Several years ago, when I was writing for Green Building Elements, I posted a piece on the concept of “open building” which was a concept being espoused, at the time, by Bensonwood Homes. And the idea derives from earlier writing by Stewart Brand. In short, it is a principle that is based on recognition that different parts of a building have different lifespans, and attempts to accommodate that in the design. To quote myself from that earlier article:

The principle is to maintain a separation between the different aspects of the building in order to be able to make repairs and do upgrades with a minimum of interference with other elements of the building. Open building stipulates separate zones or chases for different functions and services. This will, for example, make it easier to change plumbing systems without needing to repair other systems that cross or interfere with access to the necessary parts of the plumbing system.

Last week, I found my name being cited on the Greenbuilding-list, from David Bergman, who has written a book (Sustainable Design: A Critical Guide for Architects and Interior, Lighting, and Environmental Designers). I had some correspondence with him when he was working on the book, but I didn’t think I had really contributed all that much; mostly I thought I had pointed him at Benson and Brand, but he was talking about it “based on a combination of Benson, Stewart Brand and Philip Proefrock’s writing on the idea.”  So apparently, I’m a source to be cited on this.

Even more, when I tried to look up the original article, so that I could link to it, the top two hits in my search were a couple of articles posted on Treehugger by Lloyd Alter that cite me on the concept, as well. I had no idea!

Bergman’s graphic is a nice combination of the nesting of elements along with the respective timelines for each of the six levels:

I still think the reasoning behind the approach is sound, but it needs to be balanced in application. Building lots of additional chases and access points for the different building components is more likely to result in adding on extraneous stuff, rather than reducing the amount of material in a building. Exposed ducts and services certainly allow for easy access and flexibility, but that aesthetic isn’t always appropriate.

With Bergman’s book due out in a couple months, I should maybe think about this concept some more, and have some additional writings about this as an approach to building. I’ll also get that original article reposted here in the near future.