Christopher Alexander

This man's ideas on design appealled to me very deeply when I first read them. I probably saw a review of Notes On The Synthesis Of Form in Co-evolution Quarterly or Whole Earth Catalog and managed to pick up a copy in the mid 1970's in San Francisco.

Many modern and classic architects eschew his ideas, and yet the most enduring architecture can be viewed as following Alexander's method. Notes On The Synthesis Of Form, defined the theory of why patterns evolve and stabilize. His later A Pattern Languagehas a variety of applications over a wide scale. I instinctively incorporated patterns in my home "Time Haven" before the book was published.

Notes On The Synthesis Of Form, 1964

In his book, Alexander shows that in the design process, a design stabilizes when there are no more misfit variables. The only (practical) way that this will happen is for the design to stabilize within each strongly connected component before stabilizing among more weakly connected sets of components.

In his Epilogue, he states: "My main task has been to show that there is a deep and important underlying structural correspondence between the pattern of a problem and the process of designing a physical form which answers that problem."

In Appendix I, he shows a worked example from The Determination of Components for an Indian Village. An agricultural village of six hundred people is to be reorganized to make it fit present and future conditions developing in rural India. (The full paper appears in Conference on Design Method, Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1963, Christopher Jones, Ed.) He lists all the needs, assertions, rules, etc. as potentially misfit variables.

Then he tabulates all the interactions between variables.

He then analyzes in detail the decomposition of the resulting graph, showing the tree structure of the village and an account of each diagram and associated village functions.

Appendix II gives the mathematical treatment of his design algorithm. In 1963 Alexander published reports describing The hierarchical decomposition of systems which have an associated linear graph. These four HIDECS computer programs were written in IBM 7090 assembly code! It would seem that these algorithms merit being incorporated into design tools. Good Project! (Reference: M.I.T. Civil Engineering Systems Laboratory, Research report R63-27 and Publication No.160). I have a copy of this bulletin.

Does anyone know of modern versions of this with a graphical interface?

I wrote a computer simulation of the system of lights described in Chapter 3: The Source of Good Fit. It nicely illustrates the dynamics of misfit variables. From the program:

190 REM  "Imagine a system of a hundred lights.  Each light can be
200 REM   in one of two possible states.  In one state, the light is on.
210 REM   The lights are constructed so that any light which is on
220 REM   always has a 50-50 chance of going off in the next second.
230 REM   In the other state, the light is off.  Connections between
240 REM   lights are constructed so that any light which is off has a
250 REM   50-50 chance of going on again in the next second, provided
260 REM   atleast one of the lights it is connected to is on.  If all of the
270 REM   lights it is directly connected to are off, for the time being
280 REM   it has no chance of going on again, and stays off.  If the
290 REM   lights are ever all off simultaneously, then they will stay off
300 REM   for good, since when no light is on, none of the lights has any
310 REM   chance of being reactivated.  This is the state of equlibrium.
320 REM   Sooner or later the system of lights will reach it."

A Pattern Language

This section was moved to a separate pattern languages page, in April 2010.

Articles & Books by Christopher Alexander

A City is Not a Tree, Architectural Forum, Vol 122, No 1&2, April 1965. The city should be thought of as more of a network or web.

Center for Environmental Structure Series (some below were written with other authors):

  • The Timeless Way of Building, (lays foundation for series)
  • A Pattern Language, 1977 (see review above)
  • The Oregon Experiment, 19??, (redoing the University of Oregon campus)
  • The Linz Cafe', 19??, (All the details of a single building in Austria)
  • The Production of Houses, 19??, (from local materials, in Mexico)
  • A New Theory of Urban Design, 1987, (process of growing a greater whole)
  • The Nature of Order, 2001-2005, Oxford Press, 4 volumes:
    • Book One: The Phenomenon of Life
    • Book Two: The Process of Creating Life
    • Book Three: A Vision of a Living World
    • Book Four: The Luminous Ground
  • The Battle for the Life and Beauty of the Earth: A Struggle Between Two World-Systems, 2010

Articles & Books About Christopher Alexander

A full bibliography is in CHRISTOPHER ALEXANDER, The Search for a New Paradigm in Architecture by Stephen Grabow, Oriel Press, 1983.

Wikipedia Article on C.A.: [LINK]


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