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Christopher Alexander on Unfolding Ornament

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Ornament arises naturally, when a person is making something and seeks to embellish this ‘something’. The embellishing is spontaneous. It comes from the continuing unfolding of the whole … it arises as a result of the latent centers in the uncompleted thing requiring still more centers, requiring still more structure in order to be complete. That requirement, when followed faithfully, creates ornament.

This is a natural process, whenever the thing is being made. But if a building is ‘produced’  – not made – in a technically divided situation where making is severed from design, the process of ornamentation cannot occur naturally. There, when an architect tries to draw the ornament … within the technical process, what happens becomes awkward, stilted, too stiff, not fundamental – and also not profound – because it does not arise from the joy of the making process itself. It can not be profound because the maker is not reacting to the whole in its state as an unfinished thing, which may then be complete by the ornament.

… At a certain stage in the making of the building we have produced a field of centers there. But the field still contains rough spots. It is not perfectly resolved. Some parts are not intense enough; the centers are not distributed to produce the most perfect field. At this state, some additional ‘smaller’ structure is necessary.

The so called ‘ornament’ is simply this smaller stuff … Thus it is not something extra or extraneous; it is a continuation of the same process we have followed in creating the field up to this point. It is necessary in order to complete the field.”

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

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