christopher alexander


i have just begun to read christopher alexander's 4 book series "The Nature of Order," mostly because "A Pattern Language" was somewhat of an influence during school. haven't quite decided whether it will be worth my time yet or not.

i don't think i have ever heard alexander's name mentioned around here and was wondering if he has had an influence on anyone else.

is he a hopeless romantic or is there real applicable value to what he preaches? does he possibly offer insight into architecture's severed ties with the public?

Nov 30, 04 4:22 pm

Yes, he's probably a hopeless romantic but, yes, his ideas also have applicable value. His sociological insights are interesting - both from the point of view of understanding why people do what they do and also in his analysis of the patterns that arise from this activity. When used as a reference, one among many, the Alexander books are extremely valuable tools.

The problem I have with 'Pattern Language' and the subsequent books is in Alexander's proposal that adherence to the method he espouses will provide a solution. As with most Romantics, he believes in the human ability to control chaos and establish order through adherence to the Way. He doesn't allow for the vagaries of peoples' different experiences and points-of-view. If you link the theses of all of his texts together it's almost like he's creating a world view, a religion of sorts, which has the same problems of rigidity, dogma, and the requirement of faith that artificially sustains most organized religious sects. He posits a 'truth' - which I always find suspect in either the spiritual or the creative realm.

The system is beautiful and elegantly pseudo-scientific. I only wish that it allowed more room for questions, challenges, critique, and creativity.

Taken in small and intentional doses, 'Pattern Language' is one of my favorite schematic design/programming references.

Nov 30, 04 4:57 pm  · 
Ms Beary

well said Steven. I agree fully and I also like to peruse Pattern Language during schematics. Never thought of it as a 'religion' as steven said, but I know what you mean.

Nov 30, 04 7:26 pm  · 

I think Alexander is one of the more 'substantial' theorists out there who are downplayed during these anti-intellectual days. Compared to many other more notable usual suspects out there now, Alexander was both a trained mathematician as well as a registered architect with a PhD. Ironically, more computer programmers and scientists find his ideas useful and "applicable" than architects. I guess that is a form of reversed kudos to him.

I have only got to book 2 of the Nature of Order. If you do a search with Paul's help, you might find a thread on these volumes. I think I started it a year or two back! Yes, I do think there is a strange, cult like affair with CA's outlook (the cover design of his new books tell you that) and I think he is at a stage in his life when he does not need to prove anything to anyone (see how he cites references or render his own opinions and facts indivisible...).

Personally, I don't think hopeless romantic is the pigeonhole I will place him in. I think he is really desperate about the crisis in architecture- and he has a point. His message is not popular with the powers that be now running the architectural circles, but I think they are extremely potent in pointing out the faults if you are new and interested in built forms and environment.
I distinctly disagree with him on his epistemology of vernacular architecture and environment. In that sense, I think he has some Romantic disposition to lead him to think that the older days were glory days.

Personally, I am excited as well as disillusioned by his last proposal in Book 2, when he talked about the responsibilities of architects in the next thousand years. The problem with his proposal is that though it seems doable, it is only possible through a complete overhaul of this current system. I just don't see how that is possible...

Nevertheless, his present popularity has alot to do with his message as well as his personality. His message about design is not benign to the way we have been learning and teaching, as well as practising design. The problem is, I think, he has a point. If architecture continues in this self-destructive way like many of humanistic endeavors, then it will achieve precisely the opposite scenario that Alexander envisioned it to be.

Nov 30, 04 9:05 pm  · 

Having only read Pattern Language, and relied upon the translation of his other books by CA fanatical friends, I cannot speak with the same authority as Steven or BE, but I think they are both saying something similar about where Alexander loses touch with the realities of our world.

Pattern Language is essentially a list of 'patterns' about the way we should build, essentially organized by scale. Each pattern is interdependent on the other larger pattern before it (where applicable). Alexander puts a lot of emphasis on the idea that we must start with region and work our way down in scale, which comes off as extremely utopian. Assuming that one wanted to affect change, it would seem far more realistic and empowering to start small, and reach out to the community around you, rather than assume you can't create anything good until the scale of region and city is in order.

Needless to say, I agree that it's a great resource, and grounds you when you get to far off in modern theory and the ever pervasive technological advances of architecture. In the end, a bench is a bench, and a table is a table.

Dec 6, 04 2:56 am  · 

I can't help but feel that too often we judge without fully understanding one's point off view. No one has all the answers but in reading his books I get the sense that Alexander recognizes the unfulfilling nature of a big portion of the profession / building process and he cares enough to suggest a solution.

The more ideas the better!

Aug 14, 19 12:34 am  · 

Dude really... this is from ‘04


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