“Priests & nuns would make great flying sorcerers if someone would tell them that they can do it.”
Carlos Castaneda

The Second Ring of Power

Christopher Alexander on a Horizon for Architecture

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” … fundamental practical innovations of process are inevitable consequences of thinking correctly about the nature of living structure in buildings, and of facing honestly the task of creating living structure in the world.

‘A client … once asked me to plan a small town for about a thousand people, on the banks of the Sacramento River. As part of this work, I began working out a money-flow process for the first twenty-five years of the project, but one day she phoned me to say that she was worried about mis-using my genius as an architect. She didn’t want me to spend so much time thinking about the money flow, since other people could do that, but she wanted me to think more about he ‘design’. By that she meant the static pattern of buildings, streets, shapes, and so on. It took me quite some time to convince [here] that the flow of money, year after year, and they way this works to create a flow of construction in the town, are essential features of its life … and that is his process were put in someone else’s hands (an accountant for example …), it would become separated from the building forms, and therefore almost certainly wrong and inimical to the life of the place. The notion that beauty is the result merely of ‘design’ deeply pervades our contemporary consciousness … Although she had recognized the beauty of the buildings my colleagues and I had sometimes managed to build, and wanted that beauty for her own project – that inner thing which catches life – she was simply unaware that what made our buildings live was the process we used to create them.’

… it is precisely these innovations which attempt to change the system of processes most deeply, that are hardest for society to accept … really deep changes are ones which change jobs, and which therefore actually alter the capacity of the social system to let people create wholeness in the world, or to allow it to be created …

… that social process must necessarily be architectural process, and that architectural process must necessarily be life-creating…

That requires not merely that we improve the sequences and processes of our society. IT requires, specifically, that we make these processes architectural. That means they must be morphogenetic [creating or generating shape] … What I call morphogenetic is not different from ‘living’ – but it places emphasis on the form creating aspect … It is, therefore, ‘architectural’.

… Our built environment … is formed by the interaction of thousands of day-to-day rules, procedures, habits of thought and action. It is these processes, embedded in society, which create the form of the world…

… the larger task of making these processes genuinely morphogenetic – so that they generate deeper and more coherent living structure – still lies on the horizon.

… It may even be said that we could approach anew point of view in which THE primary function of society would be understood as the function of generating a healed structure in the world through morphogenetic processes – and that this primary function is to allow us, the members of society, to adjust progressively all the small processes in such a way that individually, and together, they will more and more effectively create a living world.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 2: The Process of Creating Life

 

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Christopher Alexander on an Architecture Studio Class

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Reading this brought Itsik to my heart and mind. I know, and on a couple of occasions have witnessed him deal with this specific challenge, the studio class.

Though as I read this I also thought about the “competition” format that was (probably still is) so prevalent and normative and the source of so much difficulty in his work as an architect. Where in other disciplines contractors bid on projects (another example of life destroying processes), in architecture (as I got to know it through Itsik) the norm is that architects “apply” for a project through a competition in which they submit a design – a VERY complete and mature design process that isn’t paid for, unless you are the winning architect. It always struck me as a highly abusive (in almost every possible way) process … and now reading this text makes me wonder if the foundations for this process were not laid in this ill-conceived teaching process described by Alexander where the teachers (often professional architects) teach and do to students what customers to do them as professional architects:

” … almost any social process can have a relatively more living character, or have a relatively less living character … even the typical process which take place in an architect’s mind – these are all originally socially defined processes, and these are all capable of being relatively more living, or less living.

Suppose, for instance, that a group of architecture students are asked to make designs in a studio class, and are then asked to bring their drawings for presentation to a jury of several faculty who will make comments about all the designs. This process was widely used in 20th-century architecture schools. It, too, is a process, a process traditional in contemporary architectural circles and part of the process of design which these students are being taught. Unfortunately, this process is harmful, and has a strong tendency to work against creation of living structure in building design. It is harmful because it encourages students to focus on image more than on reality. In the first place they larn to equate design with drawing, and re not taught that it is the quality of the building more than the quality of the drawing which matters most. Second, the jury system encourages presentation: Those who draw the most beautiful and slick images tend to gain sympathy from jurors who only have a few moments to study each design. Further, the process is far too quick, and too casual. Jury members sit in judgment, often without understanding the schemes they are judging; the whole procedure encourages a trivial attitude to buildings.

All extant processes may be scrutinized, tested, examined for the degree to which they are life-creating or not … and … all types of processes, since they have some impact on the formation of the environment, should be made more living in order for our towns and buildings and our outdoor landscape to come to life. In short, not one of the processes in any of these categories should escape scrutiny.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 2: The Process of Creating Life

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Christopher Alexander – Kitchen Sequence

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There was a section in book 2 dedicated to the idea of sequences … about hot important the order is in which structure preserving transformations steps are taken. There wasn’t a sweet and succinct quote that shimmered for me and in a way it (ironically) is a missing step in the overall order of quotes that I’ve collected. I’ve also wanted to link to this non-existing post about sequence numerous times from other quotes and could not because it isn’t there to link to.

I may go back and see if something there shimmers for me, however for now I do want to make a note of this fascinating example of two kitchen design sequences. They are mentioned within a text about how CAD design could be improved to support creation of living structures. The first is a typical mechanistic process, the other on that places more emphasis and value on centers and a sequence that creates a living space:

“Typically, for example, consider the following kitchen layout process that is available commercially:

  1. Take the kitchen floorplan.
  2. Decide where you want the outer wall.
  3. Decide how long to make the counter.
  4. Decide where to put the refrigerator.
  5. Decide what color to put on the walls.
  6. Decide what tiles to put on the floor.

… Why do I say that this is not a living process? I say this because the process does not encourage the use of structure preserving transformations. It does not encourage the creation of living centers. It does not even draw the user’s attention to the idea of living centers, nor to the possibility of making centers, stronger and more living in the kitchen, so that the user can direct himself to this aim.

… a kitchen design sequence, which does focus on centers and their emergence, and on the adaptive process which allows a person to use these centers for themselves. This sequence has the following steps:

  1. Think about the activities in your kitchen and formulate them as generic centers.
  2. Decide the size and shape of the kitchen.
  3. Place windows in the kitchen, to bring beautiful light into the room.
  4. Place a big kitchen table as the main focus of the kitchen.
  5. Place a fireplace to form a secondary center in the room.
  6. Place an outdoor kitchen garden, according to sun and wind and view.
  7. Place a door leading to the outdoors.
  8. Place the kitchen counter and your workspace in a good relationship to the main centers.
  9. Put in thick walls around the room, to supplement the table, fire and counter.

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 2: The Process of Creating Life

I don’t know if reading this out of context of the entire work is useful to others, but for me this is a vital example and reminder.

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I am special

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I am special
that thought was with me when I got off the mat this morning
it was softly present
and in the background there was another softly present lurking thought
that it is wrong to think so
as if it is un-humble, arrogant, self centered

I think that’s a remnant from an old and established story
I remember a kind of unofficial conflict inside me
I was never really competitive
I could never bring myself to sincerely play a sport like basketball …. forcing myself past others to get a ball in a hoop
it wasn’t in my nature
yet I was in many ways assessed and measured and compared to others
so for me to be good meant being better than others
the highest grades …  the most appealing resume … the highest salary
for me to be special I had to be able to do thing differently than others
it was never just me, it was always in comparison
and since there are only so many jobs available
and only so much money available
for me to be good had to come at the expense of others
that made me judgmental toward myself and others
to assess and be assessed

through endless clues and cues
I came to believe that being good or special is something achieved, something earned
I had to prove to myself, to my father, to my bosses, to my partners that I was good
by achieving good, by doing good, by doing better than others
by others being lesser

for a while I succeeded … at least partially …
but it was too heavey a burden to carry
and when I realized I was carrying it I could’t figure out why
fortunately carrying it is heavy and tiring …
so I got tired

and the more tired I get
the more just me I become
me that doesn’t do anything
me that doesn’t achieve anything
me that doesn’t succeed or fail
me that is special just because … I am

even now a part of me is tempted to tell you why I am special
that I am special because of this or that
but I am not special because of anything
I am special
not more than, not less than
not like anyone else
not like you
because you too are special

it is a fact of nature
if a snowflake is a recording of its journey from cloud to earth
then can you and I be anything but special?
we are of parents and siblings and friends and foes
we are of cultures
we are of climate
we are of sights and sounds
we are of ideas
we are of emotions
we are of food and starvation
we are of touch
we are of so much that it is impossible for us to be anything but unique and special

I am special
because a heart beats inside me
and breath flows through me
and eternity lives throughout me

I am gradually leaving a discomfort that arose from trying to be special
and gradually getting comfortable in being … well … special

 

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Christopher Alexander on Architecture in Democracy

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This is from the opening text of the third section of book 2 … looking forward to diving into it 🙂

“Processes which are living ones, are step-by-step structure-preserving adaptive processes whose main characteristics is their ability to focus on the whole, and to improve and deepen the whole … And the sequence in which the steps occur is always vital to their ability to be effective …

In order to work these living processes – especially when applied to the large urban areas … require freedom of action, freedom within the process …. each process must allow every step of each adaptive sequence sufficient latitude to go wherever it needs to go, IN THE CONTEXT OF THE WHOLE, to make the whole more alive …

For the most part, the necessary freedom of action cannot be provided within the context we came to know in the 20th century as totalitarian democracy  … the system of thought and action which is prescribed by the rules, procedures, lock-step processes of the modern democratic state … freedom of the kind necessary to create profound wholeness is hampered by our institutional norms and by the normal processes of our society …

… our own democracy, though originating in the ideal of freedom, has nevertheless created a system of thought and action, [in the sphere of architecture], which makes living structure all but unattainable – at best BARELY attainable.

… To create living structures, we need a kind of freedom which the founding fathers of the American constitution (for example) did not dream of, because the issues involved in the creation of life in the environment simply were not visible to them .. we must now find ways of turning society beyond its too-regimented path, and towards paths of design and planing and construction which allow the life of every whole and the life of every part to emerge freely from the process by which we make the world.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 2: The Process of Creating Life

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