In response to someone on Twitter, commenting on the improvements to the much maligned yuppie dorm The Piazza, I posted a link to Stewart Brand’s book How Buildings Learn. Obviously, I knew the title but had never read the book. I’m unsuccessfully trawling used book stores for it, but discovered he made it into a six-part BBC documentary.
As it turns out, it’s fascinating. It was released in 1997, so it has a great “vintage” quality. It’s optimistic in a way that feels almost prehistoric while at the same time basically consigning true dense cities to the dustbin of history. It’s refreshingly anti-architect without being anti-beauty, pro-people without being pro-stasis. It idolizes conserving buildings without opposing change.
He lived in Sausalito, CA before the Bay Area truly lost its mind, so he meets people lovingly restoring San Francisco’s Painted Ladies who seem almost (but not entirely) like non-billionaires and house boat owners across the Golden Gate Bridge who talk like hippies in a trailer park.
The lack of gentrification talk is the most noticable of all: hosting isn’t a zero sum game to Brand. Houses should be homes not investments. Good “bones” aren’t something to protect for THEIR sake, but build upon for OUR sake. Everyone looks a little poorer, but lives richly.