1. Cycle of life for buildings.
Run-down and abandoned low road buildings (i.e., vacant downtown office buildings, DIY terraces, left behind military barracks, vacant shopping malls) provide cheap alternative spaces for artists of all kinds to create their own workspaces, large exhibition halls, and highly personalized socializing environments. Examples can be found all around the world, including Detroit’s Heidelberg project, gentrification in East London’s Shoreditch neighbourhood, or Budapest youth’s preferred alternative nightlife spots (such as the Kuplung art bar). These buildings behave like adaptive biological host organisms that invite often low maintenance artists as their first inhabitants. The artistic ‘byproducts’ of these tenants will, in return, attract trendy shops, restaurants and eventually, rich estate developers who convert the run-down buildings into high social class homes and offices. New owners move in, artists move out.
2. Change is good, change is survival.
There are over 17,000 Victorian and Edwardian houses in San Francisco, the Painted Ladies being the most typical example. Even though their painted colours and ornaments reflect a distinct architectural style, they all changed with time and specific functions. The buildings evolved, and the changes took very distinct physical adaptations. Some became warm, cosy homes for individuals and families living in them, while others serve as community centers or retrofitted shops. The physical evolution of buildings is never finished – says Christopher Alexander, an architect interviewed in the book – they need to be flexible in order to survive and stand for hundreds of years. At the book club, we quickly came to an agreement that instructional or webdesign, although created for much shorter period of time, goes through the same iterative design process, ideally even after its deployment, whereby everything about the website gets constantly changed down to its very foundation.
3. Maintenance is the real ghost in haunted houses.
As we learn from Brand, the biggest enemy for buildings is water. He gives endless examples of damage caused by broken pipes, unventilated rooms, dripping ceilings, frozen windows. It becomes particularly dangerous when the structural changes effect the health of the inhabitants. Think of the allergic reaction triggered by mold due to water damage, or other risk factors, such as asbestos covering the pipes in your basement linked to cancer. Maintenance of buildings is costly and often overlooked aspect of initial building design. A study by Dr. Ambrose at the University of Sussex, quoted in the book, found that just 5% more money spent at the time of construction on implementing higher standards long-term safety measures could go far in preventing building related medical conditions, such as asthma and significantly reduce associated health treatment and educational costs. I wonder if such rule of thumb could be implemented to instructional/webdesign to advocate for better accessibility, human factors, ergonomics and related usability considerations.
Even if you don’t have time to read this book, I’d recommend the video version made by the BBC on the chapter related to Maintenance: