“… but it was the saxophone soloing that challenged credulity, it’s length and perhaps its unwillingness to tell a traditional story… If there’s one thing the facile critic needs to do his job, it is some verbal personality from the bandstand, some words to transcribe into the review – anything to make a thoroughly musical endeavor more literary or conversational. Coltrane would not provide it.”
Ben Ratliff

Coltrane - The Story of a Sound

Christopher Alexander on Unconventional Wisdom


…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


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Christopher Alexander on Communal Vision


… 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


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Christopher Alexander on Unfolding Unanimity


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



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Christopher Alexander on Gardens


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


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Christopher Alexander on One Thing at a Time


“If you do one thing at a time – just a true thing that comes from a carefully considered feeling – that means , when you do it, your own feeling is enormously increased, and you choose it because of that, and you put it there because of that … then something real, ordinary real life, will come into being there”

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

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