2013年4月12日 星期五

簡介 Christopher Alexander

Christopher Alexander

The Battle To Bring Life and Beauty to the Earth

Date 5/2/11
Affiliation Architect, London


In his first West Coast public lecture in 10 years, Alexander will demonstrate that what he has been talking about for many years is feasible on a large scale. The methods for designing and building that are spelled out theoretically and practically applied in THE NATURE OF ORDER, TIMELESS WAY OF BUILDING, A PATTERN LANGUAGE, and other Center for Environmental Structure publications, are applied to the Eishin campus built near Tokyo, Japan from 1982 to 1985 - a project of 29 buildings on 20 acres of land, about nine city blocks.
The care and finesse that Alexander has been describing to us throughout his career was applied to this large project, which came in on time and less expensively than a standard construction budget would have allowed. At the beginning of the talk, Alexander will show an extensive range of images about the project, the methods of construction that were used, the involvement of students and faculty, and the overall development of a full-scale environment of a rather lovely kind.
Alexander will then talk on themes related to the way these buildings were made and are used and what it would mean if these principles could be applied to creating environments everywhere and society in general. What would that take? First is the recognition of what is described in BATTLE as system B - the method of production that is now prevalent throughout the world, which is centered on the profit motive, and supported by institutions and governments. Then we need an understanding of system A, the system which built the Eishin campus, despite system B. It was a very rough road, with many painful, arduous, and sometimes seemingly hopeless battles. But along the way, Alexander and his colleagues learned that it could be possible for these two systems to become working partners, using the best of both to achieve something that is impossible now. The most important message of BATTLE is the vision of a way forward, that we could choose together, to build a society and an environment of such a kind that we would be fulfilled in living there.


For nearly 40 years Christopher Alexander has challenged the architectural establishment, sometimes uncomfortably, to pay more attention to the human beings at the center of design. To do so he has combined top-flight scientific training, award-winning architectural research, patient observation and testing throughout his building projects, and a radical but profoundly influential set of ideas that have extended far beyond the realm of architecture. In the process Alexander has authored a series of groundbreaking works, including A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction (Oxford University Press, 1977) and The Timeless Way of Building (OUP, 1977). His most recent publication continues that groundbreaking work, incorporating more than 30 years of research, study, teaching and building. The four-volume book set, The Nature of Order: An Essay on the Art of Building and the Nature of the Universe (Center for Environmental Structure, 2004) was described by Laura Miller of the New York Times "the kind of book every serious reader should wrestle with once in a while: [a] fat, challenging, grandiose tract that encourages you to take apart the way you think and put it back together again."
Alexander was born in Vienna, Austria and raised in Oxford and Chichester, England. He was awarded the top open scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge in 1954, in chemistry and physics, and went on to read mathematics at Cambridge. He took his doctorate in architecture at Harvard (the first Ph.D. in architecture ever awarded at Harvard), and was elected to the society of Fellows at Harvard University in 1961. During the same period he worked at MIT in transportation theory and in computer science, and at Harvard in cognitive science. His pioneering ideas from that time were known to be highly influential in those fields.
In 1963, Alexander became Professor of Architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, and taught there continuously for 38 years, becoming Professor Emeritus in 2001. He also founded the Center for Environmental Structure, published hundreds of papers and several dozen books, and built more than 300 buildings around the world. In 2002 he moved back to England, where he now lives and works.
Alexander is widely recognized as the father of the pattern language movement in computer science, which has led to important innovations such as Wiki, and new kinds of Object-Oriented Programming. He is the recipient of the first medal for research ever given by the American Institute of Architects, and he has been honored repeatedly for his buildings in many parts of the world. He was elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1996 for his contributions to architecture, including his groundbreaking work on how the built environment affects the lives of people.
-- As of 5/2/11

1986年我翻譯 Christopher Alexander的《形之合成》Notes on the Synthesis of Form (1964)



我想Wikipedia 的介紹可以作為討論的起點0

Christopher Alexander及其同志的書1987年以前出版的可能都有漢譯本了.

The Nature of Order 台灣可能有不少大學圖書館都能找到.

約十年前網路就有付費的patterns資料庫 (月費並不高)


我們介紹的第三種「空間詩學」,就是夏氏所說的「亞歷山大及其同志」,參考: 夏鑄九「模式語言及非正式營造系統的認識論批判: 亞歷山大及其同志」(1989),修正後收入其《理論建築:朝向空間實踐的理論建構》(台北: 台灣社會研究,1992,頁86-125),其中約收入相關的論文和書籍61篇/本,還有內文提到1979年的,書/文單中從缺的。

要了解「亞歷山大及其同志」的學說和實務,當然不應該從這種批判論文出發,因為其中許多抽象的術語,可能是不必要的誤導 (他們的主要著作4-5本,兩岸都有翻譯本,應該從它們入手,譬如說環境設計手冊型的《模式語言》(A Pattern Language,書名中的A 被誤以為為The,還是夏氏等多少「修理」的對象)。然而,夏的論文中觸及其次最大部分的全貌 (亞歷山大約十幾年前自行出版多本大型著作 (最值得深思的是,其贊助者是Sun Computers等公司的軟體設計單位),它們壓在牛津大學出版社約廿年,而他本人可能退休了約十年)。

「亞歷山大及其同志」的著作中,是經常提到他所謂的「品質」 (或是夏所說的「圓滿」) ,而且他們有一套落實其品質的設計和營建法。

我還沒想出來要如何簡要地介紹「亞歷山大及其同志」的學說內容。暫時,只是暫時,在這兒停一下)。寫文章或詩歌是一句句地寫,或芭蕾 (李哲洋譯為舞劇)是由許多所謂「劇繫」所組成…..所以亞氏這一套或許可以說,所有利害關係人大家討論出其「價值」,再大家一起參與討論學習用《模式語言》中相關而適切的 (多個)「模式」,再類似作詩的方式整合之來完成我們的設計。

Grabow, Stephen: Christopher Alexander: The Search for a New Paradigm in Architecture, Oriel Press (Routledge & Kegan Paul), London and Boston, 1983.

Christopher Wolfgang Alexander (born October 4, 1936 in Vienna, Austria) is an architect noted for his theories about design, and for more than 200 building projects in California, Japan, Mexico and around the world. Reasoning that users know more about the buildings they need than any architect could, he produced and validated (in collaboration with Sarah Ishikawa and Murray Silverstein) a "pattern language" designed to empower anyone to design and build at any scale. Alexander is often overlooked by texts in the history and theory of architecture because his work intentionally disregards contemporary architectural discourse.[1] As such, Alexander is widely considered to occupy a place outside the discipline, the discourse, and the practice of Architecture.[citation needed] In 1958 he moved from England to the United States, living and teaching in Berkeley, California from 1963. He is professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley. Now retired (though still active), he is based in Arundel, Sussex, UK.

1 Education
2 Honors
3 Career
3.1 Writings
3.2 Buildings
3.2.1 Teaching
4 Influence
4.1 Architecture
4.2 Computer science
4.3 Religion
5 Published works
6 See also
7 References
8 Further reading
9 External links


Alexander grew up in England and started his education in sciences. In 1954, he was awarded the top open scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge University in chemistry and physics, and went on to read mathematics. He earned a Bachelor's degree in Architecture and a Master's degree in Mathematics. He took his doctorate at Harvard (the first Ph.D. in Architecture ever awarded at Harvard University), and was elected fellow at Harvard. During the same period he worked at MIT in transportation theory and in computer science, and worked at Harvard in cognition and cognitive studies.

Alexander was awarded the First Gold Medal for Research by the American Institute of Architects in 1972. The ACSA (Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture) honored Alexander with the ACSA Distinguished Professor Award in 1986-87.[2] He was awarded the Seaside Prize in 1994. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1996.[3] In 2006 he was one of the two inaugural recipients of the Athena Award, given by the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU). On 5 November 2009, at a ceremony in Washington D.C., he was awarded (in absentia) the Vincent Scully Prize by the National Building Museum. In 2011 he was awarded the lifetime achievement award by the Urban Design Group.

The Timeless Way of Building (1979) described the perfection of use to which buildings could aspire:

There is one timeless way of building. It is a thousand years old, and the same today as it has ever been. The great traditional buildings of the past, the villages and tents and temples in which man feels at home, have always been made by people who were very close to the center of this way. It is not possible to make great buildings, or great towns, beautiful places, places where you feel yourself, places where you feel alive, except by following this way. And, as you will see, this way will lead anyone who looks for it to buildings which are themselves as ancient in their form, as the trees and hills, and as our faces are.

A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction (1977) described a practical architectural system in a form that a theoretical mathematician or computer scientist might call a generative grammar.

The work originated from an observation that many medieval cities are attractive and harmonious. The authors said that this occurs because they were built to local regulations that required specific features, but freed the architect to adapt them to particular situations.

The book provides rules and pictures, and leaves decisions to be taken from the precise environment of the project. It describes exact methods for constructing practical, safe and attractive designs at every scale, from entire regions, through cities, neighborhoods, gardens, buildings, rooms, built-in furniture, and fixtures down to the level of doorknobs.

A notable value is that the architectural system consists only of classic patterns tested in the real world and reviewed by multiple architects for beauty and practicality.

The book includes all needed surveying and structural calculations, and a novel simplified building system that copes with regional shortages of wood and steel, uses easily-stored inexpensive materials, and produces long-lasting classic buildings with small amounts of materials, design and labor. It first has users prototype a structure on-site in temporary materials. Once accepted, these are finished by filling them with very-low-density concrete. It uses vaulted construction to build as high as three stories, permitting very high densities.

This book's method was adopted by the University of Oregon, as described in The Oregon Experiment (1975), and remains the official planning instrument. It has also been adopted in part by some cities as a building code.

The idea of a pattern language appears to apply to any complex engineering task, and has been applied to some of them. It has been especially influential in software engineering where patterns have been used to document collective knowledge in the field.

A New Theory of Urban Design (1987) coincided with a renewal of interest in urbanism among architects, but stood apart from most other expressions of this by assuming a distinctly anti-masterplanning stance. An account of a design studio conducted with Berkeley students, it shows how convincing urban networks can be generated by requiring individual actors to respect only local rules, in relation to neighbours. A vastly undervalued part of the Alexander canon, A New Theory is important in understanding the generative processes which give rise to the shanty towns latterly championed by Stewart Brand,[4] Robert Neuwirth,[5] and the Prince of Wales.[6]

The Nature of Order: An Essay on the Art of Building and the Nature of the Universe (2003-4), which includes The Phenomenon of Life, The Process of Creating Life, A Vision of a Living World and The Luminous Ground, is Alexander's latest, and most comprehensive and elaborate work. In it, he puts forth a new theory about the nature of space and describes how this theory influences thinking about architecture, building, planning, and the way in which we view the world in general. The mostly static patterns from A Pattern Language have been amended by more dynamic sequences, which describe how to work towards patterns (which can roughly be seen as the end result of sequences). Sequences, like patterns, promise to be tools of wider scope than building (just as his theory of space goes beyond architecture).

The online publication "Katarxis 3" (September 2004) includes several essays by Christopher Alexander, as well as the legendary debate between Alexander and Peter Eisenman from 1982.

Among Alexander's most notable built works are the Eishin Campus near Tokyo (the building process of which is outlined in his 2012 book The Battle for the Life and Beauty of the Earth); the West Dean Visitors Centre [7] in West Sussex, England; the Julian Street Inn (a homeless shelter) in San Jose, California (both described in Nature of Order); the Martinez House (an experimental house in Martinez, California made of lightweight concrete); the low-cost housing in Mexicali, Mexico (described in The Production of Houses); and several private houses (described and illustrated in "The Nature of Order"). Alexander's built work is characterized by a special quality (which he used to call "the quality without a name", but named "wholeness" in Nature of Order) that relates to human beings and induces feelings of belonging to the place and structure. This quality is found in the most loved traditional and historic buildings and urban spaces, and is precisely what Alexander has tried to capture with his sophisticated mathematical design theories. Paradoxically, achieving this connective human quality has also moved his buildings away from the abstract imageability valued in contemporary architecture, and this is one reason why his buildings are under-appreciated at present.[1]

Michael Mehaffy wrote an introductory essay on Christopher Alexander's built work in the online publication "Katarxis 3", which includes a gallery of Alexander's major built projects to date (September 2004).

Apart from his lengthy teaching career at Berkeley (during which a number of international students began to appreciate and apply his methods), Alexander was a key member of faculty both of The Prince of Wales's Summer Schools in Civil Architecture (1990–1994) and The Prince of Wales's Institute of Architecture[6]

Alexander's work has widely influenced architects; those that acknowledge his influence include Sarah Susanka,[8] among others.

Architecture critic Peter Buchanan, in an essay for The Architectural Review's 2012 campaign The Big Rethink, depicts the challenge posed by Alexander's work as follows:

"Even architects not immune to the charms of the places depicted, are loath to pursue the folksy aesthetic they see as implied and do not want to engage with such primitive construction – although the systemic collapse now unfolding may force that upon them. The daunting challenge for architects then, if such a thing is even possible to realise, would be to recreate in a more contemporary idiom both the richness and quality of experience suggested by the pattern language."[9]
Computer science

Alexander's Notes on the Synthesis of Form was required reading for researchers in computer science throughout the 1960s. It had an influence[10] in the 1960s and 1970s on programming language design, modular programming, object-oriented programming, software engineering and other design methodologies. Alexander's mathematical concepts and orientation were similar to Edsger Dijkstra's influential A Discipline of Programming.[11]

A Pattern Language‘s greatest influence in computer science is the design patterns movement.[12] Alexander's philosophy of incremental, organic, coherent design also influenced the extreme programming movement.[13] The Wiki was invented[14][15] to allow the Hillside Group to work on programming design patterns. More recently, The Nature of Order's "deep geometrical structures" have been cited as having importance for object-oriented programming, particularly in C++.[16]

Will Wright wrote that Alexander's work was influential in the origin of The Sims computer game, and in his later game Spore.[17]

The fourth volume of The Nature of Order approaches religious questions from a scientific rather than mystical direction. In it, Alexander describes deep ties between the nature of matter, human perception of the universe, and the geometries people construct in buildings, cities, and artifacts,[vague][examples needed] and he suggests a crucial link between traditional beliefs and recent scientific advances.[vague][examples needed] Despite his leanings toward Deism,[citation needed] Alexander has retained a respect for the Catholic Church, believing it to embody a great deal of accumulated human truth within its rituals.[citation needed]
Published works

Alexander's published works include:
Community and Privacy, with Serge Chermayeff (1963)
Notes on the Synthesis of Form (1964)
A city is not a tree (1965)
The Atoms of Environmental Structure (1967)
A Pattern Language which Generates Multi-service Centers, with Ishikawa and Silverstein (1968)
Houses Generated by Patterns (1969)
The Grass Roots Housing Process (1973)
The Oregon Experiment (1975)
A Pattern Language, with Ishikawa and Silverstein (1977)
The Timeless Way of Building (1979)
The Linz Cafe (1981)
The Production of Houses, with Davis, Martinez, and Corner (1985)
A New Theory of Urban Design, with Neis, Anninou, and King (1987)
Foreshadowing of 21st Century Art: The Color and Geometry of Very Early Turkish Carpets (1993)
The Mary Rose Museum, with Black and Tsutsui (1995)
The Nature of Order Book 1: The Phenomenon of Life (2002)
The Nature of Order Book 2: The Process of Creating Life (2002)
The Nature of Order Book 3: A Vision of a Living World (2005)

The Nature of Order Book 4: The Luminous Ground (2004)
 The nature of order: an essay on the art of building and the nature of the Universe. The luminous ground, Volume 4

The Battle for the Life and Beauty of the Earth: A Struggle between Two World-Systems (2012)

Sustainability and Morphogenesis (working title)
See also
Pattern Garden
Pattern Language

^ a b Nikos Salingaros, "A Theory of Architecture", Umbau-Verlag, Solingen, 2009
^ *ACSA Archives, Distinguished Professor Award winners.
^ "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter A". American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 14 April 2011.
^ See Chapter 2 of his Whole Earth Discipline, 2009.
^ Shadow Cities: a billion squatters, a new urban world, 2004.
^ a b See Brian Hanson & Samir Younés, “Reuniting Urban Form and Urban Process: The Prince of Wales’s Urban Design Task Force”, Journal of Urban Design, v.6, no.2 (June 2001), pp.185-209; Charles, Prince of Wales, speech at the "Traditional Urbanism in Contemporary Practice" conference at The Prince‘s Foundation, London, 20th November 2003.
^ England, The West Dean Visitors Centre - Project History
^ Sarah Susanke: Not So Big House, Taunton Press, 2001, ISBN 1561583766
^ The Big Rethink: Transcend And include The Past, 24 April 2012 (accessed 5 January 2012)
^ Kilov, H.. "Using RM-ODP to bridge communication gaps between stakeholders". Communications H Kilov. Workshop on ODP for Enterprise Computing 2004. CiteSeerX: "Peter Naur proposed in 1968 to use Christopher Alexander's work…"
^ Dijkstra, E. (1976-10-28). A Discipline of Programming (Facsimile ed.). Prentice Hall, Inc.. pp. 217. ISBN 0-13-215871-X.
^ Christopher's Alexander's influence on Computer Science
^ Association of C and C++ Users: Interview with Kent Beck on eXtreme Programming
^ C2 Wiki Front Page
^ C2 Wiki: People, Projects and Patterns
^ Space: the Final Frontier
^ Will Wright interview
^ Rob Hopkins interview

Further reading
Grabow, Stephen: Christopher Alexander: The Search for a New Paradigm in Architecture, Oriel Press (Routledge & Kegan Paul), London and Boston, 1983.

 HRISTOPHER ALEXANDER: The Search for a New Paradigm in Architecture  (1983)是一本絕版書   不過美國有三處"新書"賣60美元 (1983年版訂價37.5元)

作者STEPHEN GRABOW 當初申請到補助,跑到CHRISTOPHER ALEXANDER任教的伯克萊大學,與傳主密切訪談6個月以上 (訪談多有錄音 本書多根據這些謄本寫作)。當時CHRISTOPHER ALEXANDER 教書約有15年經驗 基本的思想系統已備 雖然他還有近20年的大學教學生涯
英文書將Stephen Grabow與CHRISTOPHER ALEXANDER合作的此書
比擬為Boswell與S. Johnson間合作的The Life of Dr. Johnson


External links

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Christopher Alexander

Official website for Alexander's Pattern Language
Official website of Christopher Alexander, called "Living Neighborhoods"
Official website of Christopher Alexander, on his 4-volume book "The Nature of Order"
Essay on Christopher Alexander's Pattern Language
"Some Notes on Christopher Alexander", by Nikos Salingaros
Introduction to Christopher Alexander
Review of Notes on the Synthesis of Form
Towards a New Science of Architecture Michael Mehaffy's review of The Nature of Order
The Architect of Life Science in Society's review of The Nature of Order
Review of Notes on the Synthesis of Form
Radio interview with Christopher Alexander by NPR's Jennifer Ludden
National Building Museum interviews Michael Mehaffy on the occasion of Christopher Alexander receiving the 2009 Scully Prize
Works by Christopher Alexander on Open Library at the Internet Archive


hall of fame: christopher alexander - Residential Architect
2000 Leadership Awards
hall of fame: christopher alexander
spurred by a love of buildings and building, alexander decoded the patterns that make houses truly livable.

Bruce D. Snider

Credit: Bryce Duffy/Corbis SABA

Christopher Alexander's theory and practice promote an architecture that nurtures human life.


Credit: Bryce Duffy/Corbis SABA

Christopher Alexander's theory and practice promote an architecture that nurtures human life.

What is architecture? What is the role of the architect in society? What is a good building? Should architects strive for beauty in their work? What is beauty? These are matters that every architect must ponder from time to time. But no architect of our time has explored such fundamental questions in greater depth or breadth, or with greater persistence, clarity, and originality of thought, than Christopher Alexander. As a theorist, teacher, author, practicing architect, and builder, Alexander has taken it upon himself to question everything, from construction details and the effects of color to the process by which a global species makes and remakes its environment and, beyond, to the objective bases of beauty itself.

Along the way, his work has informed, inspired, and provoked generations of architects. His most widely read book to date, A Pattern Language (co-authored with Sara Ishikawa and Murray Silverstein), has served as an essential text for architecture students, architects, and builders. Yet the book is so accessible that it remains popular among lay readers more than 20 years after its first publication and so universal that it has become a model not only for architects, planners, and homeowners but also for software developers. In his architectural practice he has shown a way to create, without being merely imitative, buildings with the richness, resonance, and life we are accustomed to experiencing only in old buildings.

His analysis of the structural features of healthy communities provided the theoretical and practical underpinnings of the New Urbanism. His outspoken critique of the Modernist architectural establishment and architectural education has made him both a hero and a bete noire.

bricks and mortarboards

This is not the career Alexander envisioned when, as a young bricklayer's apprentice, he first set his sights on the profession.

"I feel that in some ways I was like a little kid," he says. "I wanted to be an architect, I went to architecture school, I found out that what I learned in architecture school was nonsense." At Cambridge University in the 1950s, he remembers, "The air was thick with Van Doesburg" and a doctrinaire Modernism that struck Alexander, who also studied mathematics, as the height of absurdity.

"I went through the Cambridge School of Architecture almost in a state of desperation," he says. At one point, assigned to design a house—and knowing that his notion of a proper building would provoke only ridicule—Alexander pulled what he remembers as a rather juvenile prank. Idly doodling "some Mondrian-esque lines" on paper, the thought occurred to him: "I'll just put a glass box around this and I'll call it a house." Summoned later to speak with the director of the department about his work, he feared he had earned himself a ticket home. But the director issued no reprimand. As Alexander remembers, "He walks up to me, puts his arm around my shoulder, and says, 'Chris, my boy, this is exactly what we want.'" When the meeting ended Alexander phoned his father and reported, "This is a lunatic asylum."

Rather than destroy his interest in architecture, however, Alexander's architecture school experience only spurred him to dig more deeply into the matter. After graduating from Cambridge, he says, "I had kind of an instinct about the U.S. I decided, 'I'm going to go to the U.S. and I'm going to figure this thing out from scratch.' I went to Harvard with that goal: What is architecture? And I began with anthropology, because I knew that there were so many cultures around the world that had created so many beautiful things." The work Alexander began at Harvard led to a Ph.D. in architecture, a professorship at the University of California at Berkeley, and a career-long pursuit of the universal principles of life-sustaining design.

building blocks

Alexander's process was not merely to catalog what he saw, even the best of it. Rather, it was—and remains—to identify structures and environments that foster objectively measurable positive effects, distill from them the essential qualities that make them work, and develop systems to produce buildings that embody those qualities. It is a deceptively simple approach. Yet it has been remarkably effective at making explicit the unwritten rules that underlie generation upon generation of building around the world.

His research also shed light on what remains perhaps the central paradox of architecture in the late 20th and early 21st centuries: why, with more and more trained architects in the world, we seem less and less effective in creating an environment in which people feel comfortable, whole, and happy. A period that has produced a wealth of inspired buildings has also brought a coarsening of the common fabric. Alexander's effort to decode the universal grammar of design was motivated by his sense that it was being flouted or ignored by an architectural profession that elevated individual artistic expression above all else.

"The idea that a few people are sort of priests of architecture has wreaked havoc," Alexander says. "It has served architecture very badly indeed." From the second half of the 20th century, academic architecture has occupied many of the brightest minds in the field in a closed conversation among architects and critics. The result has been self-consciously avant-garde or ironic work that has drifted further and further from the straightforward needs of the people who will use it. "It is the desire to be remarkable that removes things continuously from our ordinary lives," Alexander says. And because the desire to be remarkable has come to rule our built environment, "we are constantly trapped in places where we cannot be ordinary human beings." Meanwhile, the public's desire for buildings they can relate to is served largely by mass-market kitsch traditionalism, the architectural equivalent of junk food. Skilled architects who wish to address the needs of their clients in a direct, unselfconscious way have often had to go outside their training to do so.

In a day when architecture is viewed, taught, critiqued, and consumed primarily in the form of two-dimensional images—including photographs in magazines like this one—the photographic image exerts a tremendous influence on the actual design of buildings. But the qualities of a captivating graphic composition are quite different from those of a deeply livable environment. For more than 30 years, Alexander's work has challenged architects to delve deeper, to serve the needs of the body and spirit in a way that photography cannot capture, a way that must be experienced directly. Architects recognize this quality in the special places and buildings in their lives, Alexander says, "but for 60 or 80 years, it has not been on the agenda. It's a private feeling people have, but it's not an acknowledged 'this is what we ought to do when we build.' It's crazy, really, that the thing that is the core of all architecture should be, at least for our time, so elusive."

Alexander's work has made this essential quality less elusive than it once was, and less likely to be dismissed as a historical artifact. "I think Christopher Alexander is probably the most important theoretician on architectural design of the present day," says architect and educator Edward Allen, author of the classic textbook Fundamentals of Building

Construction. Alexander's analysis of past and current architectural practice, Allen says, has been "not only deep and important, but also largely correct. He doesn't bat a thousand, but he has undertaken such a vast scope of stuff, it's astonishing how well he does bat."

archetype casting

Alexander has done more than simply challenge architects to produce better work. In his books A Pattern Language, The Timeless Way of Building, and The Oregon Experiment, he offered subtle and powerful tools with which to do so. (An earlier book, Notes on the Synthesis of Form, and his soon-to-be-published The Nature of Order address the physical foundations of form and beauty.) New Urbanist planner Andrés Duany calls Alexander "one of the most influential people who has ever been in the design world. His influence on us, operationally, has been enormous." Sarah Susanka, whose popular books The Not So Big House and Creating the Not So Big House have appealed to both architects and homeowners in an effort to change the way Americans build, credits Alexander as the indispensable guiding light of her career.

"I consider myself one of the first generation of architects brought up with A Pattern Language," she says. For Susanka, the book came along at a crucial moment. Early in her training she sensed that architecture had fallen victim to overspecialization. Architects were taught to believe that they held "special, private knowledge," which their clients could never fully grasp. Young architects lived under an oppressive standard of "doing something nobody has ever done before, for the sake of doing something that's never been done before." Meanwhile, generational continuity in the trades had broken down, scattering the cultural capital once invested in the hands of master craftspeople. "Things that were handed down from father to son and mother to daughter for hundreds of years no longer were." As a result, she says, "people lost their confidence."

"Alexander put forth a completely new paradigm in architecture," Susanka says. Eschewing professionalist jargon and arcane theories, he spoke directly to the question of what kinds of places support vibrant human life. Refusing to turn his back on millennia of human experimentation, he sought answers in real buildings and real communities, and he employed a scientific approach to discerning their effects on people. "He was speaking a whole different language than anyone else had up until that point," Susanka says. It is a language that speaks with both authority and specificity about the constituents of a healthy built environment—green corridors into urban areas, small public squares, paths that connect houses without crossing car roads, houses with cave-like spaces for small children to play in, semi-independent spaces for teenagers—a suitable habitat, if you will. A Pattern Language gave architects and their clients a common ground, a vocabulary with which lay people could identify what they wanted in a building, even if they had never experienced it before. "What he was doing was giving back a certain confidence," Susanka says, "reminding people of what they had forgotten."

Alexander's critics have long dismissed him as a nostalgist whose work has no contemporary relevance. But while his work is replete with elements banished from the Modernist palette—he champions the use of ornament, for example—he says, "I don't think it has anything in it that is a desire for the archaic. I view it very much as going forward." The quality he seeks—a quality amply in evidence in his own buildings—is not the province of any style or period. His description of a visitor center he built for West Dean College, West Sussex, U.K.—"You feel that you're in the presence of a traditional architecture of some uncertain type"—could apply to any of his buildings. But the fact that his architecture feels pre-Modern may say as much about Modernism as about Alexander. Modernism and its offshoots may someday come to be viewed as a subordinate branch of architecture's evolutionary tree; if so, returning to the main trunk to move ahead might well at first seem retrograde.

In hindsight, this champion of timeless values in building seems to have been ahead of the avant-garde from his days at Cambridge. Modernism, Alexander notes, drew much of its inspiration from industrial mass production and the scientific theory, current during the early 20th century, that all matter could be reduced to identical repeating units. This gave rise to what Alexander calls the movement's "insane love affair with repetition." Decades later, the scientific vision of a neatly uniform underlying structure has fallen apart. "The idea of identical repeating units was a washout from the beginning," Alexander says. "All of this arose out of a scientific view of the world that was just wrong." The more closely scientists observe matter, the more they see not uniformity but uniqueness.

countless possibilities

Uniqueness is at the crux of Alexander's vision. But it is not the uniqueness of the avant-garde, of difference for the sake of being different.

He draws his parallels from biological systems and computer science, each of which employs simple sets of instructions—genetic codes or software scripts—to produce infinitely varied and unique responses to data inputs or environmental circumstances. The same genetic material for, say, a tree will give rise to a distinctly different organism in each different environment in which a tree might grow. The same spreadsheet will give a different set of output figures for every set of inputs. In the realm of architecture and planning, this means that a single set of governing principles—a pattern language—can give rise to an infinite variety of design solutions, each appropriately unique to its unique circumstances.

Today's architectural avant-garde relies on computer technology to envision and engineer increasingly self-referential and abstractly sculptural buildings—dubbed "blobs" by architect Greg Lynn, a practitioner in the new genre. Alexander has embraced computer science and computer technology in a more profound way, as both metaphor and the medium with which to advance his vision of "rebuilding the earth."Alexander's application of computer technology to architecture—to the fundamental work of design, not merely to imaging or drafting—began in the 1960s. In its structure, A Pattern Language bears much in common with the scripts that computer programs employ to carry out complex functions. Indeed, software engineers have adopted the book as a structural model with applications in their own field. In its nesting structure and links between patterns, the book anticipated the structure of the World Wide Web.

With the current widespread use of the Internet and computer-controlled production of made-to-order building materials, the world may have at last caught up with A Pattern Language. Alexander has responded to these developments with a Web site, patternlanguage.com, which offers the content of A Pattern Language—in the form of "generative sequences" for the creation of spaces—as a kind of open source code of environmental design. Anyone with an Internet connection can access the site for guidance in planning and building a variety of spaces: a garden, a small addition, a house, a neighborhood, an office building.

Web-based architecture may yet sound a bit ethereal, but Alexander's theory—and his own practice—are deeply rooted in the nitty-gritty of construction. For more than 30 years, his Center for Environmental Structure has served as both a laboratory for his theories and an active architecture and construction firm. From its base in Berkeley, Calif., CES has undertaken projects ranging from town and community plans to individual houses in the U.S. and as far afield as Peru, Austria, and Japan. From this experience Alexander has derived one iron-clad imperative: The architect must direct the construction process. "The unification of design and construction—the willingness of the architect to take responsibility for construction and not just drawing—is probably the single most critical issue," he says. He has pursued this approach in crafting a series of buildings that express, even through the limited medium of photography, a rare emotional depth. "The architect as artist is the core of our activity," Alexander says, "and I mean an artist in the sense of making beautiful things." For architects to realize their full potential as artists, he maintains, "the love of buildings has to become a love of building."

It is the love of both buildings and creating them that has animated Alexander's career. But while every love bears a core of mystery, Alexander has been unwilling to let the mystery rest. By delving deeper into how the things we build can support us, enlighten us, move us, make us better, he has both enlarged and enriched his profession.
Bruce D. Snider writes for residential architect's sister publication CUSTOM HOME.