2008-11-24 / 22:57 / dave
In the book, Stewart Brand–of Whole Earth Catalog fame–looks at the evolution of buildings, a subject he claims is sorely under-researched. He first establishes his framework, the six S’s: site, structure, skin, services, space Plan, and stuff; and then outlines the major archetypes of buildings: high-road (cathedral), low-road (warehouse), and hollow-souled sell-out architectural-digest pornography (most everything else, incidentally it was the high-road/low-road distinction that Burka used in his talk), Next he descends into detail. Finally he provides some hints for designing for change. And then, for emphasis, he re-states everything in the appendix and ends with a final plea for everyone to start paying attention to how things change in the long term, damnit.
Like anyone who’s learned software patterns, I know of the Christopher Alexander classic. But I put it off in favor of reading books about, well, software. How Buildings Learn frequently references Alexander’s works. It also shares a lot with software design: Brand advocates less up-front design, direct client involvement, choosing processes and artifacts that provide feedback and “short” iterations with rapid deliverables–basically Agile. (He also advocates spending time & money on a solid foundation and “documentation”: he lauds John Abrams “as-built” photo documentation. These could be interpreted as “anti-agile”, but as James Shore points out agile is no excuse for irresponsibility.) Unlike books on Agile software, How Buildings Learn benefits from being about something tangible: buildings. I spent my freshmen year in the University of Pittsburgh’s Litchfield Towers (picture above) and I currently work in a new office building that has the perfect triumvirate of leaky roof, non-function HVAC and architectural awards. It was easy to understand Brand’s examples. It took me much longer to actually understand–not just parrot–Agile. Such is the power of metaphor.
So recommended. Even if you’re not a programmer.