What neighbors? Non-living neighbors like the sun, the rain, the snow, the wood, the stones, the sand, or other constructions already built around.

If you live in a colder climate, you’re surrounded by high-slope roofs, so that rain and snow can rapidly fall off the houses. You also saw that people choose materials at hand to build, such as wood and stone.

snowyIn hot places, where it rarely rains, houses have flat roofs. You can even sleep on the roof during the night. Houses are made of mudbricks. Their windows are small to protect the interior from overheat.

That’s not true anymore, you’ll say, because people can build now in any shape and with any material. Yes, you can find huge glass cubes on the hot Arabian Peninsula, cubes in which people breathe the cool air generated by the air conditioning devices. The reverse is also true: you can find flat roof houses in the middle of the Alpine forests, where it heavily snows, and be sure that no snowflake drips inside the tightly insulated building.

It’s good to have at hand these tools, materials and technology that empower you to build anything anywhere. You can design your building freely. But good architects consider the environment’s constraints inspiring. If you start to build in your room, in your yard, or on the beach, first thing first you clean your site, aren’t you? You want to start on a flat, bare surface. Well, the Japanese architect Tadao Ando didn’t. He found a tree. A mature, beautiful tree, though not a special or protected one. Guess what? He surrounded the tree with curved transparent walls. From the living room you can step out into a small inner yard organized around this tree. This can be a good idea if you live on a very busy street in a very busy city like Tokyo.

Ideally, we all strive to have a perfect start: a new drawing requires a spotless white paper; a new game an empty flat area; a new building a bare site. Yet, this doesn’t happen often, because we live together with other people who organize their place in their way, with their objects. If you have brothers or sisters you know better how this works (or doesn’t work). Your space is delimited by your siblings. You need to take into account both your way and their way of occupying the room corner. Finding a space to play or to build not by flattening but by negotiating changes in an already-built-space is adaptability.

The same holds true in the city. Dictators smash old buildings to make room for new ones. Their opponents cherish the ancestors’ work and build in the extra space. (There is always unused space in the city).

When you go out, take a piece of paper and some good glasses (just kidding about glasses). Look closely at the street. Are there old or new buildings? Count them. Draw the street (2 parallel vertical lines in the middle of the paper); draw a square for each house on the right side; check it if it’s old; do the same for the left side; how does your street look like: older or newer?; is there any place (even on the top of other building) where you could insert a construction without demolishing or disturbing the others? Draw it!