Buildings layers

Our basic argument is that there isn’t any such thing as a building. A building properly conceived is several layers of longevity of built components”.

An exploration of the design of design
How Buildings Learn by Stewart Brand is a book on the evolution of buildings and how buildings adapt to changing requirements over long periods. He asserts that the best buildings are made from low-cost, standard designs that people are familiar with, and easy to modify. In this way people can gradually change their buildings to meet their needs. Brand embraced upgrading, modularity, maintenance, and user manipulation as essential to creating more future proof buildings. We need tot stop creating buildings with only the first tenant in mind but look also to potential future use so buildings can (or need to) adapt in time.


One building, six layers
All buildings can be seen as a collection of layers: each layer has a different function, materials used, assemblies, building elements and a different lifespan. The economic lifespan, the period of time during which the benefits are higher than the costs, is determined by factors such as changing functional demands, maintenance, increasing technological requirements, aesthetic and historical value. NGH designs in such a way that outdated or broken components can be easily replaced by any number of impactful new technologies and materials.

Longevity per layer

  • Site: This is the urban location, whose boundaries and context outlast buildings. “Site is eternal.
  • Structure: The foundation and load-bearing elements are expensive to change. Thirty to one hundred years.
  • Skin: Exterior surfaces change to keep up with fashion or technology. Every twenty years,
  • Services: Such as communications wiring, electrical wiring, plumbing, HVAC, and elevators. Seven to fifteen years.
  • Space Plan: The Interior layout – walls, ceilings, floors, and doors: five or twenty years.
  • Stuff: Chairs, desks, phones, pictures; kitchen appliances, lamps; weekly to monthly.

We use the “one building, six layers” principle in combination with designed for disassembly and adaptability while creating our NGH industrial building system.

Source: How Buildings Learn – Stewart Brand