How Buildings Learn

How Buildings Learn

What Happens After They’re Built

Written by:

Additional Formats
  • Paperback
  • ISBN 9780140139969
  • 252 Pages
  • Penguin Books
  • Adult


Buildings have often been studies whole in space, but never before have they been studied whole in time. How Buildings Learn is a masterful new synthesis that proposes that buildings adapt best when constantly refined and reshaped by their occupants, and that architects can mature from being artists of space to becoming artists of time.

From the connected farmhouses of New England to I.M. Pei’s Media Lab, from “satisficing” to “form follows funding,” from the evolution of bungalows to the invention of Santa Fe Style, from Low Road military surplus buildings to a High Road English classic like Chatsworth—this is a far-ranging survey of unexplored essential territory.

More than any other human artifacts, buildings improve with time—if they’re allowed to. How Buildings Learn shows how to work with time rather than against it.

How Buildings Learn

How Buildings Learn

Written by: Stewart Brand


“It’s about time somebody wrote this book. This quirky, thoughtful volume, bursting with curiosity and intelligence, may make our everyday world more visible to more Americans. Architecture is too important to be left to architects alone.”
Mixed Media

“A stunning exploration of the design of design … How Buildings Learn will irrevocably alter yor sense of place, space, and the artifacts that shape them.”
—Michael Shrage, Wired

“Penetratingly original.”
—Philip Morrison, Scientific American

“An extremely attractive volume that will forever alter the way we respond to the buildings around us. We may also hope it will alter the way architects design buildings.”
—Harold Gilliam, San Francisco Chronicle

“A fascinating and indefinable book … How Buildings Learn is a hymn to entropy, a witty, heterodox book dedicated to kicking the stuffing out of the proposition that architecture is permanent and that buildings cannot adapt.”
—Stephen Bayley, The Times (London)

“The book’s diagnosis is clear and to the poiny, and its illustrations of how buildings change are both fascinating and instructive. This is, in short, one of the rare books that every architect should read.”
—Thomas Fisher, editor, Progressive Architecture

“A book of good sound-bites and laser-sharp insight … No architecture students should complete their preliminary studies without reading it from cover to cover.”
—Patric Hannay, The Architects’ Journal

Table of Contents

Cover Story

1. Flow
2. Shearing Layers
3. “Nobody Cares What You Do In There”: The Low Road
4. Houseproud: The High Road
5. Magazine Architecture: No Road
6. Unreal Estate
7. Preservation: A Quiet, Populist, Conservative, Victorious Revolution
8. The Romance of Maintenance
9. Vernacular: How Buildings Learn from Each Other
10. Function Melts Form: Satisficing Home and Office
11. The Scenario-buffered Building
12. Built for Change

APPENDIX: The Study of Buildings in Time
Recommended Bibliography: Books for Time-kindly Buildings