“How Buildings Learn” A documentary on the evolution of buildings

Right–well, you may have noticed as of late I’ve been on an architecture kick for my consumable media consumption activities. I stumbled upon this 1997 BBC series that tracks how certain buildings adapt to future uses, and how others totally fail at future flexibility–most often the victims of egocentric architects and rigid expectations of future behavior of their users.

Above is the first episode, “Flow” which gives an introduction to presenter Stewart Brand’s thesis, which is loosely that buildings need to learn and adapt. The rest in the series are embedded after the jump.

Stewart Brand is quite the character, as it turns out. From his official biography, we see he’s been part of things like the Whole Earth Catalog (one of the first hippie lifestyle companies), which aimed to be a content portal instead of a retailer (Directing potential consumers to stores, and not taking a cut for the service). He also hung out with Ken Kesey and publicly made known his admiration for experimentation with hallucinogens. Kind of neat that he settled upon architecture as a point of reference. He also snagged Brian Eno to provide the soundtrack. Pretty cool.

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.