“A hunter that is worth his salt does not catch game because he sets his traps, or because he knows the hunting routines of his prey, but because he himself has no routines. This is his advantage. He is not at all like the animals he is after, fixed by heavy routines and predictable quirks; he is free, fluid, unpredictable.”
Carlos Castaneda

Journey to Ixtlan

Christopher Alexander on a Coherent Plan


” … 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


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Christopher Alexander on Vital Centers of a Room


“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

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Christopher Alexander on the Most Important Room


“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


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Christopher Alexander on Mass Situations


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


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Christopher Alexander on Sameness and Uniqueness


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

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