Stewart Brand’s How Buildings Learn is one of my favourite books, maybe one of the half dozen non-fiction works I would take to a desert island. It’s a book about buildings, and specifically how buildings are modified and adapted over time, but the theoretical ideas on which it’s grounded can be applied to any type of system.

The argument is illustrated by sequences of photographs, and these are the greatest asset of the book. Brand has trawled the archives for sequences of photographs of the same building or street scene taken at different times. The cover features two Greek Revival townhouses on St. Charles Street in New Orleans; identical in a auctioneers drawing made in 1857, quite different in a 1993 photograph after various modifications to add storeys, extensions, balconies, windows and entrances.