How Buildings Learn

Stewart Brand

Full title, How Buildings Learn: What Happens to Them After They're Built.

Brand is a biologist and prominent environmentalist, one of the forerunners in the movement who petitioned NASA to publicly release the first photographs of the Earth taken from outer space. He is probably the last person in the world qualified to write a book about architecture, but it was precisely for that reason he took such an unusual approach to the subject matter, which most practiced architects otherwise ignored. The result was a study of “buildings throughout time” and defined the concept of “shearing layers,” which has been applied (sometimes fruitlessly) to other fields like software engineering, seeking to free themselves from the shackles of the constantly ephemeral.

It was through this book that I first discovered Brand, and later found his other project called “the Long Now Foundation,” which was a five-oh-one-cee-three nonprofit with the stated intention of “promoting long-term thinking.” The idea is a natural extension of the themes and lines of thought first written in this book. It was from the corpus of data the Foundation built up over their operations that I even took for myself the habit of prepending all year counts with an additional zero, in attempt to solve for the “Year 10,000 problem.” (I just thought it was a neat idea!) However, in the 25 short years since the Foundation opened its doors, it gained an unfortunate habit of consorting with North America's licentious elite. Like most of the terrible fauna which crawls out from the depths of Silicon Valley, the practical purpose of the organization might have just been to permit the American bourgeois to launder influence and money. Despite this problem, or perhaps because of it, I've decided to steal their stated philosophies for myself. After all, issues regarding the long-term stability of the world and the societies who dwell therein, are not things one tiny org owns entirely to itself.

For those who cannot track the book down, a BBC Documentary based on it was produced back in the late nineties, which Brand himself has been quite open about freely distributing online.

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