“To die with elation is a crappy way of dying… A warrior dies the hard way. His death must struggle to take him. A warrior does not give himself to it.”
Carlos Castaneda

Tales of Power

Christopher Alexander on First Steps and Ripples in Design

“… As any designer will tell you, it is the first steps in a design process which count for most. The first few strokes which create the form, carry within them the destiny of the rest.

How then, in a living process, do we take the first steps of design so that a beautiful, coherent whole begins to take shape?

In the early stage we must concentrate, of course, on broad structure, on the emergent structure of the whole… The notation that architects traditionally use is a language of drawing or computer representation … But such a sketch aways includes too much information, too early, so that the sketch (or computer drawing) is invariably over-specific … if only 20% of the information in a sketch is based on real decisions that have been taken by a living process in the designer’s mind, and the remaining 80% is arbitrary stuff entered into the drawing only because the notation (sketching) requires it, trouble inevitably follows.

We therefore need a notation … which stays closer to what is actually known at each moment. Here I wish to introduce the idea of morphological “ripples” … a partially generated form … not yet clearly located, or dimensioned, or even characterized … which, though fuzzy … plays a decisive role in giving character and feeling to the end result.

It is important that the first steps – the morphological ripples – should focus only on the broadest, most global features of the emerging design … At each step, another “ripple” inroduces one more feature of the whole. To contain these ripples, I find it best to work … in the mind’s eye, preferably while standing in the real place itself …

More important still, as a first stage in the design process, I usually make a word picture of the building. That is, I spell out, IN WORDS, what the buiding is like, what it is like to arrive to it, what the space in front of it is like, how the building forms the space, what happens as you enter, what happens inside the building, where its main rooms are, what their special beauty is, what is it like to go out, from those rooms, to the outdoors. All in all, a vision of the finished building IN WORDS – as beautiful as I can make it.

… Words and interior visions, when seen with your eyes closed, are more labile, more fluid, transformable and three dimensional … They allow the unfolding to go forward more successfully … If I say that a building towers above me, when I approach it, this says something qualitative about its height, but does not yet describe the exact height … if I make even the most rudimentary drawing … the drawing has an actual height (implied by proportion), and it has many features of shape, width, volume, articulation, which have not in fact been generated by the fundamental process.

… The vision in the mind’s eye contains little that is not actually generated by the living process … what it does add is real, and germane, and flexible … The vision floats in your mind, a hovering clear picture  …

… You start by saying to yourself, and seeing, one thing, the most important thing about the building … the first global holistic aspect of the building which you see, when you close your eyes and imagine the building as the context requires that it should be.”

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

Nature of Order - Table of Contents"

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