanent in its present condition, all buildings must change to adapt, buildings that cease to change, cease to function and are abandoned.
This is a theory backed up by real examples, drawn mainly from the USA, but also from Europe. Using photos from archives Brand records the changes individual buildings go through and the diverse results these demands create. We get to see how the appearance and function of individual buildings change in many real life examples.
The book shows the reader how time adds to a building. He recognises the different pressures for change for different types of buildings: Commercial, residential and institutional buildings, go through.
The author is not an architect, which explains why it is so refreshing, enjoyable and easily read. It has a clear message to all those involved in architecture and building design, that we must be able to build structures that are adaptable. We are given examples of "high road" or signature architecture that can not be changed, and since it can't adapt it is causing real difficulties for its users.
on 22 April 2000
I first read this book when I borrowed the American edition from the local library; I was so impressed that I bought the British edition shortly afterwards.
It really makes you think about the nature of buildings and how they can change/adapt over time. Some great photographs too, especially the sets of photographs of the same building over a period of years, illustrating just how fundamentally the appearance/use of a building can change over the course of its lifetime.
Top marks, Mr. Brand! Hope you've got something just as good in the pipeline.
on 22 September 2014
In "How Buildings Learn" Stewart Brand examines how we change and adapt the buildings around us to meet our ever changing needs. From modest homes to high church, Brand explores the forces that lead to building adaptations and re-use as well as how vernacular building forms are generated from learned experience.
For Architects, Brand's insights reveal important lessons in flexibility of space which can influence not only how we design, but also about the possibilities that can lie in adaptation of old buildings.
Perhaps more importantly however, is what brand reveals about the cycle of Urban development, decline and rebirth. Town Planners and Urban designers (and any city dweller for that matter) should pay head to these key lessons which show how planning rules and restrictions can stifle or promote a vibrant thriving city.
Essential reading for anyone interested in urban renewal and community regeneration.
on 27 July 2013
So I bought this one for my daughter, to stop her swiping my last copy. She agrees that it is a very useful eye-opener about building in general. The examples in the book are American, but the underlying grasp of how buildings should function, and why you should string up all award-winning architects from their badly-designed rafters (or throw them off their failed, leaking flat roofs) is just as applicable anywhere else.
If you haven't read this, shame on you.
If you have ever lived or worked - and suffered - in a building designed by a star architect (or a wannabe - the differences in habitability between them tend to be slight), Brand's book is a must read. Not being an architect himself, he looks primarily at the functional aspects of buildings, as places of habitation and places of work. The book then proceeds to examine how the demands for buildings change over time and what buildings adapt best / what approaches to use to make the adaptation process easiest for the inhabitants.
Brand calls for adaptable and liveable architecture, for buildings which can easily be repurposed to suit the ever changing needs of the inhabitants and which can grow appropriately and sensibly. The focus is also on functionality in the sense that it needs to take precedence over stylistic concerns - especially those, which are achieved at the cost of buildings being functionally impoverished as a result. In keeping with the title not only extensions and remodelling are covered in great detail, the author also devotes sufficient attention to upkeep, maintenance and appropriate design to incorporate those aspects at the construction stage already.
In addition to being a very well illustrated (myriad of evolutionary pictures of the same buildings over time) and easy to read book, one can in many instances use it as a framework as well as a practical guide when making building decisions oneself. It might not tell you specifically what material and design solution is best for each circumstance - even if it often does provide sound advice - but more importantly, it lays down some very sound fundamentals that need to be followed by your architect, if you want a building that will work well, and continue working well for its users over a long period of time.
Returning to the opening statement, I very much hope that something along the lines of this book makes it into the core curriculum of architectural education - the profession would go a long way towards redeeming itself, if the practitioners were generally knowledgeable about the holistic way of looking at buildings, including over time, as prescribed by Brand here. As for the star architects, I wish they were forced to learn the contects by heart, from cover to cover, before being allowed to design as much as an outhouse ever again.