I found the real value in the new interviews with people who were the leaders in the 60's and 70's about what they think is important now. The two viewpoints, 30 years of maturity as it were, makes this more than just a trip to the past. If the WEC/WER didn't change your mind, you weren't paying attention.
"DRT" also happens to be the only thing I ever ordered from the catalog. Sort of. In a fit of nostalgia I purchased it a couple of months ago from, well, amazon.com.
So welcome to the 90's! It's a different world now, and you probably can't find many of the businesses and vendors listed, but if you can find a copy... GET IT! It's history, man. Farout.
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Addressing the building layers (site, structure, skin, services, space plan and "stuff") through a logical sequence of chapters, to get the most out of this book deserves a thorough read rather than a surface glance. The deeply referenced & illustrated, entertaining chapters span:
Flow- introduction and the time dimension; Shearing Layers- of the different rates of change in buildings; "Nobody Cares What You Do In There": The Low Road- easy adaptation in cheap buildings; Houseproud: The High Road- refined adaptation in long-lasting sustained-purpose buildings; Magazine Architecture: No Road- where tenants needs ignored for photo-aesthetics; Unreal estate- and markets sever continuity in buildings; Preservation: A Quiet, Popularist, Conservative, Victorious Revolution- to address incontinuity and frustrate innovators; The Romance of Maintenance- and preservation; Vernacular: How Buildings Learn from Each Other- and respect for design wisdom of older buildings; Function Melts Form: Satisficing Home and Office; The Scenario-buffered Building; and Built for Change- imagining buildings inviting adaption.
Strengths include: the great depth of reference material, illustrations and evidence; easy-readability; an insiders' window on the international world of architects and civil engineers; and suitability for wide audience including lay-people interested in the built-environment and society, as well as complex systems architects (hard engineering or software development).
Rarely the text becomes a bit rambling (more sidebars or bulleted lists?) and repetitive with unsupported assertions- but that is the only negative. Improvements could include an additional chapter cross-referencing (learning from?) 'adaptive systems', 'scenario planning' etc.. from the other professions that explicitly use these approaches to develop longer-term customer-centric complex adaptive systems.
Overall a great read, that encourages re-evaluation of living and working space (don't accept those dis-functional anonymous boxes behind the trendy outer skin!). 'How Buildings Learn' is best read with both something like 'E-topia' by Mitchell (Architect and Computer Scientist at MIT) for a visionary (and sometimes contradictory) view of the future of the built environment; and Schumacher's 'Small is Beautiful' for a sustainable economic-development viewpoint.
After reading this book, I gave a talk to my student housing co-op based on what Brand taught me. I began to think about the co-op buildings as "living things," and indeed, looking back only a year, I realized how much we had changed at the co-op: we had installed new windows (to be compliant with the fire code, plus they gave better soundproofing against noisy courtyard parties); we had added emergency lights to our hallways; replaced carpet; installed new locks to keep interlopers out. All these changes worked to subtly transform the environment, and over the course of a decade, the "same old building" has become a quite different place. Brand provides ample photographs, anecdotes, and theories to show how this happens.
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Lots of illustrations and sidebars on further reading in the style of the old Whole Earth Catalog and CoEvolution Quarterly. Individual articles seem very well researched.
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This book and the thinking behind it represent an excellent counterpoint to the prevalent and destructive view of "now" as beeing some extremely short term time frame - today, this week, or (for many corporations) this quarter. One can only hope that it is widely read. If the ideas behind this book and its associated project change only a small segment of our population's view about stewardship and care for the long-term health and longevity of our planet and our race it will be well worth the effort.
While I thought the book was generally very well-written, and presented many, many thought-provoking points, some of the ideas seem to have been rather poorly thought out and gave the impression of having been simply tossed in to the mix. At one point a potential role of the 10,000 year library as a repository of both sides of important debates is described - an excellent idea, but the objective is described as allowing future generations to know who to "blame" if things go wrong. Going to all this trouble just so our descendants can engage in blaming someone for something seems rather silly. Fortunately, there are loftier goals for this project, and many are very well described throughout the book.
This book has strongly impacted the way I think about the future. I highly recommend it.
These days time seems to be getting ever shorter, our subjective "now" shrinking from generations to years or less. People need to think on the longer term, for the sake of earth and civilization. Brand broods on how to accomplish this with a series of short, themed articles addressing everything from a visit to Big Ben to a commentary on how the digital age has made things more impermanent rather than less. (Want to try to run a Commodore 64 program? Well, you might almost as well forget it.) He provides a list of levels of paces, from fashion (the quickest) through commerce, infrastructure, governance, culture, and (the slowest) nature. He points out the twentieth century phenomenon of organizations and movements devoted to historical preservation, both a luxury that earlier ages would have found it hard to afford and perhaps a need to be filled in our fast-paced age.
A fascinating and thought-provoking read.
This is definitely a book to read more than once. I found new thoughts forming as I re-read chapters that were now framed by concepts presented in later chapters. Yet, the chapters are nice and short and self-contained so I could easily pick up the book, re-read some chapter that caught my fancy, and feel satisfied contemplating some aspect of the entirety -- like being able to savor a snack instead of having to eat an entire meal.
I dog-eared "The Order of Civilization" chapter which for me really crystallized analogous concepts concerning the construction of robust "organic" information systems (what I'm supposed to be doing for a living). I loved the concept of layers operating at ever slower paces maintaining the resilience of the overall system. I also found "Ending the Digital Dark Age" very interesting. I highly recommend this book to anyone designing systems that could have an impact on the world for any significant length of time.
Incidentally, the half-past chimes sounded on my century clock while I was reading this book. Maybe that is one of the reasons I liked it so much. Perhaps you have to be "over the hill", riding at ever increasing speed toward the future of your children to really be turned on by these ideas.
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However, a large portion of the book is spent describing specific projects, many of which are obviously a little out of date. Don't get the wrong idea, though. These projects were obviously very exciting when new. Further, some of the projects still seem so far out that I would not be surprised to see them announced as new research in 2000!
All in all, recommended. But perhaps you're better off skimming a copy from your local library than buying this one. That's why 3 stars instead of 4.
After reading it, I lost it somewhere along the way. I came here to see if I could find a copy to re-read it and check my memory. It really should be an interesting read after all these years for anyone interested in the process and history of science.
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Reading about how aging yuppies want to fix a neighborhood block to their tastes isn't worth 1 dime of my money. I feel disappointed and deeply cheated that I bought this tawdry book.
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