How Buildings Learn

I've been rereading How Buildings Learn by Stewart Brand. It's a really great read. It's author took the time and effort to do what few authors do. He didn't do the simple thing and just write about buildings at a certain point in time. He did the difficult thing and wrote about the underlying processes that govern the evolution of buildings over time.

At the heart of this book is the idea of change - of time. That buildings change. That people change them. That the elements change them. This, fundamentally, is the reason the parallels with software leap off every page. Understanding and managing change is arguably the fundamental aspect of understanding and managing the process of developing software. Software isn't written perfectly in a sudden flash. It takes time. It takes lots of small changes. The author writes "My approach is to examine buildings as a whole - not just whole in space, but whole in time". He laments the aphorism "Form ever follows function" written in 1896 by Louis Sullivan (A Chicago highrise designer) because "it misled a century of architects into believing that they could really anticipate function". The idea is to aim for software that gets better over time. Or, more accurately, that is capable of getting better over time.

Here are some quotes:

Our basic argument is that there isn't such a thing as a building. A building properly conceived is several layers of longevity of built components.

Many buildings are demolished early if their outdated systems are too deeply embedded to replace easily.

Hummingbirds and flowers are quick, redwood trees slow, and whole redwood forests even slower. Most interaction is within the same pace level.

The dynamics of the system will be dominated by the slow components. with the rapid components simply following along. Slow constrains quick; slow controls quick.

Trust, intimacy, intense use, and time are what made these buildings work so well.

Architects offered themselves as providers of instant solutions, and only the look of a building gives instant gratification.