“… when confronted with unusual life situations… A warrior acts as if nothing had ever happened, because he doesn’t believe in anything, yet he accepts everything at its face value.”
Carlos Castaneda

Tales of Power

Christopher Alexander – Ornament and Function

“… What, then, is the relationship between order and function? …

During the early and middle 20th century, the idea of function was for the most part understood in a mechanistic spirit … functions were to be described by a kind of shopping list of ‘goals.’ These goals were defined by the architect or engineer, then achieved …

However there were unsolved puzzles inherent in this idea of needs or goals. Those of us who made lists of functions were aware that these lists were inherently arbitrary (dependent on the architect, or client who made them, their forgetfulness, lack of insight, etc). Where was the real list of needs? Where was it to be found?…

There were further difficulties. The list of needs or goals, no matter how carefully stated, could only with difficulty be connected to the physical form of a building. And the beauty of form itself was even more elusive …

So one had a split view of architecture, in which two separated and warring categories of content existed, could not easily be fused: function and beauty, ornament and function …

But within the view of order which I have put forward in this book it is possible, in principle, to unify these two broken halves. It is possible to think of architecture in a single way where beauty and function – both contributing to life – can be understood as a single unbroken whole …

Function is simply the dynamic aspect of wholeness. A structure, viewed in a static sense, has to do with the system of centers that appear in it. As something lives, acts in the world, interacts with the world, different centers appear and disappear … The flux of these moving, transitory  centers … is the process we call life.

The process we call ‘function’ is the process by which the static system is – or is not – in harmony with this moving system of centers that we call life … When they are harmonious and co-adapted, we call the system functional.

… Altogether I believe the functional life of buildings is created by the same field effect among centers which creates the field of centers in an ornament. Each ‘functional’ problem’ is solved by the cooperation or integration of centers which arise within the building dynamically, while it is working.

… What we call ornament and what we call function are simply two version of one more general phenomenon … good functional structures achieve their quality from a conscious effort by the maker to make the geometric field of centers.

… That means the basic rule of function is simple this: we try to make every part of the world precious, as far as we can.

… I must stress that the idea that every part of space has life in some degree does not violate our actual experience … What is violated is only the picture of space which has been put in our minds by Descartes and by the assumptions of mechanistic science. Descartes specifically described space as a neutral and strictly abstract geometric medium … But it is an idea, not an observed fact. It is not empirical. The cartesian dogma and its assumptions are methodological teachings, useful models. As presently formulated, they are violated by the idea that every part of space has some life. But experience itself is not violated by it.

…The fundamental functional insight is to realize that the mechanistic functional analysis is all a myth anyway – since there is no stopping in the endless regression of reasons for why something works. What actually fits our common sense, and what we really do when we think about such things, is always, and only, to create this greater life out of greater life – and to make that answerable only to itself. There is no other reason behind it.

As the whole emerges, the universe becomes ornamented by it … In this undertanding a flower, or a river, or a person, or a building all have the same potential role. Each of them may be judged by the extent to which this pure blissful structure comes into being, and by the extent to which the light of the universe shines through as a result of this creation.”

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

Nature of Order - Table of Contents"