“…one should never turn to one’s left when facing the nagual...”
Carlos Castaneda

Tales of Power

Christopher Alexander on Traditional Elements


a beautiful illustration of the nature and manifestation of static quality

“In a natural unfolding of the building – the wholeness of that configuration itself – generates centers at various key points …

Consider an imaginary process in which a generalized building is conceived, in outlines, as a hazy volume … even without knowledge of its material substance, [it] already has certain latent centers which exist, just in virtue of the configuration … For instance, if it is a rectangular volume, there are latent centers at the corners. If it has a flat roof, there are latent centers where the roof meets the wall … A wall, in itself, has latent centers, just by virtue of the wall plane …

In most traditional cultures these latent centers become strengthened to form natural ‘traditional elements’. Thus the latent center in the zone of the eave is intensified by construction detailing which strengthens this center and makers it more alive. Some of this development is function-based (gutter, ventilation, change of slope), other is what we would traditionally call ornament-based … But in any case, what is sure, is that in almost every traditional culture, patterns evolved for elaborating the latent center of the eave.

In traditional cultures most building elements exist as traditions because they have been elaborated thousands of times in just this way. The particular way these elements are elaborated is what gives rise to the typical character of any one building style. The “style” is a set of details which have typically evolved at some place in time to deal with the further unfolding of the latent centers in the evolving building.

… These centers which I speak about exist merely because of the configuration. They are there, whether we like it or not, latent in the geometry of any building’s preliminary form. If we now apply the fundamental process to any of these latent centers …. we get a strong base to a column, where the column meets the ground. We get a pronounced ridge where the roof planes meet …

In this fashion, all the typical elements of traditional architecture will get built – must be built – as a direct consequence of the repetitions of the fundamental process which make up every living process.

In a building formed under the impact of living process, we shall therefore find all these elements made beautiful. When I say beautiful, I mean that each of these elements becomes a substantial living entity in its own right – it really does become a living center.”

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


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