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A First Sentence to Rival Gabriel García Márquez’s Firing Squad


“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” Thus opens Gabriel García Márquez’s classic work of literature, One Hundred Years of Solitude. It’s the most memorable first sentence of any book I’ve ever read.

Thanks to my friend Don Gatley, I finally started reading one of the classic books about buildings: How Buildings Learn by Stewart Brand. As you know if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, I’m a late bloomer and came to love and work on buildings only in the early part of this millennium, so I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

Brand’s book is fantastic. Martin Holladay wrote a little about it recently in his Green Building Advisor article, Low-Road Buildings Are Homeowner-Friendly. Once I finish the book, I’ll write more about it, too, because it’s one of those works that gives you a whole new perspective on how we think about something that’s such an important, yet often overlooked, part of our lives.

In addition to the content, Brand’s writing is noteworthy. His words are well chosen, his sentences sharp. One paragraph sweeps you along to the next. The result is a presentation of his profound yet radically simple ideas in a beautiful package.

And he opens the book with a first sentence that rivals some of the best first sentences in literature. As Márquez did with the sentence above, Brand paints an unforgettable picture in your mind that forces you to keep going.

So what is this first sentence that so impressed me?

“Year after year, the cultural elite of San Francisco is treated to the sight of its pre-eminent ladies, resplendently gowned, lined up in public waiting to pee.”

Who knew a book about buildings could be so good?


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Photo credit: Firing squad photo is in the public domain and downloaded from Wikimedia Commons.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. A great book for sure. I
    A great book for sure. I bought the book when it first came out and it helped me understand why buildings matter. And why some don’t. 
    My copy disappeared into the “lent, lent and lent again” hole years ago. Thanks to both you and Martin for reminding me that I need a copy on my shelf. Enjoy!

  2. Great book! Brand is an
    Great book! Brand is an interesting guy who has been very influential in the environmental and energy community. Perhaps most admirable has been his huge shift in position on a number of topics for which he set the initial precedent. His mission to undo some of that damage is a testament to his character. It takes a strong heart to admit you were wrong so publicly. 
    Also, if you have never read ‘A pattern language’ I highly recommend it. Possibly the most fascinating and still relevant book on buildings ever written.

  3. Wow-just pulled my copy off
    Wow-just pulled my copy off the shelf. Never noticed that first sentence!! Also thanks for the reminder of “A Pattern Language” also on the shelf but not opened in years.

  4. Thanks for the tip! I’ll look
    Thanks for the tip! I’ll look it up. 
    Regarding favorite opening sentences, I’ve always admired “It was a dark and stormy night.” 🙂 
    Best wishes

  5. Thanks for the recommendation
    Thanks for the recommendation. “Cradle to Cradle” changed my perspective on materials. I highly recommend it to those who haven’t read it.

  6. Allison – How are you making
    Allison – How are you making out on “How Buildings Learn”? I am about half way thru the book. As a long time builder and remodeler, I can very much relate to the premise of the book…. 

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