“He said that it was simpler and more effective just to act, without seeking explanations, and that by talking about my experience and by thinking about it I was dissipating it.”
Carlos Castaneda

Tales of Power

Christopher Alexander on Program Budgeting

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This quote comes from a context of large building projects … these ideas may need to be adapted to different scales of projects … but what strikes me most about this is that it creates an alignment of motivations using a budgetary approach … instead of typical conflicts of interest which arise around money and budgets:

“Money is the lifeblood of every building. How it is garnered and spent determines the outcome and the artistic life and soul of the finished building. It is the overall global pattern of expenditure which controls the way feeling can occur,because it is this which controls the overall pattern of material, in quantity and quality …

… starting with the money, and allowing the overview of money to guide the process every day and at every stage of work, help unfolding, because it is only in this procedural atmosphere that one truly has a grasp of the whole at every stage.

… In program budgeting, a cost plan is made starting even before design begins. This cost plan is an assignment of budget amounts allocated to different categories of work. To start with the cost plan is made intuitively, to capture how much one wants to spend in these categories.

… One guesses and can feel the result of spending 14% on foundations, 22% on roof structure, etc. The purpose is to find a set of numbers which are realistic, and yet create the best possible depth of feeling that can be attained within the given budget envelope. For a team with experience, numbers like these translate directly and intuitively into a sense fo how the building will turn out …

Of course the allocations in the first cost plan are subsequently tested and modified continually, as the work goes forward …

The assumption throughout is that the numbers will remain within the framework set. What floats is the design, not the price. One assumes that “something” can always be done for any sum suggested, and the subcontractors and general manager must make do with that so as not to disturb the whole – the whole, in this instance, being the overall budget distribution that has been allocated in the cost plan.

Thus, as the building design develops, each subcontractor … instead of being show the drawings and asked to bid the work, he is told the sum allocated, and asked what he can do that is best for the project within that sum of money.

… the benchmark of the process is that the allocation which has been made gives the failsafe distribution: in the best interest of the building overall, and it is unwise for any one operation to be allowed to drive it out of balance, merely because something has been drawn or specified, which is expensive. Rather, one takes the attitude, let this allocated amount be fixed, and – unless exceptional conditions dictate otherwise – whatever can be done for that amount will serve the project well. “

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 3: A Vision of a Living World

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