Buildings we grow

How Buildings Learn, a BBC series hosted by Stewart Brand, highlights one of the biggest hidden questions regarding our house: Why do we have to adjust ourselves according to the place we live in?

Citing numerous examples, Stewart Brand (the guy who was in charge of the Whole Earth Catalog that the late Steve Jobs quoted in his iconic speech) reminds us that we as an ever-growing being should not be confined into a cold, fixed place. An ideal house must grow according to the people who live in, not the other way around.

The current practice of designing, constructing, and living in a collection of boxed cells does not fit our nature. We aren’t “square,” to begin with. It is because that is the only available (purchasable) option in the market.

But inside our heart, even if do not know otherwise, we crave for our own space. The tragedy starts when we confuse “owning” with “buying” and settle down inside fixed walls wondering if we did the right thing, in our brand new apartment complex. The following is a comment I made on my Facebook page a while ago.

A high-rise apartment starts with a gorgeous showroom, such as the one shown below. Customers line up for sign-up believing they got the ticket to a whole new world. When the apartment is complete and they are given one of the “boxes”, they realize what they truly wanted: liberation accompanied by a large space. But then they are saddled with a 30-year loan, which they shelled out to buy their own solitary cells. They don’t even know that they never needed the apartment in the first place. All they had to do was to walk into the open field the awesome-apartment is proudly facing, with their own feet.


I do not necessary say that we need larger rooms or balcony or community area or whatever. I rather say that to be forced to live inside a fixed area that does not suit us and therefore shouldn’t be our norm.

The traditional solution to this dilemma was to move around. Although it has a refreshing effect to “reset” our life all at once, not all the time we want to undo everything we have been building. Most of the time, we just want to adjust in small increments.

Therefore, the problem isn’t how big or small or closed or open a house can be. The real issue is inside what is often considered a virtue in our own house: rigidity. I believe we deserve to live in an environment where modification is not confined to changing the wallpaper or rearranging the furniture.

A building with built-in (pun intended…) transformability, that is what I personally envision for our future. Is it impossible to build in a densely populated area, such as an Asian city? There is a guy who just did that. (I don’t think this house is as comfortable as it is transformable, but I dig his idea.)

Most of us are already boxed-in during daytime in our workplace; why should we tolerate continuing it in our private life?