I wasn’t expecting to like How Buildings Learn nearly as much as I did. I learned about it from the XP book‘s bibliography, and certainly you wouldn’t have to look very far in the book to find inspiration for your programming. But I was surprised at how interested I was in the actual topic of the book. (Not too strange in restrospect – being a homeowner does change one’s views on such matters.)

Lots of groups of pictures of one house over the years: additions to the house, changes in the styling of the house, the occasional removal of a previous addition. We don’t have have any plans to add onto our house: we don’t have any plans even to remodel, though I can conceive of how we could, say, improve the kitchen. But looking around the house with addition eyes, I can imagine how we could this house could grow over time: enlarge the den by going out into the back yard, then add a similar addition to the guest room above it, then move out the kitchen next to it, and so forth. Though, to be sure, we couldn’t actually do that: we live in a townhouse complex, and there are rules against that sort of thing.

Even if there weren’t rules, we probably wouldn’t want to expand – there’s only so much space in our backyard, after all, and neighboring buildings are uncomfortably close. But a lot of standalone buildings these days are in developments with CCR’s of their own; I can’t see how that’s a good thing. I wouldn’t necessarily support giving up all housing-related rules, or even all non-safety-related rules, but enforcing a sterile uniformity for the putative reason of improving your neighbors’ property values seems pretty crazy to me. Much better to adapt your house to changing events, instead of being forced to change houses entirely.

There were also good thoughts on the idea that there shouldn’t be this sudden changeover when a building is finished: you only know how it will actually work when people are living in there, so the conversation with the architect/builder/whatever should continue at that point instead of end there. Some random tidbits from the book: drawings from a book on Malaysian house-building, showing various traditional expansion sequences for Malaysian dwellings. Discussion of some Japanese building firms that take responsibility for all of the design and construction, engaging with the resident throughout the whole process, continuing that engagement after the resident moves in. It’s hard to say what the future will bring, and I don’t particularly foresee ever having a house custom-built for us, but if we were to do so, that sounds like a good way to go.

And discussions of older architecture versus newer architecture. In lots of areas, I tend to reflexively support the new against the defenders of the old, but reading this book and Christopher Alexander have rather turned me the other way when it comes to architecture. A lot of screwed up ideas on that score in the last century. (Hmm, maybe my opinions shouldn’t surprise me so much: I’d already been convinced of that when it comes to urban planning.)

Among other things, modern houses apparently aren’t built to last so long. And one symptom of the lack of an ongoing conversation between builders and dwellers is the general lack of ongoing maintenance. Certainly I wish that I knew somebody whom I trusted whom I could talk to about the state of our house, what should be done about it in what order, and who could help arrange for stuff to get done. We’re managing to chip away at this somewhat (and actually the HOA / management company can be very helpful in this regard, for stuff that’s their responsibility to pay for / arrange), but not as quickly as I’d like, and there are definitely some areas where I could use some good, informed, unbiased advice. (E.g. about our floor.)

Of course, part of the issue there is scheduling – it’s the whole “important but not urgent” problem, made worse by the fact that I don’t in fact really know how important and/or urgent it is.

A problem I’ve been dealing with at work recently, too. I think we’re making some progress – my team in particular has been very helpful in informing me that, no, we shouldn’t put off fixing certain bugs, they’re causing problems now. XP and lean seem to have a good approach here: they have useful concrete criteria for telling whether or not something is important, and once they’ve decided it is important, they immediately elevate its urgency. (A defective part just went by – stop the whole assembly line until we can figure out what went wrong!) Not clear how to apply that to home maintenance, though, or even whether it’s a good idea to apply that to home maintenance. I guess there’s probably another way in which lean deals with important-but-not-urgent events – there must be periodic checkup sessions, which then lead to recommendations of fixes that are more urgent to implement. So the analogy here is to periodically give the house a check-up, and then to immediately fix the problems that you find. Assuming that I’m not just making up that last sentence about lean! Even if I am, the application to houses sounds like a good idea.

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