The Secret Lives of Buildings

Hollis presents us with his interpretation of Thomas Cole’s painting The Architect’s Dream through thirteen stories of historic buildings/structures. Cole’s painting showcases numerous and disparate buildings of old co-mingling and showing no wear or age. As Hollis shows us though this is never the reality. The buildings we build today may be something completely different a century or even a decade down the road.

From the Parthenon and Hagia Sophia to the Berlin Wall and Vegas’s Venetian, the reader follows the evolution of these buildings. While they were built with a particular purpose in mind, none of them remained the same nor do they serve the same purpose. But all of them still maintain their history, most notably in the people they serve or have served. And that’s the main point, while these buildings evolve they evolve because we choose to do so. We alter our environment, both the natural and the manmade, to fit our needs. While some of Hollis’s stories stray too far into the “secret lives” of the people, he paints a great picture about the resiliency and malleability of our built space.

Author: Edward Hollis
Published: 2009
Available: Amazon

Preserving and Enhancing Communities: A Guide for Citizens, Planners, and Policymakers

The authors look at how municipalities can preserve and enhance their communities. Their method is based on community preservation: “empowering residents to become involved in local decision-making in municipalities, and seeks to preserve what is best about existing towns and cities while also encouraging changes and development that enhance sense of place as well as providing homes and jobs for new and existing residents.” One of the elements of community preservation is “keeping the best.” They paint a picture of the Northeast where the shift in manufacturing has created numerous large, vacant buildings. At first glance, these buildings “present a tremendous challenge to development officers” who are working to fix the community’s economic base. However, the reuse of these buildings presents social and economic development. These buildings offer: cheaper rent, opportunity to reinvigorate the surrounding properties, ability for the neighborhood to take part in the planning process, slowing the development of green space. While many of these properties may be contaminated (brownfields), their adaptive reuse means that the environmental ill will be remediated and removed from that community.

Benefits: economic benefits of job creation, wealth creation, and home ownership; ripple effect through growth in local retail businesses, commercial real estate development, and new services; better business environment due to upgrades to communication and transportation around reused sites; growth in mixed-use development; reduction in greenfield development.

Author: Elisabeth Hamin, Priscilla Geigis, and Linda Silka
Published: 2007
Available: Amazon

How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built

The concept behind this book is that buildings are meant to evolve and change; they are constantly changing. While they may be designed for a particular use, they eventually adapt due to “usages in and around them constantly changing.” This is a cyclical process though. Brand then breaks down two types of buildings: low road and high road. Low road buildings are those that have low visibility, low rent, no style, and high turnover. These elements make the buildings perfect for adaptive reuse as they allow for creative transitions. “Economic activity follows Low Road activity.” As low road buildings are reused, they create interest and activity in the area surrounding the site. “Low Road buildings are peculiarly empowering.” Brand finishes by describing the concept of the scenario-buffered building. He believes that architects and city planners can build a structure first by outlining a scenario plan in order to ensure the building is flexible and able to change over time. This concept can also be applied at the community level (rather than building level) where planners and citizens can develop a scenario plan that allows their community assets as a whole to be flexible with the ebbs and flows of growth and economy.

As Winston Churchill said “We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.”

Author: Stewart Brand
Published: 1994
Available: Amazon

Architecture Reborn: Converting Old Buildings for New Uses

Powell chronicles the history of adaptive reuse, the reasons for and the new uses. The main reason for reuse throughout history has been economics. Previously it was done “without regard for history or ‘character’.” This shifted in the late 20th century when adaptive reuse evolved more specifically into historic preservation. Powell shows that we now have shifted into a balance between historic and economic reasons for adaptive reuse. He feels that recent adaptive reuse projects have generated “some of the most innovative and intelligent work” in the architectural field. It is not just a sentimental or historic approach but a desire to create “new form out of old fabric.” Powell posits that “the rediscovery and reuse of old buildings and areas is more significant” for the twenty-first century urban life.

Author: Kenneth Powell
Published: 1999
Available: Amazon