“There must always be a discrepncy between concepts and reality, because the former are static and discontinuous while the latter is dynamic and flowing”
William James

Some Problems of Philosophy

Christopher Alexander on Green Materials

n

“We need new types of materials and techniques which have the following two functionally necessary attributes fo the construction process:

  1. We need to be able to shape materials rapidly and carefully so that the process of shaping … easily creates living centers …
  2. … We also need the the process of shaping and forming centers to be adaptable, so that subtleties of dimension can be accommodated easily and can be made cheaply.

While preindustrial society often had a labor-material ratio of 5:95 or 10:90  for building construction  (materials being far more expensive than labor), in modern society more than 50% of the cost of building now lies in labor. Labor-material ratios of 50:50, 60:40 and even 70:30 are nowadays common in building construction. Labor is the expensive item. Since we can no longer afford labor-intensive ways of making beautiful details … we need … ways of achieving the two functionally necessary attributes, but by new means which are not labor intensive.

We know from the green movement, and from current thinking about sustainability, that building materials are a matter of major importance in maintaining life on earth. There is, for example, a green index which aims to describe those materials that have long life, least energy drain during production, that use renewable resources ….

Does this mean that using green materials is the secret of life? Absolutely it does not! The assumptions in the “green” analysis are too limited

For example … In its original form, the use of straw bales for walls has wonderful attributes. It is a renewable resource, it is cheap and easy to cut. It has the wonderful quality that you can lay out a house, then get a feel for the room sizes and opening, then move them around and adjust them until the house is really comfortable. Only then, plaster it. All this is hugely positive. But as implemented in its evolved high-tech version, because of earthquake problems, and for various other structural reasons, another way of using straw bales has evolved; this adds an inserted standard timber frame … and ties the frame together with a beam and braces.

In this new form, now widely used throughout the United States … the high-tech straw-bale technique has lost nearly all the adaptive qualities of the original straw bales themselves. They have now become merely infill panels …

The essential thing about a living architecture is not the greenness of its materials but the capacity  of its materials to form living centers … That requires a different kind of thinking, a determination to focus without wavering on this aspect of their adaptive process …

I would argue, that it will require, primarily, process-based methods – methods which use high technology to give us processes, not components, and processes which can create sophisticated  elements and members, fast and cheaply, yet fitting local circumstances and the eye of the person doing the work …

No matter how wonderful a stone wall might once have been, if you cannot afford to build a stone wall now in a house of ordinary price, it is wasteful and foolish to dream too much about stone walls. Stone walls were part of the technology, economic life, and social life of another era, Primitive technologies are unlikely to work for us because, so often, they just don’t work economically.”

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

I am reading these books with two conscious “agendas”. One is a nourishment for my soul (through which it is touching on many aspects of life). The other is as a practical guide on how to build a future house. It is on this practical aspect that I’ve felt questions and tensions regarding the feasibility of what Alexander writes about in my life (and in the lives of others who are in a situation similar to mine or even less well to-do).

I want to completely embrace Alexander’s centers and fundamental process and so I am constantly asking how to do this in a practical way. I agree with Alexander, that the assumptions of the “green analysis” are indeed limited … and ironically often very mechanistic … however … my exploration of “green” materials has not been ideologically driven. It has been practicality driven. I have an abundant supply of clay-rich soil which can be used to fill earthbags, plaster walls and floors.

I do feel a change, inspired by Alexander in relationship to concrete (which he uses a lot and in very creative ways)  … it is still not a material that appeals to me, but it is a material I would consider using now in a relevant context. However,   I do NOT have an abundant supply of wood to build forms, metal to create reinforcement, cement to mix concrete or tools to apply it. Making it an impractical material.

Alexander’s position (see excerpt below) on “green” materials is based on the increased proportion and cost of labor in construction. That, in my mind, goes to the heart of the matter. Since this text was written and published there has been a major shift in money and labor. Money has become scarce and jobs are disappearing. This means that many more (often skilled) people now have plenty of free time which can be dedicated to labor-intensive construction of private houses.

That is the position I am in. I cannot find a role in society that will provide me with enough money to build a house in processes that Alexander describes. Even the “low cost” examples he describes feel completely out of touch with me and my life. I can however dig up  clay-soils around me and try to use them to build a house.

Granted, this solution does not scale up well. I am not going to become a builder. I would not make this effort for any of my neighbors. And you will not see large scale building being built this way. But that is the exactly the point. I have drifted away from the world of large scale buildings, in a way rejected by it. They are becoming a less significant part of my life, as are the people that inhabit them.

Most people, in the world I know, live in lifeless architecture in cities. They are not content, but they are complicit, doing the best they can within what they have. They are not reading Alexander and wondering about how to create living structures. I am, and increasingly more people like me are. This raises many questions on how Alexander’s precious and inspiring work can be contextualized and applied where it is, for now, welcomed.

Posted in AltEco, Design, Money, Nature of Order, Nature of Order Book 3, outside | Tagged | You are welcome to add your comment

Christopher Alexander on Wabi to Sabi – Rusty Beauty

n

I am starting to feel a build up of “missing” excerpts … from the first phase of my reading Alexander (before I started excerpting) and from some things which didn’t feel “excerptable” … in this case roughness.

“… to get the perfect adaptation which is required by the unfolding of a field of centers, you cannot avoid a certain roughness in the results.  That is because, to make each center come to life, there needs to be give and take that permits the needed complex superposition of relationships… It is not possible to get perfection in the field of centers – true life – and also have the shallow mechanical perfection which 20th century people often seemed to demand of buildings.

In present day construction, especially in America, people in general – and contractors too – have become accustomed to buildings with an almost fanatical level of finish. For example, the tiles of a wall must be flat, square, co-planar, and equally spaced – all to within a few hundredths of an inch. They conform to a mechanical ideal of perfection. Why? Not for any practical reason.

Indeed, the attention needed to achieve this mechanical perfection drives out the possibility of paying attention to real perfection or real adaptation in the centers …

I believe this kind of things happened in the 20th century largely because the real meaning of order and beauty had been lost – and craftsmen therefore maintained their pride of workmanship by appealing to a meaningless perfection of detail.

… True spirituality in a building is achieved when there is a balance of perfection and roughness. It is the phenomenon which the Japanese call wabi-to-sabi: rusty beauty.

… What this amounts to is that we must always allow the essential thing to lead the inessential. We concentrate on the essential and let the inessential trail behind.

… The spirit is essential. It is in the nature of spirit to make a beautiful and special thing where a beautiful and special thing is required, and to offset it with a simple inexpensive thing. That is the most humble way to make it, and the beauty then shines out because of it.

… The field of centers cannot be created as a by-product of some existing process. It will come about only when the entire process of making is organized and concentrated on just this one thing: to create a living field. If you concentrate on something else, you get something else. “

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

 

Posted in Design, Nature of Order, Nature of Order Book 3, outside | Tagged , , | You are welcome to add your comment

Christopher Alexander on Working on Wholeness

n

“… the operations of making and construction are distinguished by the way they handle the wholes and centers which are being formed …

The essence of a succesful construction process … is that the team working on a given part of a building have the satisfaction of working on a psychological whole and making it complete. When they are finished with a particular phase of work, they have created a visible, palpable whole.

I do not mean by this that the have necessarily reached a completely finished part of a building … what I mean is that at each important step, some new whole has been sufficiently delineated, and sufficiently filled in, so that one feels the new whole and grasps the way in which it contributes to the wholeness of the larger building … That is where the team’s satisfaction and the craftsmen’s satisfaction comes from. They feel satisfaction because they have completed a whole. And they have been able to achieve this because their job description, or craft, gives them the leeway to have impact on the details of what they are doing …

To accomplish this kind of thing, I have had to hire people who understood several disciplines … Often I had to hire teams of people who – from the outside world – looked almost inexperienced, because their ability to integrate these many trades in one holistic operation was more significant to me than their degree of skill in any one operation.”

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

 

 

Posted in Community, Design, Nature of Order, Nature of Order Book 3, outside | Tagged | You are welcome to add your comment

Christopher Alexander on Making

n

“Just as one can hardly make a vibrant painting unless the paint and paintbrush are in one’s own hands, so I cannot imagine how to make a concrete component in a building unless the substance of the concrete, the mold, the forming, the conception, the sizing and shaping – and the sheer love of doing it – are in one’s own hands. You can draw something for someone else to build. But the life blood of the material, knowing what it meanss to hold a plane, or how to move a piece of wood through a table saw … unless one has the experience and knowledge of the thing in one’s own fingertips, I do not see that it is possible to transform material into a living center.

… Living centers cannot be created merely by design. For the center (and physical components) of a building to be truly alive, they must be made in a way that draws on deeper emotional resources … we must define a new, modern process that we may call ‘making,’ as opposed to production. What I mean by ‘making’ is the physical process of creatign the building, which does not call for it to be assembled by a mechanized process, but unfolded by a living process.

… It is a nearly biological process where construction elements unfold, take shape, fall into place in a fashion that les them grow out of the whole and enhance the whole.

the whole process of building itself – must – absolutley must – be understood as an act of making.

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

 

Posted in AltEco, Design, Nature of Order, Nature of Order Book 3, outside | Tagged | You are welcome to read 1 comment and to add yours

Christopher Alexander on Traditional Elements

n

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

 

Posted in Nature of Order, Nature of Order Book 3, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | You are welcome to add your comment

Christopher Alexander on Microstructure

n

so … in mixing cob, even though it looks like we are stomping mud, we are creating life at a molecular level!

“The walls, are they living centers? Is the roof a  living center? Is the roof edge a living center? Are the columns living centers? Are the windows living centers? Is every door a living center? Is the window sill a living center? Are the floors living centers? Is each ceiling a living center? Is the base of the  main wall a living center? Is each beam a living center? Is the space between two beams a living center?

… The building can only amount to something as a living thing when the various physical elements which appear in the building are profoud centers …

It requires that evert part be though of as a beautiful thing in itself, where the physical material of which it is made is shaped and treasured as a thing …

Wholeness will not exist in the large unless it also exists in the small … and for it to exist in the small, it must me made …

The big fields of centers will only be coherent if the microstructure which supports it is coherent too. This means that the field of centers must continue down all the way from the large scale to the scale of the very small, even to the atoms and molecules in the construction materials.”

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

Posted in AltEco, Design, Nature of Order, Nature of Order Book 3, outside | Tagged | You are welcome to add your comment

Christopher Alexander on the Purpose of a Room

n

“In principle, a room is the sanctification and illumination of a life. It is your life made manifest. The room itself, like a cradle or a gathering together of a life is, in its essence, the place of a thousand joys and sorrows, the receptacle of your life and your children’s lives, the embodiment, in physical order, of what your spirit has been and has become.

That is, perhaps, the true purpose of a room. It is comfort, but true comfort, an inner spiritual comfort … It is the real comfort, the comfort of the soul: but also the comfort of pillows, soft light, sounds just right for the ear, birds singing, a solitary vine running up the front door and bearing one, two, then three blossoms …”

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

 

Posted in Design, Expanding, inside, Nature of Order, Nature of Order Book 3, outside | Tagged , | You are welcome to read 1 comment and to add yours

Christopher Alexander on a Coherent Plan

n

” … it is more important to get the rooms right, one by one, than it is to have a coherent ‘plan’. Don’t worry about trying to arrange the overall plan – that is not unfolding but manipulation. Instead, start with the most important room. Put it in the most important place, towards the garden, or the sunlight, or the river, or the street … Let it take its own form. Don’t worry about the rooms around it. Then do the same for the next rooms, get them right. When you do thing this way, some places will a little bit of a shambles. There will be left over spaces, funny bits and pieces where you can put closets, toilets, storerooms. Don’t worry about the plan so much. Just make each part really beautiful, in its position, in its quietness … in its light.”

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

 

Posted in Design, Nature of Order, Nature of Order Book 3, outside | Tagged | You are welcome to add your comment

Christopher Alexander on Vital Centers of a Room

n

“Now we come to the internal organization of the room. This is the most subtle aspect of room design. It is extremely hard because, in many cases, the centers which to be created, and which define the room, are almost invisible.

… The vital centers which govern the life of the room are nearly invisible pieces of space which exist as centers, yet usually have no clear boundaries, sometimes no obvious defining marks. Like still places in a stream, they are nearly imperceptible in the configuration, yet all-important.

So the secret of making a room with life … depends on our ability to make living centers appear, almost without seeming to, within the very simple structure of a nearly featureless rectangle of space.

… Usually the main center of a room is defined by two things: (1) it is a quiet spot in the pattern of movement and (2) it is a place near the light … a quiet backwater in the flow of moving people, and the intense oriented place towards the light.

… The fundamental process therefore takes these latent centers (to begin with, really just places which seem that they will be foci of light in the room) and makes them into ‘something’ … develop it with detail, sills, bays, glazing bars … the window is not a hole in the wall but a definite volume of space … once the center formed by the light is a coherent space in its own right … the shaping of it then creates the space which animates the room.”

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

Posted in Design, Nature of Order, Nature of Order Book 3, outside | Tagged | You are welcome to add your comment

Christopher Alexander on the Most Important Room

n

“At an early stage in a building design process, the rooms are first established in position: usually to start with, by name, size and rough position. At this stage, conceptually, we may say that the rooms are (usually) rough rectangular volumes of space which have yet to be made ‘good’.

In theory, one might argue that once position and dimensions have been established rooms can be given life later on by choosing the material of walls, windows, door, carpets and furnishing. Then the rooms will be complete. Is that the right approach?

It is not. The centers which bring life to a room are larger features which lie beyond the boundary of the room. Rooms are given their life, first of all, by their position in the flow of people’s movement through the building, the light in the room, and their connection with the outer world beyond the windows – those are the three most salient. By the nature of these things, they can only be settled early on, not later – before rooms have their position – before even the building has its overall ground plan fixed.

… each room must be chosen to be a strong center in itself … And that  – once applied to all the rooms – has profound effect on the building envelope – its perimeter …

Once a room is in position, with its size and location fixed, it is too late to give that room real feeling or true meaning if it does not already have it because of its position in the whole …

Start with the most important room (often the biggest, but not always). It seems almost silly to state this so naively, but is really is true: Most buildings have a ‘most important’ room.

… One may say as a general rule that the main room of the building – in size, position, light, volume, character and structure – must be unforgettable. You must not constrain it with other thoughts, you can let everything else go. If you try to make this main room ‘fit in’ or be part of some system, you will almost certainly make it less than it could be. What you have to do is concentrate, concentrate, concentrate on just this one room … let everything else go to hell – for the moment.”

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

 

Posted in Design, Nature of Order, Nature of Order Book 3, outside | Tagged | You are welcome to read 1 comment and to add yours

Christopher Alexander on Mass Situations

n

There is a section of the text about sequences that I did not quote from because there was no single quote that shimmered for me and I felt that it needed to be kept whole. This quote builds upon that missing subject and yet seems to have an independence. It holds, I believe, a key to a question I have reflected on (and I recall Pietro raising it too): what is the role / position of an expert (in any process). The answer Christopher Alexander seems to give is in creating processes that lead to unfolding of living structures … processes that are clear and simple enough for others to make decisions on their own. An expert creates processes that enable others to create.

Also, I can’t begin to emphasize how valuable to me the idea of differentiation is. In trying to plan things (a woodworking project, a deck, a house) I often feel stuck when trying an approach based on addition of parts. I am embracing this awareness and flagging it with an alternative … how to modify what I am doing into a task of differentiation. This makes me ask different questions. It reminds me to re-seek and reconnect with a sense of a wholeness I am trying to create and to look for that an anchor for what I am trying to do now WITHIN that wholeness (most recently I have attempted to to this with the physical construction of the Arduino powered automated dog-feeder I am building – both in its design AND in the way / order / sequence in which it is constructed / constructed).

“In any mass situation which requires repetition of houses, or repetition of apartment, or repetition of offices, it is good to bear the following in mind. Once generic patterns have been established, it is relatively easy to generate local individual variations in a genuine and practical way. You can do it be inventing processes … which give each individual the power to create the configuration of their individual house or apartment or office. Such a process can easily be constructed so that silly mistakes will not occur, and so that the process virtually guarantees that each person will be able to make a coherent design.

In general the geometry will be created by differentiations, not by addition or accretion, the parts given their dimensions by differentiating operations within the space of the land, or within the space of the room where the thing is being made.”

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

 

Posted in AltEco, Design, Nature of Order, Nature of Order Book 3, outside | Tagged | You are welcome to add your comment

Christopher Alexander on Sameness and Uniqueness

n

this quote comes after a story of how three different houses individually unfolded in a shared place in nature where three families wanted to create a shared experience:

“The uniqueness of the houses, the sensation that they are like nature, different leaves off the same tree, comes in large part from the way these houses were later built.

All three houses used a common form of construction. All have stem walls of stone, heavy stud walls, open ceiling beams … stones in the courtyards, wooden windows …

One might make the mistake of thinking that if each house had its own unique system of construction … But this is not the way it works.

Imagine an oak tree on which there was a fig leaf, a hazel nut leaf, a willow leaf interspersed among he oak leaves. This would not create a feeling of uniqueness in the different leaves. It would merely be bizarre and chaotic. The quality of uniqueness is a quality of particularity which stems only from necessity … It is because we all have noses – essentially similar in shape and structure 0 that we recognize a certain person’s nose, mouth, eyes. This sameness provides the ground against which we see their uniqueness.

And just so with these houses. They are more particular, more unique, because they are all made within the same process of formation and construction – and the differences that come from place, person and temperament are made more visible, stand out, are there to be loved – because they ‘beat’ against the shared sameness.

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

Posted in AltEco, Community, Design, Enjoy, inside, Nature of Order, Nature of Order Book 3, outside | Tagged | You are welcome to add your comment

Small glimpse into human nature

n

I parked next to the village post-office. As I got out of the car a ragged old man passed by me and started talking … in Romanian … I though he was talking to himself. We passed each other and I was on my way to the post office when I realized he was talking to me. He moved very slowly, so it took him time to turn around and face me.

With my basic Romanian I was trying to understand what he was saying. He assumed I spoke Romanian so he wasn’t being considerate and speaking slowly or clearly for me. When I looked confused he took out his ragged wallet and from it a small piece of folded paper. He unfolded the paper which had a phone number on it. With that clue I was able to piece together that he was asking for a phone to call his wife so that she could come and pick him up. I asked him, would you like to use my telephone … holding my telephone out to him to compensate for my Romanian. He said yes.

I dialed the phone number on the paper for him and gave it to him. He immediately started talking … assuming the connection had already been made. I told him to wait a second. I am guessing he then heard the phone ringing and waited. During that short interval I had a chance to look at him more closely. His eyes were partly closed. He was wearing ragged clothes. The zipper on his pants looked broken … his pants were tied on and one of his sweaters was sticking out where there should have been a zipper. His hand was shaking nervously (some kind of illness I am guessing). A woman’s voice answered and he asked to come and get him. He then switched to speaking Hungarian and spoke for another half a minute. Then he handed me the phone back.

I wished him a good day and started to resume my journey to the post office. He asked me to wait. He fumbled with his wallet again and his fingers opened the slot that holds bills. There was only one bill of only one lei. He pulled it out and handed it to me. I replied: no thank you, I was glad to help have a nice day. He insisted. I insisted too. He held his arms out and embraced me softly, thanking me and wishing me health.

 

Posted in Enjoy, inside, Romania | You are welcome to add your comment

Christopher Alexander on Doing Work Together

n

One beneficial side effect, I believe, to a process as described in this quote, would be that group decision-making would probably take more time (then is typically allocated for it) … as it should. This kind of process unveils the illusion of quick-feel-good-superficial-consensus. It takes time, engagement, care, patience, attention to detail … if a group does not have time and space for this kind of engagement the process will make it known … it has potential to keep a group from escaping to superficial agreement … it may bring a group’s attention back to itself … to its own ability to function … instead of allowing a disability to be overlooked and generating disabling decisions.

When people work together, in small groups, how then does the unfolding process work?

No one quite knows where to start. They want to express themselves, they want to express their own individual ideas; yet they want to work together. How to curb the bounds of individualism, when to give in, when to insist? It is extremely hard …

If, for example, we are to place a bench i a neighborhood, and say there are quite a number of people involved in it. And suppose, for the sake of example, that two alternatives are placed before us. Choice is (in theory) the classic tool of democracy. So let us – together, perhaps thirty or forty of us – try to decide which of the two benches is better for this place, bench A or bench B.

The problem is that bench A and bench B differ in so many different ways, on so many dimensions. One bench is wood, one bench is metal. One is blue, or is black; one has a more comfortable profile than the other does, perhaps A is comfortable, B is more formal. On the other hand, A, which is more comfortable, is perhaps made with a shape not entirely pleasing to the eye; while B, less comfortable to sit on, is very delightful in its shape.

So as we, the thirty of us who want to decide this thing, set out to work together, how can we decided whether A or B is better Of course we cannot … The difficulty comes from the size and extent of the decisions we are trying to agree on. Choice among alternatives, as a strategy, does not work realistically.

The answer, the solution to the difficulty, lies in the use of the fundamental process, applied over and again, focusing on very limited, tiny decisions taken one at a time, in sequence … the steps can be made so small and so particular that for each step the thirty of us will find it possible to succeed in deciding among the possibilities, what is best by checking versions, testing them, trying things out …

Even when the whole is as big as a building, or even a portion of a neighborhood, the complex of answers optimizing a group consensus can be arrived at by arranging the whole evolution of the form, as a sequence of smaller questions. Provided the smaller questions are taken in the right order, step by step, resolving one step at a time, in a manageable way, we shall be able to reach agreement even as a group. But the end result of these limited agreements will not be a single choice among half a dozen alternatives (inevitably a phone choice). It will be a unique thing which has been generated, truthfully, as a product of twenty or fifty or a hundred true answers to unique questions … because the questions were small enough and reasonable enough, not arbitrary, so that people could discuss them, feel them the same wat, settle them, move on to the next, and thus gradually approach consensus on the emergent whole.”

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

Posted in AltEco, Community, Design, Nature of Order, Nature of Order Book 3, outside | Tagged | You are welcome to add your comment

Christopher Alexander on Static & Dynamic

n

dynamic and static indeed … and also … how to juggle these two qualities

“Think about the time dependent process by which an unplanned human settlement grows naturally. Someone starts with the idea of building or living on a certain site. A few people build their houses there. In the natural order of things, perhaps an office or workshop is built there. Then a small cafe is built. That happens in response to people’s needs and the press of their activities. As a result of the cafe and the office, and their interaction with the terrain, people start driving to that place in a certain way, parking their cars in a certain way.

Those parking places and that dirt road set up in relation to the terrain, take on a certain natural form. Then, if another person wants to build a workshop there, or an office, it goes in a certain place which is related to the existing directly aligned dirt road, to its parking, to the office, to the cafe and its view.

The position for the second workshop is a natural outcome of the answer ‘Where would I like to locate in relation to all these other things that are there already?’ It is, almost certainly, a very different spot from the spot that would have been marked on an original master plan, if one existed. That si because on the master plan, someone was trying to arrange everything at the same time … So if the second workshop wer built according to a master-plan it would inevitably be unrelated to the terrain, cafe, road.

… Even in this first very small increment of construction, the dynamic time-dependent process creates and maintains relatedness. The static master plan does not. It a community growing over time, such increments will happen hundreds – more likely thousands – of times. It a dynamic process is followed, so that each time the next step follows existing things – preserves the structure, and creates and maintain relationships – we get a harmonious living community.

If, instead, a static master-plan based process if followed, and the 20 or 100 things are built according to the original drawing or plan, then they will exist, for the most part, without real functional relationships: the whole is unrelated in its internal elements; there has been no structure preserving going on, step after step, and the whole remains dead.

Thus, the main problem of community development, of growing a neighborhood, is to do it in the dynamic wat not in the static way.”

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

 

 

Posted in AltEco, Community, Design, Nature of Order, Nature of Order Book 3, outside | Tagged | You are welcome to add your comment

Christopher Alexander on Cars in Neighborhoods

n

… though the subject of a neighborhood is of lesser interest to me …this is a wonderful example of direct reasoning and priorities … and this is just one example … is it any wonder that our sense of community has been eroded … and the funny thing is that I too always appreciated the spacious roads and organized parking lots … and I too rarely walked anywhere … except to and from my car … which makes me wonder how we have also eroded our sense of like … replacing wholeness with superficial comforts … and then searching and searching … and not finding a sense of wholeness

“… A neighborhood should be a place where you would rather walk than drive your car, where people feel ree to walk, meet, enjoy themselves, a place where children can play safely almost anywhere; …

In a neighborhood modified by a living process, the car must therefore be made to play second fiddle to the pedestrian … It is convenient, the car can reach almost every house, almost every workshop, but it is not allowed to dominate the situation, nor to create conditions which threaten the well-being of the pedestrian world …

To achieve this we give in the unfolding process, priority to the process that established the pedestrian structure, and we expect this … to be coherent, dominated by local symmetries which form the land into nice pieces …

… The process of setting in parking, lanes for cars … comes later. And we expect that the paths for cars will be somewhat tortured. It makes the car slow down when it is in the neighborhood. The car can easily negotiate bends, curves, etc. On the other hand, for the pedestrian, unless there are views, and a coherent sense of the space, the pedestrian world will not easily be grasped. So (contrary to most 20th-century thinking) the car si given irregular streets and parking, while the pedestrian is pampered, made to feel kind, allowed to feel at home.”

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

 

Posted in AltEco, Community, Design, Expanding, inside, Nature of Order, Nature of Order Book 3, outside | Tagged | You are welcome to add your comment

Christopher Alexander on Unconventional Wisdom

n

…in my 43 years of living no one has ever asked me, in a meaningful social context, to speak truly about my life … about “our” life … I have not yet been a part of … is it just me or is that the way things have been in recent human history?

“How could I ever have guessed, when I began working with the people of Chikusadai in Japan, that they would, above all, revere the insects, that they wanted a world where insects – and above all cicadas – would be safe – because they felt that in such a world, once the insects are all right, then they, the people themselves – would be all right too …

No outsider can do justice to these human phenomena. Usually, they can be described only from inside by the people who are part of them …

When people think about this, they CAN articulate it. They know what is needed to give them – for their place – surroundings in which life can be lived. And when they dream of a world, imagined by people for themselves, they come closer to a life which grants true freedom …

When people are given the freedom to speak truly about their lives, they have an unconventional wisdom, an idiosyncratic quality, which brings forth unique centers, unique living structure in each situation. That is what we mean by their culture or their ‘way’. It is a shared vision … not part of the conventional professional wisdom of architects and planners …

It is this, which receives expression through the medium of a collective pattern language. It celebrates human uniqueness, the enormous variety of human effort, human desire, human aspiration.”

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

 

Posted in AltEco, Community, Design, Expanding, inside, Nature of Order, Nature of Order Book 3, outside | Tagged | You are welcome to add your comment

Christopher Alexander on Communal Vision

n

… the path to deep communal vision begins with deep individual visions …

“To go towards true belonging, we must also consider the deeper process by which people may draw from their own experience, the aspects of the environment – its necessary centers – that will genuinely contribute to deep feeling in the environment.

If you ask me how to get the deepest stuff from people, the stuff which matters most, I would not have them meet all together, under conditions of imagined communality. I would rather talk quietly, to one person at a time, drawing from each individual his, her, their most important feelings, and their most authentic visions …

Once one reaches that level of depth, what is being said is then rarely idiosyncratic or private. It moves from that realm, enters a new realm of psychology, reality of feeling, becomes something which will raise a deep effect in all of us. At least, that is my experience.

… I think this work has to be done by an architect. Or, if you like, an architect-psychiatrist. A person, anyway, who cares about people, who cares about the real forces flowing in people, the real visions which people have in them, who loves those visions, and who is then willing to write those visions down, step by step, one by one, in the form of a communal language which can be used and shared by everyone in that community.

… A drawing is too monolithic; even when it contains separable elements, it is much harder to take its elements apart or to discuss them separately. But with a picture made of words, you can discuss the elements one by one throw some out when they don’t work, improve them, work gradually to a proper understanding and agreement based on debate and refinement.

… Have someone … who is not concerned to impose an egocentric image on the community – coordinating the work of putting this language together, so that it can be made coherent and useful – and, if possible, poetic.

Do all this with careful awareness of deep morphology so that … the system of patterns and sequences becomes generative, capable of conjuring up a whole geometric world when it is let loose.”

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

 

Posted in AltEco, Community, Design, Nature of Order, Nature of Order Book 3, outside | Tagged | You are welcome to read 1 comment and to add yours

Christopher Alexander on Unfolding Unanimity

n

I felt relief reading this … I’ve never felt drawn to participating in such excercises and usually felt discomfort when others were doing them (especially on my behalf).

“When people do sit down and discuss patterns together, one by one, the remarkable unanimity which comes from these discussions is often moving and profound.

During the seventies and eighties of the last century, the then prevailing rhetoric of pluralism tried to persuade us that because we are ll different, we live in a world of competing interests, and tha unanimity is not available or reachable. Yet the language of “interests” “conflicts” and “compromise” … came chiefly from the special interests of particular players who want to do something one-side – usually to do with money. It is these one-sided interests which have to be balanced , or negotiated – in my view, because they are not quite legitimate in the first place.

Ordinary people, who are not pushing a special economic interest, rarely have such profound conflicts. The reality of daily life … is largely shared in its deeper aspects, and remarkably uniform …

The process of taking individual generic patterns one by one, getting them right in isolation, then gradually adding them to a “bank” of good patterns, is quite different from the process that used to be followed in the late 20th century community design  … an architect enters the community and gathers people around, then people draw together on a huge piece of paper … all trying to put their ideas and visions into the process. This design charrette is intended to create communal agreement, and a communal vision …

The problem is, that this charrette procedure creates an illusion of communality and of understanding without necessarily creating the real thing: true understanding …

At its worst, the practice of design charrettes is a kind of political scam which is meant to create the sensation or impression of cooperation and collective work – but actually does not. This rather postmodern approach, in which it is the image of what si going on that matters, not the reality can be disastrous …

.. A drawing is not a good medium for a process, which requires serious and mature reflection, one item at a time … [only then] people can arrive at things which are then mutually satisfying, realistic, a genuine part of their vision of the world. “

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

 

 

Posted in AltEco, Community, Design, Nature of Order, Nature of Order Book 3, outside | Tagged | You are welcome to read 1 comment and to add yours

Christopher Alexander on Gardens

n

Reading this chapter made me feel that permaculture (and my relationship to it) may have injured my potential relationship with gardening …

“What is the effect of living process, used repeatedly, to shape exterior space? …

… in gardens, we come close to the heart of zen, to the contact with life which shows it to us as orderly and uncontrollable, wild and cultivated, dispassionate and unkempt … it is in gardens, above all, that most of us have an opportuity to express it an an ordinary level, to try it, practice it

a garden is a structure … which creates and contains living centers … it needs to be understood as an extension of the building … The exterior structure is as vital a part of the structure of the whole, as the building … you cannot forget it, or reduce it, without severely damaging the whole. This exterior structure is what brings life to the world

Oddly, the wildness of an unfolded garden does not become most natural without support. It becomes most vivid, when supported by a delicate system of small walls, edges, terraces .. which refer to centers that are in the land and have been formed by structures built before … The loosely, carefully made centers … let loose, what is seeking to happen there, as if of its own accord …

It is the least constrained part of our environment, the place where each of us is most free to do what we want. So we can express ourselves; we can have our heart’s desire; we really can do what we WANT to do …

To get the wild true garden by unfolding, all we have to do, really, is what every good gardener does. Like a painter placing one color at a time, most carefully, giving each precious drop of color its life, we must pay attention to each place, flower by flower, bush by bush, one bit at a time, and sk what its character is …

Of course, I am concerned with sunshine and shade, water, drainage, soil condition … But … in making a living world, we must above all be concerned with centers. Centers govern life. The fundamental process asks us again and again to see, feel the centers latent in the land

The beat of informality against the discipline of geometric order, can led to the most splendid qualities … the relation of the cultivated to the wild … Allow the mess, where it wants to be, as a natural counterpart to the cultivated and pruned and tamed.”

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

 

Posted in AltEco, Design, Nature of Order, Nature of Order Book 3, outside | Tagged | You are welcome to add your comment