How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built. Stewart Brand. Viking.

How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They're Built Book Cover How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They're Built
Stewart Brand
June 1, 1994

Buildings have often been studied whole in space, but never before have they been studied whole in time.

Architects (and architectural historians) are interested only in a building’s original intentions. Most are dismayed by what happens later, when the building develops its own life, responsive to the life within. To get the rest of the story – to explore the years between the dazzle of a new building at its eventual corpse – Stewart Brand went to facilities managers and real estate professionals, to preservationists and building historians, to photo archives and to futurists. He inquired, “what makes some buildings come to be loved?” He found that all buildings are forced to adapt, but only some adapt gracefully.

How Buildings Learn is a masterful new synthesis which 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. A rich resource and point of departure, as stimulating for the general reader and home-improvement hobbyist as for the building professional, the book is sure to generate ideas, provoke debate, and shake up habitual thinking.

From the connected farmhouses of New England to I. M. Pei’s Media Lab, from “satisficing” to “form follows funding,” from the evolution of bungalows to the invention of Santa Fe Style, from Low Road military surplus buildings to a High Road English classic like Chatsworth – this is a far-ranging survey of unexplored essential territory.

More than any other human artifact, buildings improve with time – if they are allowed. How Buildings Learn shows how to work with time rather than against it.

Though honored as a writer – with the National Book Award for the Whole Earth Catalog, Eliot Montroll Award for The Media Lab, Golden Gadfly Award for his years as editor of CoEvolution Quarterly – Stewart Brand is primarily an inventor/designer. Trained as a biologist and army officer, he was an early multimedia artist. He has created a number of lasting institutions, including New Games Tournaments, the Hackers Conference, and The WELL, a bellwether computer conference system. He is a co-founder of Global Business Network, a futurist research organization fostering “the art of the long view.”