“Paradox is a pointer telling you to look beyond it. If paradoxes bother you, that betrays your deep desire for absolutes.”
Frank Herbert

God Emperor of Dune

Christopher Alexander – Fundamental Property 13: The Void


The rug pictured below is “similar” (not identical) to the one shown in the book … I chose it for its void quality over some of the other finer qualities in the sample shown in the book.

“In the most profound centers which have perfect wholeness, there is at the heart a void which is like water, infinite in depth, surrounded by and contrasted with the clutter of the stuff and fabric all around it …

In the Ghiordes prayer rug … this takes the form of the deep blue emptiness at the center. It connects with the infinite void, and also the the center of oneself.

… the altar in a church … it is the silence, at the heart

To understand the quality of the void clearly, a contrast between two examples is helpful once again: the plan of the mosque of Baybard in Cairo, contrasted with the plan of a typical American office building  of the 1970s. In the center of the mosque we experience the void. In the office building, there is merely an endless clutter and buzz. Nothing is still …

the Cairo Mosque of Baybars


Typical office building

This emptiness is needed, in some form, by every center … It is the quiet that draws the center’s energy of itself, gives it the basis of its strength …

A living structure can’t be all detail. The buzz finally diffuses itself, and destroys its own structure.”

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

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Living in Darkness


A … I don’t quite know how to describe it … softly meandering … through … it all???? … tale of circles, light, dark, change, war, peace, love, pain, death … and deep surrender … and Jennifer.

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Christopher Alexander – Fundamental Property 12: Echoes


” … there is a deep underlying similarity – a family resemblance – among the elements, so deep that everything seems to be related, and yet one doesn’t quite know why, or what causes it. That is what I mean by ‘echoes.’ Echoes, as far as I can tell, depend o the angles, and families of angles, which are prevalent in the design.

… This family resemblance can be illustrated most easily by a negative example: the building by Michelangelo … is, of all the building I know, the most hopeless hodgepodge. It is a salad of motifs and elements. Squares, circles, broken circles, triangles, are pasted together in a riot of disharmony …

… in the Himalayan monastery all the parts – stones, caps, doors, and steps – are heavily square with a line and a shallow angle … In Thyangboche, the monastery in the foothills of Everest, we feel in some profound and subtle way that this building is part of the mountains: part of the Himalayas themselves. The angles of the roofs, the way the small roof sits on the larger roof, the ‘peak’ on the largest roof, the band below the roof edge – all reflect or echo one another, and echo the structural feeling of the mountains themselves.

… in the houses from Alberabello all the motifs are cone-like …

… If something has been made without some echoes of this type, the chances are that ertain deep requirements have been ignored, and the variety of non-echoing forms will cause various functional failures …”

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

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Christopher Alexander – Fundamental Property 11: Roughness


This is one of the patterns that resonate deeply with me. It makes me feel at ease, relaxed, it gives me permission to do what I feel needs to be done without having to know in advance how everything will come together. It invites me to trust my choices and to trust that tending to well to what is before me now is the best thing I can do “in the grand scheme of things.”

“Things which have real life always have a certain ease, a morphological roughness. This is not an accidental property. It is not a residue of technically inferior culture, or the result of hand-craft or inaccuracy. It is an essential structural feature without which a thing cannot be whole.

The Persian bowl … is covered by mall designs (sinekli) made of two blows and two strokes … They are rough, in the sense that the size of the individual brush strokes, their exact spacing, and the exact shape and length of stroke all vary from one to the next …

It is intuitively clear that this subtle variation is partly responsible for the charm and harmony of this bowl … we probably attribute this charm to the fact that the bowl is handmade … trace of human hand … we know therefore that it is personal, full of human error.

This interpretation is fallacious., and has entirely the wrong emphasis. The reason that this roughness in the design contributes so greatly to the wholeness of the bowl is that a perfect triangular grid of the kind used here, cannot be made to fill a spherical surface properly …

Indeed, throughout the design the subtle variation of the brush strokes and their spacing, are done in such a way … each one is placed, by eye, just exactly where it needs to be … When the painter painted the strokes, he could do this almost without thinking … it is this which makes the bowl so perfect …

Often the border of ancient carpet is ‘irregular’ where it goes round the corner, that is the design breaks, and the corner seems ‘patched together.’ This does not happen through carelessness or inaccuracy. On the contrary, it happens because the weaver is paying close attention to the the positive and negative, to the alternating repetition of the border, to the good shape of each compartment …  To keep all of them just right along the length of the border, some loose and makeshift composition must be done at the corner.

If the weaver wanted to calculate or plot our a so called ‘perfect’ solution to the corner … these would all be determined mechanistically by outside considerations, i.e., by the grid of the border … The corner design would then dominate the design in a way which would destroy the weaver’s ability to do what is just right at each point. The life of the design would be destroyed.

… The seemingly rough arrangement is more precise because it comes from a much more careful guarding of the essential centers in the design.

… Roughness can never be consciously or deliberately created. Then it is merely contrived. To make a thing live, its roughness must be the product of endlessness, the product of no will … Roughness is always the product of abandon – it is created whenever a person is truly free, and doing only what is essential

… Roughness does not seek to superimpose an arbitrary order over a design, but instead lets the larger order be relaxed, modified according to the demands and constraints which happen locally in different parts of the design.”

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



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Some good clay advice: stop for just a moment


Beautiful work and heart. Hearing about narratives in his works made me look inside and wonder what would my narratives be? I (still) cannot see them … I felt naked.

via Iulia 🙂

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