When designing a building it is easy and common to only think of the building will exist right after it is constructed. And yet, that building is going to exist for many years. This might be as few as 4-5 years for some commercial spaces and as long as hundreds of years or more for some buildings. Over the course of that time the intended usage, the occupants, technology, and expectations are sure to change. A building that fits tightly to the original design and that is not easily adjusted is going to be less successful over time, less cost effective, and more of burden on society and the environment. And yet, designing for something to change without knowing what the future needs will be is not an easy proposition.

In How Buildings Learn by Stewart Brand, he breaks the typical building down into seven different components; site, structure, skin, services, space plan, and stuff. The site is where the building is placed and represents the most permanent part of the building. The structure is also quite permanent. Skin is more easy to change, but will still require a lot of cost. The services include the functional part of the building like electrical, water, data and air handling. These components can be integrated in ways that are easily adjusted or more challenging to adjust. Space plan includes walls, ceilings, doors and windows; components which can be adjusted without too much fuss, depending on their construction. Stuff represents everything that is brought into the space, including furniture, accessories, décor, and all of the minutiae of daily life.

Planning with these different layers of building composition in mind can greatly assist one with creating spaces that look and function well not only right after the ribbon cutting, but also decades into the future.


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