“Some of our more arrogant and careless buildings are at war with time and change, and they always lose.”

“Buildings are the wealth of nations, our largest capital asset. They are the ornament of cultures and they are where we spend most of our lives. Some of our more arrogant and careless buildings are at war with time and change, and they always lose. Some buildings though seem to flow with time, they flow with us. I’ve been living and writing in and around San Francisco for forty years. I’ve seen the city change and grow. Architectural styles came and went, planning theories came and went. Real estate boomed and busted. Old buildings were refreshed, new buildings modified. Some got steadily better, some steadily worse. I began to wonder about that. What makes some buildings keep getting better, and others not? Since we create the buildings around us you think they’d be our servants. Instead, most of the buildings we have thwart us constantly. I got so interested in this problem I wound up spending six years studying it. The approach I took was to look at what happens with buildings after they’re built. That’s when the users take over and begin to reshape the building to suit their real needs. What kinds of buildings work well with that evolution, and why do so many buildings work so badly?”

Parts 2, 3, 4, and other segments here. And watch this amazing story about the oak beams in an Oxford college hall.

Stewart Brand, most well known for his instrumental role in founding the Whole Earth Catalog, co-hosted the BBC TV series “How Buildings Learn” in 1997. The 6-part 3-hour series was based on Brand’s 1994 book, How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built. Music by Brian Eno.

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4 Responses to ““Some of our more arrogant and careless buildings are at war with time and change, and they always lose.””

  1. Elizabeth Says:

    Thrilled to see Stewart Brand and his book mentioned… and LOVE the oak beam story. That is indeed the way to run a culture!

  2. LB Says:

    It’s great, isn’t it?

    The second video above in the Learning from Buildings series reminds me of Koolhaas’ Houselife, the quite hilarious documentary film in which a housekeeper demonstrates the difficulty of cleaning one of Koolhaas’ houses.

  3. Doug C Says:

    I read the book and found some interesting ideas but think the oak beam story is certainly apocryphal. A fantasy not based in reality. The capital investment required for this en masse is prohibitive, the cost of the dry storage, the expense of warehousing materials and their damage while stored. America has run rings around the old world’s masonry buildings with platform framing making housing considerably less cost prohibitive.
    He also seems to have a resentment against architects producing uniquely artistic buildings, something I do not share. Perhaps the type of architecture best exemplified by Brand’s ideas is akin to Robert A.M. Stern’s upscale Mcmansions. Barbie dream houses for people unable to live in the present.

  4. LB Says:

    Yes. Haven’t read the book but based on the video I did immediately think of Vancouver’s Museum of Anthropology, one of my favourite buildings despite the facdt that it leaks and is otherwise impractical. And then a host of others. I can’t imagine he’d like McMansions, though.

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