“I have actually seen people contemplate their navels.”
John Heilpern

Conference of the Birds

The Order of the Language

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Design is often thought of as a process of synthesis, a process of putting together things, a process of combination.

According to this view, a whole is created by putting together parts. The parts come first: the the form of the whole comes second.

But it is impossible to form anything which has the character of nature by adding preformed parts … it is impossible for every part to be unique, according to its position in the whole.

… It is only possible to make a place which is alive by a process in which each part is modified by its position in the whole.

… This is a differentiating process.

It views design as a sequence of acts of complexification; structure is injected into the whole by operating on the whole and crinkling it … the whole gives birth to its parts … The form of the whole, and the parts, come into being simultaneously.

The image of the differentiating process is the growth of an embryo.

It starts as a single cell … grows into a ball of cells. Then, through a series of differentiations, each building on the last, the structure become more and more complex, until a finished human being is formed.

Christopher Alexander – A Timeless Way of Building

The first thing that happens is that this ball gets an inside, a middle layer and an outside … which will later turn into skeleton, flesh and skin … then … gets an axis … [that] will become the spine … and so on. At every stage of development, new structure is laid down, o the basis of the structure which has een laid down so far …

The unfolding of a design in the ind of its creator, under the influence of a pattern language, is just the same.

A language allows you to generate an image of a building in your mind, by placing patterns in space, one pattern at a time.

… this process only works because the patterns in the language have a certain order.

… The patterns will only allow me to form a single coherent image in my mind, if the order that I take them in allows me to build an image of a design gradually one pattern at a time.

And I shall only be able to do this if each pattern is always consistent with the total image which I have built from all the earlier patterns in the sequence.

Christopher Alexander – A Timeless Way of Building

… But how exactly, does each pattern work?

… Ask yourself how this pattern would look if it were already in the place where you are wanting it.

… To do it you need only let it happen in your mind … Suddenly, without your making any conscious effort, your mind will show you how …

Do not consciously try to create the patter. If you do this, the images and ideas in your mind will distort it, will begin to take over, and the pattern itself will never make its way into the world: instead there will be a “design.”

… Your mind is a medium within which the creative spark that jumps between the pattern and the world can happen. You yourself are only the medium for this creative spark, not its originator.

You may find this way of letting patterns form themselves, unusual.

To do it, you must let go of your control and let the pattern do the work. You cannot do this, normally, because you are trying to make decisions without having confidence in the basis for them.

… You may be afraid that the design wont work if you take just one pattern at a time … what guarantee is there that all the patterns will fit together coherently?

… The greatest fear we experience in the process of design is that everything will not work out. And yet the building will become alive only when you can let go of this fear.

… The order of the language will make sure that it is possible.

Christopher Alexander – A Timeless Way of Building
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