“And thus you will dance to your death here, on this hilltop, at the end of the day. An din your last dance you will tell of your struggle, of the battles you have won and of those you have lost; you will tell of your joys and bewilderments upon encountering personal power. Your dance will tell about the secrets and about the marvels you have stored. And your death will sit here and watch you.”
Carlos Castaneda

Journey to Ixtlan

Japanese Words for “Space”


Thinking of Christopher Alexander and his Japanese Tea House sequence as I was reading this:

“a space in Japanese culture is understood by how it shapes relationships … a room is always filled with invisible structures, regardless of its occupants

… For example, traditional tea houses have doors that are narrow and low. This forces guests to lower their head and, historically, for samurai to leave their swords outside by the door.

… Building spaces that deepen relationships (wa), generate new knowledge (ba), connect to the world around us (tokoro), and allow moments of quiet and integration (ma) can enrich our experience of the world and that of those around us.”


Posted in Uncategorized | You are welcome to add your comment

Drawing Centers


As I mentioned before I took some time to draw centers … and it was a fascinating practice. I tried to capture some of it, though to fully experience it I invite you to do it on your own.

Milford Graves (<– link will open in a new tab in case you wish to listen while reading) guided me through this exercise 🙂

This is the source (from the book) I started with:I had already spent time reading about the pattern and following Alexander’s guidance in how to look at it (seeking centers, local symmetry, etc.)  … and I gave it a first try:

I then went at it a second time and paused to scan each step on the way. It starts with a dot on a piece of paper that starts to unfold and increase with life:

I did step 2 already in my first try, but step 3 was a big aha moment for me. In my first try I went directly to the “black hearts” that are attached to the small protrusions, but I did not know how to size them properly so that there would be room for the thickness of the white heart itself. When I looked at the image some more the 4 diagonal lines suddenly popped out … and they made the next steps simple and steady and peaceful:

The diagonals created clear fields from which the hearts appeared. That transition in step 3 became like a switch that came on and stayed on. I found simplicity and clarity in the black spaces. Instead of trying to draw the white spaces that I was seeing by default I switched to seeking the black spaces.

I was being held and guided by the black spaces, yet something in me wanted to “do the hearts” … but I stuck with the black

… until it felt necessary to draw the top heart as it lead into the evolution of the pattern at the top

… and the top part appeared with ease, easier than my first attempt to “draw it” … and closer to the original.

… the rest of the hearts followed naturally and swept down … and then it felt that a base was needed … and the spaces that formed between the base and the heart-flower already started to glow with the horizontally oriented patters of the base … and again black guided:

… two small black triangles … and fill it all in:

I’ve pulled together the source and my two attempts for comparison:

The second attempt was easier and more peaceful and I now know and remember it in a very different way – not so much as an image but rather as a sequence of steps in which centers come into being. I feel that if I spent more time and more iterations with it, I could refine the sequence … a recipe, narrative, story … a pattern that underlies the visual image. I may already be able to draw it again without having to look at the source image.

The second attempt is also closer to the source, better balanced, fuller, more stable. This is especially clear if you look at the top and bottom patterns. In the first attempt I tried to draw the actual white shapes (at the top and bottom) which is very tricky because my eyes registered one thing “the white space” but because it has thickness two lines need to be drawn to create that space. In the second attempt I created the black spaces and the white-spaces were simply left over.

In both attempts I did not get the proportions of the heart-flower correct: the hearts were too big in relation to the actual center.

I decided to go ahead and try the second pattern (for the first time). When I first looked at it, there seemed to be a spacing challenge. Then I realized that the top pattern (which I had already learned) created the overall rhythm … and so I started with it:

and then started traveling down … again following a clear path of black spaces.

… and that’s when those wrong proportions of the heart-flower really surfaced. Step 20 should have brough me way further down. I had to correct, in step 21,  by stretching what should have been squares into longer rectangles.

This is just one example of many, how a slight change in one element resonates strongly through the entire wholeness. Millimeters differences can have a drastic effect on this image which is ~9cm by 7 cm. This also demonstrated the idea of “character” – like in the four images of Matisse – despite variations caused by my perception and drawing, the overall pattern (if I got the centers right) persists.

Here the sequence started to become less clear to me. I feel that I still have not discovered the right sequence of centers for this second pattern … still black spaces guided me well:

… and once again the original for reference

… this felt fundamental … like learning to walk …

Posted in Design, Expanding, inside, Nature of Order, Nature Of Order Book 1, outside | Tagged | You are welcome to add your comment

Milford Graves


this delightful creature came to me via Fred Wilson

I just went swimmig through these two albums:

reminded me of my encounters with Ariel Shibolet in Israel … right around my time with Shahar

Posted in Enjoy, inside | You are welcome to add your comment

Christopher Alexander – 15 Fundamental Properties


There is a bit of an anxiety in me as I arrive at this excerpt. It is rooted in knowing that in publishing it I am making a kind of commitment about the next 15 excerpts. And since this is my second reading, I know how daunting a task this can be. So I am curious how this is going to unfold.

“… I began to notice that objects and buildings which have life all have certain identifiable structural characteristics. The same geometric features keep showing up in them, again and again. Initially I began writing these characteristics down informally, and I began to ‘keep watch’ on them.

What I did was straightforward and empirical. I simply looked at thousands and thousands of example, comparing those which had more life with those that had less life. Whenever I looked at two examples, I could determine which one had greater ‘life’ or greater wholeness, by asking which of them generated a greater wholeness in me. Thus I did not impose on myself the modesty of judgement typical in a pluralistic society …

I asked myself this question: Can we find any structural features which tend to be present in the examples which have more life. and tend to be missing in the ones which have less life?

… This is what I did. For twenty years, I spent two or three hours a day looking at pairs of things – building, tiles, stones, windows, carpets, figures, carvings of flowers, paths, seats, furniture, streets, paintings, fountains, doorways, arches …

I managed to identify fifteen structural features which appear again and again in things which do have life. These are:

  1. Levels of scale
  2. Strong centers
  3. Boundaries
  4. Alternating repetition
  5. Positive space
  6. Good shape
  7. Local symmetries
  8. Deep interlock and ambiguity
  9. Contrast
  10. Gradients
  11. Roughness
  12. Echoes
  13. The void
  14. Simplicity and inner calm
  15. Not-separateness

At first, I observed  these features without understanding what they were. That is, I understood each of them … as something which was present, often or very often, in a living system – to such an extent that one might almost say that each one was a predictor of whether a thing would have life or not … [but] I did not understand why …

I came to understand that they work, they make things have life, because they are the ways in which centers can help each other in space.

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 1: The Phenomenon of Life

Posted in Design, outside | You are welcome to add your comment

Christopher Alexander – Centers & Life … and Robert Pirsig


This excerpt has, for me, a unique flavor. It is brief. I originally intended to skip it, but decided to come back to it. It will probably come across as abstract. I did not find a way to capture the essence of the next few sections which contain examples that illustrate the point Alexander is trying to make (which is why I was leaning towards skipping it).

This point is also special for me because in it (details below) Alexander references the work of Robert Pirsig. This is the only work that I’ve encountered that acknowledges Pirsig’s work which has inspired me so much.

“Armed with the ideas that each center is a multi-levelled field-like phenomenon made of other centers, let us now come back to the idea that each center has its degree of life[*footnote referencing Pirsig].

… I want to now extend this idea and apply it separately and individually to every distinct center in the wholeness of a thing …

… the degree of life of each center in a given wholeness depends on the degree of life of all the other centers in the wholeness.”

Robert Pirsig footnote:

“The idea that every center has its life make the ‘life’ of the centers teh ultimate primitive of this theory. This is perhaps comparable to Robert Pirsig’s idea that Quality, not Substance, is the ultimate primitive. As Pirsig puts it, ‘Quality is supposed to be just a vague fringe word that tells what we think about objects … The idea that quality can create objects seems very wrong … but the idea that values create objects gets less and less weird as you get used to it.’ … I am saying something similar about that which animates the living centers.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 1: The Phenomenon of Life

The following section includes an image (though not this one) of this space in the Alhambra:

… followed by a detailed inquiry into the pattern that is un the lower half of the picture – the texture beneath the arched openings. I attempted to play around with recreating in sketching one of the elements that make up the pattern and was blown away by 1) allowing myself to sketch, shifting my attention away from precision and towards centers and 2) the seeing and subtlety that are required to recreate it, even when it already exists before my eyes as a reference. It is amazing how very small variations project so strongly into the wholeness that is created. The more time I spent with it the more I realized how much more there it to see … my “success” or “failure” was not so much a function of my drawing abilities (close to none) but of my ability to perceive.

I am now playing with sketching a more elaborate pattern from one of a Turkish rug mentioned in one of the next sections.

Posted in Expanding, inside, Nature of Order, Nature Of Order Book 1 | Tagged , , | You are welcome to add your comment