“A warrior doesn’t ever leave the island of the tonal. He uses it.”
Carlos Castaneda

Tales of Power

Christopher Alexander – Material and Light


When I collected this quote, the words “ultimately material and light” shimmered for me. Yet I decided to skip them, I felt that they may not be nourishing for a reader who is not as involved with the text as I am. Yet as I continued collecting the quote the words came back to me. I realized that they have a striking similarity to another structural teaching I have received … in Yoga. How can you tell if an asana (a physical posture) is good for you and that you have done it well? The answer, from (I believe) the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, is that it makes you feel “steady and light”.

“… nature teaches us that what is truly simply – a waterfall say – is vastly complex – as a structure – and yet vastly simple in its essence. Thus we must strive for something which is utterly simple, in the sense that there is nothing unwanted there, nothing extra …

In architecture … Although the real content is there all the time, in the background – and although it is real human life, ecological life, and social and spiritual life which is at stake – still too careful … a regard for these practical problems will always produce trivial results. What matters is … the geometric organization – and the ability of this geometric organization to penetrate to the core of being human.

… My effort, in making the building, must constantly be to create, and activate, a pure pattern of physical geometry – ultimately material and light – and the depth of the impact which this pure pattern of organization has on me, on my self, on my soul – to what extent it mobilizes my feeling.

Even knowing this, as I do, it is such a struggle to keep on with the geometry. In painting, I try to make a realistic scene … I try to paint what I see. But I have to shout at myself, all the time, play, play, play, stop worrying about realism. Just make sure the actual shapes are beautiful, and that the geometry works, that the arrangement of the shapes is beautiful. This means all the shapes, the space between things, and the things, and the shadows … Each shape must be beautiful, supporting the other shapes … This is why the idea that the spirit and life , in the end, lie only in the geometry, has to be repeated every day, every morning, every afternoon.

In building, the same thing … I try to make the building right. I pay attention to the passage, the width, the length, the feeling, the light … Always I am trying to make it comfortable. But again, what I have to do, to make it live, every shape must be beautiful. The window sill. The top of the column. The door. The window over the door. The wall between the windows. The edge of the roof. Is it the most beautiful I can make it? Just don’t forget. Just don’t forget. Keep doing it. It is only when I do that, have joyful fun, do nothing else, just keep on doing that, to make each shape beautiful, that the thing begins to gain its life. It ought to be easy. But it is so hard.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 2: The Process of Creating Life


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