I’ve never seriously thought about wholeness until about 2 or 3 years ago. It had no place, no real merit in studio; it was simply a non-topic. Just design they told us. Design, design, design. Like a typical student, I never questioned this. I just wanted to fit in, get some attention, and move on.
Somewhere during my first design studio, I began to question this stuff. Something felt wrong and disingenuous about my work. What I was "designing" just didn't feel very meaningful. I was battling my own instincts.
During this time, I was introduced to someone who made determined efforts in first articulating, in an academic setting, the notion of wholeness in architecture (Wholeness or 'oneness' is not entirely a new thought, many world religions adopt some form of this). It was from this individual that I first learned about wholeness – what is was, how we make it, and where it appears throughout history. I learned from him indirectly- though professors, writings, lectures, images, and visiting his buildings. Sometime this year, he and his colleagues will publish a new book entitled The Battle for the Life and Beauty of the Earth: A Struggle between Two World-Systems.
Image Credit: www.amazon.com
His name is Christopher Alexander. He is an architect, contractor, mathematician, writer, philosopher, painter, builder, professor. I do not want to rehash his biography or achievements here.
His influence has been lasting for me. This is partly because of the style of his writings – the personal and plainspoken character of his arguments. There is also a rebellious passion and moral urgency to his work. He destroys the old foundations and rebuilds from the ground floor.
Below is an image from his largest project to date. It is also the subject of the new book.
Judo Hall | Eishin Campus in Japan | 1985
Image Credit: http://www.katarxis3.com/Gallery/community/community.htm
There is a kindred quality about Alexander’s buildings that I have always embraced. I feel closer to a more authentic and real version of myself. I don’t feel compelled to muzzle my heart. I can really smile inside.
Because of his uncompromising positions, the architectural profession and the academy have sadly cast him aside. They have done this for a simple reason: Alexander lifts a mirror to their faces. This is especially the case when he talks about the failures contemporary architecture. His own architectural “style” (a word he doesn’t use) challenges today’s culture. Many doubt his work principally from one observation: the buildings look anachronistic. The professionals and academics will say something along these lines: What he’s saying is all well and good, but it’s not practical. It didn’t work then, it certainly won’t work today. Can’t he just get on board with the rest of us? Why should he expect us to change? We can’t build like this. We never could and never will. Modernism is here to stay, so let’s all have a drink.
Why do architects and academics think this? Because not only are they apart of the problem (they have company in governments, banks, corporations, and developers), but they also happen to benefit the most from way the built environment is being made. Architecture operates in concert with the fashion and entertainment industry - it is quickly becoming a nickelodeon novelty.
I never expected that Alexander would be so controversial the first time I read the volumes of the The Nature of Order. I had naively thought that the profession genuinely desired to build this way – a way that incorporates love, care, joy, craft, and, yes, Beauty into buildings. It seemed like a natural way of doing things.
Yet, it is clearly threatening to modern society. It can’t simply have to do with Alexander tying spirit up with matter or mentioning, wait for it, God close to the end of Volume 4. There is, I believe, a kind of unresolved anger towards what Alexander has contributed to the conversation about architecture. A resentment that goes very deep. It has something to do with the simplicity, the almost child-like way of being, and of building, which is at the core of most of his work.
I will explore the subject of the wholeness with Alexander's work in mind. I believe it is important, vital, and necessary work that all too often slips under the radar. I also believe that this is not accidental, it is entirely deliberate. Wholeness, despite its murkiness, is something that we really do feel in the world. In a way, it is like an extension of ourselves.
It is something that has more do to, in the end, with being alive than with building buildings.
This document is a collection of thoughts, ideas, sketches, and observations of a young architecture student living in the 21st century. It is intended to serve as a resource and vehicle for personal connections that extend beyond virtual domains. The main subject of this blog is an inquiry into the elusive nature of wholeness. The purpose is to identify wholeness-making building methodologies and examples of 'whole architecture' throughout history.