"Tivo-ifies the web" Paul Kedrosky

How Buildings Learn – Uploaded by Stewart Brand Himself

Amazingly, this does indeed look like Stewart Brand has uploaded the entire series based on his seminal book ‘How Buildings Learn’. The uploads have the pre-roll countdown screen.

Having been both an Architect of buildings and of software I agree with Brand’s point that “architects are not as alert as computer people” in being interested in his book. However, technology companies are much less alert about design than architecture firms are. Most software is engineered rather than designed, and the term designer often is reserved for people responsible for more superficial (in the literal rather than pejorative sense) UI tasks such as web designers.

Almost no computer software is actually designed by ‘architects’ who sit in between the people who commission software and the people who build it. An architect takes requirements and re-interprets, adds, combines, eliminates and prioritizes them into a ‘holistic’ design rather than a collection of requirements. In software, feature decisions are usually made by marketing departments (product marketing people who create requirements documents, PRDs) who pass them to the engineering department. In architecture this would be like someone who wanted to a building going straight to the contractor. This happens with tract housing, and the result is crappy, like the vast majority of current software.

The lack of architectural design in software is largely due to it being both novel, historically, and about novelty. New things are sold based upon features, from menu functions to gigaherz & gigabytes, rather than overall design. Once features become standardized, such as hifis then holistic design becomes important. Cheap hifis, for example, often have lots of features and flashing lights, better ones often have merely an on/off switch and a volume control, but they sound great. Software is still sold based upon bells and whistles rather than ergonomics.

How buildings learn was a great idea for a book, but it had its faults. The premise was that feedback from the use and behavior of a building throughout its lifespan, would allow for evolutionary (in the Lamarckian sense, i.e. during its lifespan) design improvement. Some modern architects were criticized (notably Richard Rogers, where the criticism had to be removed from the UK edition, to avoid being sued) because of design flaws which were largely the inevitable result of innovation.

Although Brand pointed to examples of innovative buildings whose designs were refined over time, such as Jefferson’s Monticello, the innovation here largely comprised neat gadgets such as dumb-waiters and fold-away beds, contained within a very traditional, neo-classical, building envelope style that had been perfected over centuries (actually, by definition, two millennia). Secondly, buildings like Piano and Rogers’ Beaubourg center, are flamboyant cultural monuments rather than purely rational designs. Brand’s criticism of some of the elements of modern architecture as something that could be perfected in an evolutionary manner, is like saying you could make a cathedral warmer and more energy efficient by making the ceiling ten foot high.

The premise of How Buildings Learn could be applied to the book itself, it could be improved by being re-worked, based upon feedback. Equally, a book could be written about taking architectural approaches to software design called: ‘How Software Learns’.

Anyway, the documentary is great stuff. Brand writes:

“This six-part, three-hour, BBC TV series aired in 1997. I presented and co-wrote the series; it was directed by James Muncie, with music by Brian Eno. The series was based on my 1994 book, HOW BUILDINGS LEARN: What Happens After They’re Built. The book is still selling well and is used as a text in some college courses. Most of the 27 reviews on Amazon treat it as a book about system and software design, which tells me that architects are not as alert as computer people. But I knew that; that’s part of why I wrote the book. Anybody is welcome to use anything from this series in any way they like. Please don’t bug me with requests for permission. Hack away. Do credit the BBC, who put considerable time and talent into the project. Historic note: this was one of the first television productions made entirely in digital— shot digital, edited digital. The project wound up with not enough money, so digital was the workaround. The camera was so small that we seldom had to ask permission to shoot; everybody thought we were tourists. No film or sound crew. Everything technical on site was done by editors, writers, directors. That’s why the sound is a little sketchy, but there’s also some direct perception in the filming that is unusual.”

In six 30 min parts.
Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7


8 comments on “How Buildings Learn – Uploaded by Stewart Brand Himself

  1. Amazing the amount of times Stewart Brand has cropped up in my life of late. From San Fran to Beijing! Sadly I can’t watch Google video in China but I’m looking forward to catching up on these the moment I’m over the great firewall.

  2. Wow, was that ever disappointing. A little too patient, and only a brief mention of theory.

  3. tim says:

    That was the most one sided documentary Ive seen in a long time. I’m a big fan of Stewart Brand’s doings usually, but a little bit less so now. I could just as easily make counterarguments to his arguments if I am also allowed to make generalizations this wide.

  4. yhwebcn says:

    Watch is an accessory, only one person should not be:
    50 Fathoms Watches

    Breguet Classique Tourbillon Watches
    the pursuit of quality of life of people now have become a mainstream,
    Bell & Ross Watches Accessories
    BR 01 – Instrument 46mm Watches
    from the exterior to the movement of people everywhere to work are moving fine.so more and more customers will buy a few watches to match different to clothing differently occasions,
    BR 02 – Instrument 44mm Watches
    such as have to watch while swimming at a business dinner to watch and definitely not one to wear light-colored shirt and suit T shirt to watch the same can not, therefore, essentially, the watch is a work of art,
    BR 03 – Instrument 42mm Watches
    Breitling Accessories Watches

  5. yhwebcn says:

    please come here, we are lowest price replica Watches supplier,
    Royal Oak Offshore Watches
    Replica Riviera Watches
    offer high-class fake Watches in about 100 famous brands。Watch the quality is good and my hands the final say, the buyer's evaluation of the quality of the watch is the most objective evaluation.Replica Breguet Type XX Watches
    Allows you to truly experience the fun of online shopping, and that one of the baby's expectations.Audemars Piguet Jules Audemars Watches
    Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Watches
    Welcome customers to patronize, to buy more discount more than the price the same product we; the same price we are more than quality;the same quality service site that we were honest promise:Quality assurance; customer first; credit management,Avenger Skyland

  6. yhwebcn says:

    So that every customer can buy the rest assured that with the peace of mind! Your satisfaction is my greatest joy! Either give it away or bring their own are a good choice!Replica Swiss Chronomat Watch
    Breitling Evolution Watches
    In order to meet their own pursuit of the watch, although the top watch can not afford this life,Replica Swiss Montbrillant Watch
    Replica Swiss Navitimer Watch
    Replica Swiss Superocean Watch
    and a few pieces, but can buy high quality imitation table … reason to believe that a different way of life for those who desire for the urban population power with lore.

Comments are closed.