The first thing web people learn is how to build a page. Sure, that makes sense. I mean, the first thing a carpenter learns to build is a wall or a roof.

But when you’ve done that enough times, at some point you’ll ask, “Why was that page built like that?” Why is there a banner at the top and why are links on the left or right? Why do all sites have the same 5 fonts? Why is everything so “boxy”?

This is when you realize that what you build is part of a bigger system and you wonder why no one writes books about web systems.

It’s because someone wrote a book about buildings. Really.

“How Buildings Learn” by Stewart Brand is an exploration as to what happens to buildings after the architect has left. Why do some buildings thrive over 500 years and some get replaced in ten years? And if you replace the word “buildings” with “web sites” you realize that it is the only book about systems you need to read (and it also explains why every web professional uses the “house metaphor” over and over).

Better yet, the BBC turned the book into a TV mini-series.

Chapter one

Chapter two

Chapter three

Chapter four

Chapter five

Chapter six

One of the things I took away from this book was the idea that a building has many layers (Site, Structure, Skin, Services, Space, Stuff) and that each one has a life-span different from the others. Some are easy to change, while some are almost impossible without starting over. Moving stuff around is easy, moving a wall is harder, while moving a site is next to impossible. That’s what I apply to every day. How the different layers act and how they are designed set the stage for how “livable” the site is.

I encourage everyone to watch this, web professional or no.