“Your thoughts and your actions are fixed forever in their terms. That is slavery. I, on the other hand, brought you freedom. Freedom is expensive, but the price is not impossible. So, fear your captors, your masters. Don’t waste your time and your power fearing me.”
Carlos Castaneda

Tales of Power

Christopher Alexander on Simplicity and Symmetry


“… Complexity (in the bad sense) consists of distinctions which unnecessarily complicate structure. To get simplicity, on the other hand, we need a process which questions every distinction. Any distinction which is not necessary is removed. To remove a distinction we replace it by a symmetry … Gradually we get just that syncopated system of local symmetries … that is typical of all real life.

… This means that the geometry of a wholesome living structure will be almost entirely made up of LOCAL symmetries, while yet being mainly asymmetrical in the large.

Very often, when we look at something, we have an immediate, intuitive sense of its rightness or wrongness. This … comes directly from the symmetries we see and our sense about these symmetries.

The essence of this rightness or wrongness hinges on the issue of necessity … Everything in nature is symmetrical unless there is a reason for it not to be. When this law is violated, we feel that something is unnatural, and that is the way in which symmetry plays such a fundamental role.

… Imagine you are looking at the sky … see a cloud which is perfectly square. Without even thinking, you would that is was not a natural cloud.

the symmetry structures in the world are very close to us. We perceive them instantly and subconsciously, without even knowing it. This mode of perception gives us an intuitive sense of which symmetry structures are appropriate or not appropriate in various situations.

… Each thing in the world is subject to various influences. It has various degrees of similarity and difference compared with other things, according to its situation. And in itself it also has various degrees of similarity and difference. This is what we call its symmetry structure. Symmetry is a precise way of talking about similarities.

We observe that in any thing, there must be just the right amount of similarity and difference …

When we make something which is just right, we have hit the degree of similarities ad differences … just right. On the other hand, when we are wrong we can also analyze the wrongness … Either the symmetries are less than the situation requires … or … more. To understand the idea that the symmetries in a structure are “just right”, consider for example the flow of electricity in two parallel wires. Other things being equal, the current will flow equally in the two wires. Why is this? If we want to, we can invoke some rule like Ohm’s law or the principle of least action … But the deepest explanation, the most profound one, is simply this: There is no reason for the two wires to carry different currents, because the situation is symmetrical … Asymmetries occur only where there are reasons powerful enough to generate them.

things which are similar must be similar, and things which are different must be different

Successful life which creates unity in a building and hold it together is generated by the balanced, syncopated, off-beat quality that the natural system of symmetries creates…”

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


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Christopher Alexander on Simplicity


“Our modern conception of simplicity has gone wrong. Simplicity as depth has been replaced by a mechanical idea of simplicity as the geometrically banal…

The things we call simple in design – cubes, spheres – appear simple conceptually because they can be represented by simple mathematical schemes. But they are not, in any real sense, the simplest thing which can be created at a given place and time. The simplest thing which can be created, in real terms, is that thing which goes furthest to resolve, complete, hence to elaborate and underpin the structure of the world, its wholeness, which exists at that place. In this sense a volcano, a cobweb, an oak tree are truly more simple … because as nearly as we can judge, they perfectly resolve the forces, processes and conditions at that place, with the greatest economy of means and the greatest economy of form.

… ‘doing the simplest thing,’ only the thing which is required and nothing beyond what is required, is a practical and efficient necessity. When an unfolding process has succeeded – when a living process has succeeded – we may always recognize its results by a visible simplicity in the geometry and character of what is produced …

Any good example of living structure always has a very high density of sustaining relations among its parts. These … occupy a great deal of ‘space’ … there is room for all of them when they are extremely compressed, when their density is great. This kind of compression … can only be attained in a thing when that thing is extremely simple …

The geometry of living structure … is the result of a process in which a complex system becomes at one and the same time both richer and simpler. Each new bit of structure, each new center, adds new differentiations. But each time, as soon as we get the new differentiations, we at once try to boil the garbage away so that the structure is simplified and concentrated. We try to keep it continuously simple, even while we fill it with more and more structure.

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

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Christopher Alexander on Form Language


” … we do not start each new design from scratch. Somehow, we learn, over years, the ingredients that make a building good … the form language we use to speak the words that come out as buildings.

… at any given period of history, in any particular society, there are a certain number of schemata which provide rules of thumb for desining and constructing buildings. The form language is the (usually unspoken) combinatory system of these schemata (social, technological, geometric, stylistic, etc.) which architects adn builders have in their minds about how buildings ought to be organized, how built, how they must look. We may even call form-language a repository of style.

… At any given time in our history, we are able to create only what can be “made” from the schemata which we already have in out form-language …

… it is imperative that the form languages we use, and the form languages available to us, help us and support us in this task [to reach the goal of livign process in our highly modern and technically sophisticated society] …

… Why did the experimental form-languages of the 20th century not work? The reason is not hard to see. It is rather as if someone gave you a ruler and a T-square and said “Use these drawing tools to draw a human face.” You would say, “But that is almost impossible: the ruler and the T-square create the wrong kind of geometry. A human face is made of different shapes and different relationships than can be drawn with these tools.”

Just so with building that have living form … The kind of shapes which appear as a result of unfolding when it is done right … are mainly rectilinear, but they include roughness, they include shapes in which angles are nearly square but not quite square; they necessarily include imperfect repetition … requiring that things are bent, adjusted, made carefully to fit the nature of an emerging whole. Twentieth-century form did – and could do – none of this”

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


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Sound as Substance


… an improvised session … a beautiful example of unfolding wholeness and emotional substance … to realize that the entire piece was present in the initial ambience.

… as if he can touch the sound in the air … and shape it and reshape it .. . by touch

… and the beautiful attic space in which this happens


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Christopher Alexander on Holding the Feeling Constant


“… our ability as artists depends very largely on our ability to experience, formulate, and carry such a feeling – first to feel it and witness it, then to carry it forward, remember it, keep it alive within us, and insist on it …

… you hold the feeling constant … you keep it alive in you, this formless feeling which is o vivid, so particular, that you can judge all your form-making as you make the thing, by matching it against that feeling …. emotional substance – something more solid than a feeling, but less formed than a thing – is guiding the process of design and making at every step.”

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

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