“Whatever your determination or will power, it is foolish to try to change the nature of things. Things work the way they do because that is the way of things.”
Miyamoto Musashi translated by Stephen F. Kaufman

The Martial Artist’s Book of Five Rings

Christopher Alexander on Traditional Elements


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


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Christopher Alexander on Microstructure


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

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Christopher Alexander on the Purpose of a Room


“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


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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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