“Just as it is more moral for a doctor to kill a germ than a patient, so it is more moral for an idea to kill a society than it is for a society to kill an idea.”
Robert Pirsig


Christopher Alexander – Fundamental Property 11: Roughness


This is one of the patterns that resonate deeply with me. It makes me feel at ease, relaxed, it gives me permission to do what I feel needs to be done without having to know in advance how everything will come together. It invites me to trust my choices and to trust that tending to well to what is before me now is the best thing I can do “in the grand scheme of things.”

“Things which have real life always have a certain ease, a morphological roughness. This is not an accidental property. It is not a residue of technically inferior culture, or the result of hand-craft or inaccuracy. It is an essential structural feature without which a thing cannot be whole.

The Persian bowl … is covered by mall designs (sinekli) made of two blows and two strokes … They are rough, in the sense that the size of the individual brush strokes, their exact spacing, and the exact shape and length of stroke all vary from one to the next …

It is intuitively clear that this subtle variation is partly responsible for the charm and harmony of this bowl … we probably attribute this charm to the fact that the bowl is handmade … trace of human hand … we know therefore that it is personal, full of human error.

This interpretation is fallacious., and has entirely the wrong emphasis. The reason that this roughness in the design contributes so greatly to the wholeness of the bowl is that a perfect triangular grid of the kind used here, cannot be made to fill a spherical surface properly …

Indeed, throughout the design the subtle variation of the brush strokes and their spacing, are done in such a way … each one is placed, by eye, just exactly where it needs to be … When the painter painted the strokes, he could do this almost without thinking … it is this which makes the bowl so perfect …

Often the border of ancient carpet is ‘irregular’ where it goes round the corner, that is the design breaks, and the corner seems ‘patched together.’ This does not happen through carelessness or inaccuracy. On the contrary, it happens because the weaver is paying close attention to the the positive and negative, to the alternating repetition of the border, to the good shape of each compartment …  To keep all of them just right along the length of the border, some loose and makeshift composition must be done at the corner.

If the weaver wanted to calculate or plot our a so called ‘perfect’ solution to the corner … these would all be determined mechanistically by outside considerations, i.e., by the grid of the border … The corner design would then dominate the design in a way which would destroy the weaver’s ability to do what is just right at each point. The life of the design would be destroyed.

… The seemingly rough arrangement is more precise because it comes from a much more careful guarding of the essential centers in the design.

… Roughness can never be consciously or deliberately created. Then it is merely contrived. To make a thing live, its roughness must be the product of endlessness, the product of no will … Roughness is always the product of abandon – it is created whenever a person is truly free, and doing only what is essential

… Roughness does not seek to superimpose an arbitrary order over a design, but instead lets the larger order be relaxed, modified according to the demands and constraints which happen locally in different parts of the design.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 1: The Phenomenon of Life



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Some good clay advice: stop for just a moment


Beautiful work and heart. Hearing about narratives in his works made me look inside and wonder what would my narratives be? I (still) cannot see them … I felt naked.

via Iulia 🙂

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Christopher Alexander – Fundamental Property 10: Gradients


“… Gradients must arise in the world when the world is in harmony with itself simply because conditions vary. Qualities vary, so centers which are adapted to them respond by varying in size, spacing, intensity and character. Daylight varies from the top floor of an urban building to the bottom floor: both windows and ceiling heights will probably have to vary to adapt to these conditions …

… These gradients will also form centers because the field-like character which is needed to make every strong center is precisely that oriented, changing conditions which ‘points’ towards the center of the center …

Buildings and artifacts without gradients are more mechanical. They have less life to them, because there is no slow variation which reveals the inner wholeness …

… although gradients are commonplace in nature … and in much traditional folk art, they are nearly non-existent in much of the modern environment. That is, I think, because the naive forms of standardization, mass production … and regulation of sizes … all work against the formation of gradients, and almost do not allow them to occur.

… In the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge there is a fine gradation of cell size, member size, ad plate thickness, from the top of the tower, to the bottom, to economize on steel, and place the most material where it is needed most by stresses.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 1: The Phenomenon of Life

see also: Paul Krafel: Gradients and Edges

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Christopher Alexander – Fundamental Property 9: Contrast


“… Life cannot occur without differentiation. Unity can only be created from distinctness. This means that every center is made from discernible opposites, and intensified when the not-center, against which it is opposed, is clarified, and itself becomes a center … in order for the thing to be truly whole, the contrast has to be pronounced … the most important contrasts do not merely show variety of form … but represent true opposites, which essentially annihilate each other when they are superimposed … awareness of silence created by a hand-clap …

In the case of the Shaker classroom … the two bands of wood above shoulder level, because of contrast, form a definite center which would not be there or felt strongly – if the wood were pale … The center which is so formed helps the room to become one, unified …

In the glaring lobby staircase … the contrast – between dark stair and bright window – does not unify … It is not contrast created in order to help centers become alive. IT is either a mistake, or an eye-catching device.

I use this rule to help people understand the fifteen properties: ‘Draw diagrams … sketch something, which has the property in it. But it is not enough to catch the property as you believe it is defined. To succeed, you must make a thing which has the property, and which gains deeper feeling because of the presence of the property. Only when you have managed that, can you be sure that the meaning of the property has not eluded you.’ … only when you … make the thing have deeper feeling, can you say you have grasped the property.

… contrast is also practically necessary: the shop in the neighborhood is different from the houses next to it. The front door is different from the back door … The light i the bedroom is different from the light in the passage. In case after case evidence suggests that the sharp extended and visible differences between things which are different allows each center to make its proper nature. It permits more intensive attention to individual functions. And it creates a feeling of distinction which relaxes people, because it acknowledges and permits different dimensions of experience.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 1: The Phenomenon of Life

I’ve done a bit of editing to demonstrate the simulation for the Shaker Schoolroom:

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Christopher Alexander – Fundamental Property 8: Deep Interlock and Ambiguity


Images selected by me inspired by the ones shown in the book.

“In a surprisingly large number of cases, living structures contain some form of interlock: situations where centers are ‘hooked’ into their surroundings. This has the effect of making it difficult to disentangle the center from its surroundings.

… a similar unification is accomplished through the creation of spatial ambiguity … a common example … is the house with a gallery or arcade round it … the space in the gallery belongs to the outside world and yet simultaneously belongs to the building.”

Profound interlock in Inca stonework

Dovetail as an example of deep interlock

Tile-work and brick in the 16th centur Tabriz Mosque

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 1: The Phenomenon of Life

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