Stewart Brand’s ” How Buildings Learn”

On Thursday evening, I attended an Adobe InDesign User Group in Washington DC. The event is held quarterly  at the United States Navy Memorial in downtown DC.  I had been out in Rockville earlier in the day and drove from there, parked and had a few minutes to walk around outside before the event.  Early spring evenings in downtown DC can be quiet almost calming experiences. I was reminded that Washington DC is a lovely city.  There was an outside farmers market off of 8th street and you could see the National Portrait Gallery in the distance.  I feel DC is at it’s best when people are out on the streets after work – just hanging out. People seemed to be having a good time.

During the networking portion of the InDesign event,  I had a talk with a designer and teacher about the process that we go through to constantly keep up to date and how mobile technology has changed the way we work and interact.  We both love our iPhones but she also kept a Blackberry as a personal backup because it could do other things that her iPhone could not. . We also talked about how we are constantly learning and how software itself is constantly changing.  We both had been spending time watching the training videos on AdobeTV and she pretty much convinced me that a subscription to Lynda.com is a good investment.

I shared with her my “PILOTING HOURS” idea for teaching technology.  I shared this concept with students during my years as an adjunct at George Mason University.  The overall idea is that the more experience you gain as you develop work, the faster it will be for you to learn in the future because of that prior experience. In other words what we are already doing which his spending lots of time inside the software and the code figuring out how it works.

Change and Time are reoccurring themes for me lately but it also leads me to a book that I would like to share this week. The book is  “How Buildings Learn, What Happens After They’re Built “ by Stewart Brand. This book was initially recommended to me by a website usability expert at SAIC. It’s a series of essays with photographs that discusses what happens to buildings over time.  The intent of the author in this book was to examine “buildings as a whole – not just in space, but whole in time. “


There is a great quote in the first chapter from Winston Churchill.

” We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us.”

Can we say the same about our technology?

I recommend “How Buildings Learn” if you design and build technology. I  have enough piloting hours in  designing  creative visually-oriented interactives to know that use over time and flexibility is a good thing to discuss early in the process with collaborators because use will alter your technology over time.  Build for Change.

” How Buildings Learn” will remain relevant over time.  In closing for this week here are some thoughts about buildings from the book.

” The word ” building” contains a double reality. It means both ” the action of the verb “Build” and “that which is buildt” – both verb and noun, both the action and the result. Whereas “architecture” may strive to be permanent, a “building” is always building and rebuilding. The idea is crystalline, the fact fluid. “

– Stewart Brand, How Buildings Learn.

Thanks for your attention and hope you have a good week!

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