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What do we get out of looking at buildings? Walking around a London neighbourhood with a visitor, preferably from another country, gives a pleasant sense of the abundant accrual of history. But it is a disorderly accrual, and it does not speak for itself: to work out the scheme or logic in its elements, you have to leave the street and delve into the archives. Looking at buildings is a stimulating, but also rather inefficient way to understand the history of the place where you live.