How Buildings Learn

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(p.21) A design professional of depth—his 1964 Notes on the Synthesis of Form is still in print—Alexander is inspired by how design occurs in the natural world. "Things that are good have a certain kind of structure," he told me. "You can't get that structure except dynamically. Period. In nature you've got continuous very-small-feedback-loop adaptation going on, which is why things get to be harmonious. That's why they have the qualities that we value. If it wasn't for the time dimension, it wouldn't happen. yet here we are playing the major role in creating the world, and we haven't figured this out. That is a very serious matter."

(p.23) Age plus adaptivity is what makes a building come to be loved. The building learns from its occupants, and they learn from it.

Chapter 4: The High Road

(p.35) By showing a deep tangible history, the building proposes an equally deep future and summons the taking of long-term responsibility from its occupants.

Moreno, Elena Marcheso. "The many uses of postoccupancy evaluation." ARCHITECTURE-THE AIA JOURNAL 78.4 (1989): 119-121. (pdf)

Duffy, Francis. "Measuring building performance." Facilities (1990).

Chapter 6: Unreal Estate

(p.73) The overall rule is always "Fit in." It is never "Become interesting."

(p.74) Form follows failure.

Chapter 7: Preservation: A Quiet, Populist, Victorious Revolution

JB Jackson, The necessity for ruins

(p.105) A building being reconfigured for a foreign new use is filled with novel opportunities and impossible-seeming problems. Both encourage creativity, and you can't brute-force design solutions on an implacably existing building: you have to finesse them. Invention becomes a habit as you proceed.

Chapter 8: The Romance of Maintenance

(p.117) Like people, buildings would have far fewer upkeep problems if they had no orifices.

(p.120) Redundancy of function is always more reliable than attempts at perfection, which time treats cruelly.

Chapter 9: Vernacular: How Buildings Learn from Each Other

Allan Wallis, Wheel Estate

Chapter 10: Function Melts Form: Satisficing Home and Office

Andrew Bush, Bonnettstown

David Owen, The Walls Around Us

(p.172) Change is often followed by reversal of the change, because the prior pattern lingers as the most conspicuous alternative, because people are understandably conservative about their physical space, and because most change is really undertaken as a trial, no matter what people say at the time. And most trials are errors.

Chapter 11: The Scenario-buffered Building

(p.178) All buildings are predictions. All predictions are wrong.

Lookup: Architectural programming

Ellen Shoshkes, The Design Process

(p.181) The great virtue of programming is that it deeply involves the users of a building and makes it really their building. The great vice of programming is that it over-responds to the immediate needs of the immediate users, leaving future users out of the picture, making the building all too optimal to the present and maladaptive for the future.

(p.181) The iron rule of planning is: whatever a client or architect says will happen with a building, won't. [...] It never works. The future is no more controllable than it is predictable. The only reliable attitude to take toward the future is that it is profoundly, structurally, unavoidably perverse. The rest of the iron rule is: whatever you are ready for, doesn't happen; whatever you are unready for, does.

Recommended Bibliography


  • Michael Litchfield, Renovation (1991)
  • Gene Logsdon, The Low-Maintenance House (1987)
  • Lawrence Dworin, Profits in Buying & Renovating Homes (1990)
  • David Owen, The Walls Around Us (1991)
  • Robert Sardinsky, The Efficient House Sourcebook (1992)
  • Azby Brown, Small Spaces (1993)
  • Martha Stewart, Martha Stewart's New Old House (1992)
  • Fine Homebuilding
  • Tedd Benson, The Timber-Frame House (1988)
  • Hermione Sandwith and Sheila Stanton, The National Trust Manual of Housekeeping (1991)
  • Witold Rybczynski, Home (1986)
  • Andrew Bush, Bonnettstown (1989)
  • Lester Walker, American Shelter (1981)
  • Virginia and Lee McAlester, A Field Guide to American Houses (1984)


  • Christopher Alexander, A Pattern Language (1977)
  • Christopher Alexander, The Timeless Way of Building (1979)
  • Christopher Alexander, The Oregon Experiment (1975)
  • Christopher Alexander, A New Theory of Urban Design (1987)
  • Peter Schwartz, The Art of the Long View (1991)
  • William Peña, Problem Seeking (1987)
  • Wolfgang Preiser, et al, Post-Occupancy Evaluation (1988)
  • Vail Williams, The Occupiers View (1990)
  • Francis Duffy, The Changing Workplace (1992)
  • Franklin Becker, The Total Workplace (1990)
  • Ellen Shoshkes, The Design Process (1989)
  • M.F. Hearn, editor, The Architectural Theory of Viollet-le-Duc (1990)
  • Andrew Saint, The Image of the Architect (1983)


  • Historic Preservation
  • Diane Maddex, All About Old Buildings (1985)
  • Illustrated Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings (1992)
  • Pamela Cunnington, Care for Old Houses (1991)
  • James Marston Fitch, Historic Preservation (1990)
  • Mark Fram, Well-Preserved (1988)
  • New Orleans Architecture (1971-1989)


  • Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1993)
  • Joel Garreau, Edge City (1988)
  • Bernard Frieden and Lynne Sagalyn, Downtown, Inc. (1989)
  • Peter Calthorpe, The Next American Metropolis (1993)
  • William Whyte, City (1988)
  • Anne Vernez Moudon, Built for Change (1986)
  • Kevin Lynch, What Time Is This Place? (1972)
  • Xavier Hernandez, et al, Barmi (1990)


  • Allan Wallis, Wheel Estate (1991)
  • Lim Jee Yuan, The Malay House (1987)
  • Thomas Hubka, Big House, Little House, Back House, Barn (1984)
  • Edward Morse, Japanese Homes and Their Surroundings (1886)
  • Henry Chandlee Forman, Early Nantucket and Its Whale Houses (1966)
  • J.B. Jackson, Discovering the Vernacular Landscape (1984)


  • Jack McLaughlin, Jefferson and Monticello (1988)
  • William Seale, The President's House (1986)
  • The Duchess of Devonshire, The House (1982)
  • Christopher Simon Sykes, Ancient English Houses (1988)
  • Gerald Cobb, English Cathedrals: The Forgotten Centuries (1980)
  • John James, The Master Masons of Chartres (1982)
  • Walter Horn and Ernest Born, The Plan of St. Gall (1979)


  • Robert Campbell and Peter Vanderwarker, Cityscapes of Boston (1992)
  • Peter Venderwarker, Boston Then and Now (1982)
  • Charles Suddarth Kelly, Washington, DC, Then and Now (1984)
  • John McCalley, Nantucket Yesterday and Today (1981)
  • Kenneth Finkel and Susan Oyama, Philadelphia Then and Now (1976)
  • Edward Watson and Edmund Gillon, New York Then and Now (1976)
  • Piranesi and Herschel Levit, Views of Rome Then and Now (1976)
  • Sheila Morand, Santa Fe Then and Now (1984)
  • Marilyn Blaisdell, San Francisciana: Photographs of the Cliff House (1985)
  • Peter Goin, Stopping Time (1992)
  • Mark Klett and Ellen Manchester, et al, Second View (1984)