Acts of Volition

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Matt Chaput -

I've always thought of Wikis as the Web equivalent of Brand's "low-road" architecture. They're not pretty, but they're 100% utilitarian. Everything you do to them is an improvement, and you (well, anyone) can refactor them as easily as cutting and pasting.

(Well, plus the kind of just-the-facts-maam style sites that use nothing but hn, p, and a.)

For those who haven't read the book, the other categories Brand uses are "High road" (think New York Public Library or Taj Mahal), "No road" (e.g. the suburban boxes built to house Best Buys, but not to last more than 20 years), and the "magazine architecture" you talked about (e.g. everything by Calatrava and Gehry).

I think the Web equivalent of "magazine architecture" is clear (a Web site designed designed to be seen and not used, probably in Flash). But what is there such a thing as "high road" Web architecture? Is it meaningful in this medium to talk about a building that's both a machine serving its occupants (as library, home, etc.) and a monument and/or work of art?

Matt Chaput -

I forgot to say... I think the Web equivalent of "no-road" architecture is sites like the big studios create for their movies. Most of the time, they have no point and no content... nothing worthwhile beyond the release date and maybe a wallpaper. And after the movie comes out they'll never be worked on again. Like the suburban buildings Brand talks about, they're utterly generic and without craft.

Dan Hill -

I've developed similar ideas, based around Brand's work and IBM's Tom Moran - his idea of adaptive design uses Brand as one of its inspirations - check my presentation here - http://www.cityofsound.com/blog/2002/12/adaptive_design.html - and my notes on Moran and Brand here - http://www.cityofsound.com/blog/2002/08/tom_moran_on_ev.html - I'd be interested in anyone's thoughts here. And we're talking about this kind of stuff more at the DIS2004 conference, under a panel headed 'Design for Hackability' ... hth, D.

Steven Garrity -

Matt - I like your point about wikis as low-road design on the web. I do think there is high road design on the web - elegant sites with carefully architected back and front ends perhaps?

Great presentation Dan - thanks for the link.

Bruno Figueiredo -

Great article, Steve! I particularly enjoyed it since I'm an Architect by education and a Web Designer by trade. You linked both worlds remarkably.

thunderbyrd -

An outstanding article on what looks to be an outstanding book.

I like the way that you draw parallels between building design and web design. Your analogies hit home in these areas.

When I put my blog up, I didn't spend more time that I had to on the design because I wanted to be able to start generating content. I had already read too many articles and seen too many comments about sites that were nice to look at, but have no substance. I may work on the design a bit in the future, but I will not do so at the expense of decent postings.

Again, a good article. I enjoyed reading it.

John Beeler -

Steve, have you read Christopher Alexander's Nature of Order?

Steven Garrity -

John, I'm in the middle of A Pattern Language right now, but I haven't read Nature of Order. I'll add it to my list to read - thanks.

Randy Fischer -

I think the idea of a "high road" best
maps to the framework you are using:
j2ee containers and the xml/xslt-only
based frameworks sprint to mind.

Low road: well, PHP or perhaps an embedded
perl templating system.

The most useful thing in Brand's book to
me is the idea of shearing layers: so
I look at something like MVC based
frameworks in terms of shearing: will a
templating system (for the view) be
powerful enough to let me easily modify
presentation? Down at the lowest shearing
layer (the foundation) I count things like
the persistence layer (you'll never be able
to rearchitect the entity-relation model
in an rdbms).

John Bransford -

You're piece got me thinking about the lack of permanence for anything web based. Why does that have to be the case? Among the reasons is the need for constant maintenance.

How could a web based application be engineered to be forgotten and still survive the ensuing years? What would it be doing and where would it be? Its expanded upon here. Baby book | Active Time Capsule http://www.netlazy.com/mt/offnetwork/archives/2004/06/baby_book_and_a.html#more

John -

I'm halfway through How Buildings Learn (thanks to your post and the amazing Indianapolis library system) and I'm seeing a lot of similarities between Alexander and Brand. Both have an innate dislike of modernist architecture, for valid but very different reasons. Both like "old" buildings, Brand for their functionality and Alexander for what I would call "center-ness." If you enjoyed Brand, I believe you'll enjoy Alexander. It's basically the same ideas, but perhaps more ethereal and philosophical. You may want to get it from your local book-p2p (that is, the library) because I couldn't find it cheaper than $70.

Scott Garry Foster -

Put a tk insead of .proboards7.com !!!!

Tom -

This article is excellent! I love the parallels drawn here between Brands' architecture and web development, and the conclusions of non-permanence.

I think back on the late '80s, where Gates provided the windows code for free to software developers, which essentially blew Apple off the face of the planet.

Why? Because, the code changed, the software proceeded to change, and yet Apple, forever in love with its Macintosh, took the road of "permanence", which resulted ultimately in Job' demise (arguably, at least for the late '80s.)

I think in terms of now, and movement towards "open source" for software development, and I draw the same conclusions to that, as Brand does to architecture.

Open Source software is a perfect example of how the internet can be comprised of products that are completely non-permanent and embracing change, absolutely "low road" and aquired through "local materials", and wholly owned by everyone.

Furthermore, a truly democratic system of software development, Open Source technology gains popularity, over its competitors, only because it is superior in quality. In other words, if 3 developers take an example of Open Source code, and each of them develops their own products with their own sets of solutions and creative ingenuity, in the end, only one of them will be downloaded the most...

So, Open Source follows in the spirit of the internets growing vibrant culture and history. It promises a framework, or architecture, by which its structures can continue to develop and change, as needs change, and as new ideas and solutions can be added on to it.

In any event, grabbing a copy of "How Buildings Learn" is absolutely on my things to do list today. I'll be curious to see if the book further supports my theory on embracing change, success in non-permanence on the web, and Open Source code.