Top 47 Quotes & Sayings by Christopher Alexander

Explore popular quotes and sayings by an American architect Christopher Alexander.
Christopher Alexander

Christopher Wolfgang John Alexander was an Austrian-born British-American architect and design theorist. He was an emeritus professor at the University of California, Berkeley. His theories about the nature of human-centered design have affected fields beyond architecture, including urban design, software, and sociology. Alexander designed and personally built over 100 buildings, both as an architect and a general contractor.

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To work our way towards a shared language once again, we must first learn how to discover patterns which are deep, and capable of generating life.
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.
This is a fundamental view of the world. It says that when you build a thing you cannot merely build that thing in isolation, but must repair the world around it, and within it, so that the larger world at that one place becomes more coherent, and more whole; and the thing which you make takes its place in the web of nature, as you make it.
In short, no pattern is an isolated entity. Each pattern can exist in the world only to the extent that is supported by other patterns: the larger patterns in which it is embedded, the patterns of the same size that surround it, and the smaller patterns which are embedded in it.
In an organic environment, every place is unique, and the different places also cooperate, with no parts left over, to create a global whole - a whole which can be identified by everyone who is part of it.
Images in the 20th century had a unique power where image became divorced from reality, and often more important than reality... Buildings were judged - at least by members of our own profession - more by the way they looked in magazines than by the satisfaction people felt when using them.
Speaking as a builder, if you start something, you must have a vision of the thing which arises from your instinct about preserving and enhancing what is there.
The structure of life I have described in buildings - the structure which I believe to be objective - is deeply and inextricably connected with the human person, and with the innermost nature of human feeling.
The more living patterns there are in a place - a room, a building, or a town - the more it comes to life as an entirety, the more it glows, the more it has that self-maintaining fire which is the quality without a name.
I believe that all centers that appear in space - whether they originate in biology, in physical forces, in pure geometry, in color - are alike simply in that they all animate space. It is this animated space that has its functional effect upon the world, that determines the way things work, that governs the presence of harmony and life.
The buildings that I build very often have a dreamlike reality. I don't mean by that they have a fantasy quality at all, in fact quite the reverse. They contain in some degree the ingredients that give dreams their power... stuff that's very close to us.
Drawings help people to work out intricate relationships between parts. — © Christopher Alexander
Drawings help people to work out intricate relationships between parts.
Once you understand this way, you will be able to make your room alive; you will be able to design a house together with your family; a garden for your children; places where you can work; beautiful terraces where you can sit and dream.
We define organic order as the kind of order that is achieved when there is a perfect balance between the needs of the parts, and the needs of the whole.
When you make something, cleaning it out of structural debris is one of the most vital things you do.
Nowadays, the process of growth and development almost never seems to manage to create this subtle balance between the importance of the individual parts, and the coherence of the environment as a whole. One or the other always dominates.
From a sequence of these individual patterns, whole buildings with the character of nature will form themselves within your thoughts, as easily as sentences.
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.
There are some geologists involved with prospecting for oil and other hidden resources who can pick up a rock and say, 'Yes, there's oil under there.' A geologist who has been studying those kinds of rocks for 10 or 20 years is able to make that pronouncement.
I mean, making simulations of what you're going to build is tremendously useful if you can get feedback from them that will tell you where you've gone wrong and what you can do about it.
Everyone is aware that most of the built environment today lacks a natural order, an order which presents itself very strongly in places that were built centuries ago.
Speaking as a builder, if you start something, you must have a vision of the thing which arises from your instinct about preserving and enhancing what is there... If you're working correctly, the feeling doesn't wander about.
To seek the timeless way we must first know the quality without a name. There is a central quality which is the root criterion of life and spirit in a man, a town, a building, or a wilderness. This quality is objective and precise, but it cannot be named.
Complexity is one of the great problems in environmental design. — © Christopher Alexander
Complexity is one of the great problems in environmental design.
A building or a town will only be alive to the extent that it is governed in a timeless way. It is a process which brings order out of nothing but ourselves; it cannot be attained, but it will happen of its own accord, if we will only let it.
But in practice master plans fail - because they create totalitarian order, not organic order. They are too rigid; they cannot easily adapt to the natural and unpredictable changes that inevitably arise in the life of a community.
We are searching for some kind of harmony between two intangibles: a form which we have not yet designed and a context which we cannot properly describe. — © Christopher Alexander
We are searching for some kind of harmony between two intangibles: a form which we have not yet designed and a context which we cannot properly describe.
It is possible to make buildings by stringing together patterns, in a rather loose way. A building made like this, is an assembly of patterns. It is not dense. It is not profound. But it is also possible to put patterns together in such a way that many patterns overlap in the same physical space: the building is very dense; it has many meanings captured in a small space; and through this density, it becomes profound.
Everyone is aware that most of the built environment today lacks a natural order, an order which presents itself very strongly in places that were built centuries ago
High buildings have no genuine advantages, except in speculative gains for banks and land owners. They are not cheaper, they do not help create open space, they destroy the townscape, they destroy social life, they promote crime, they make life difficult for children, they are expensive to maintain, they wreck the open spaces near them, and they damage light and air and view.
The specific patterns, out of which a building or a town is made may be alive or dead. To the extent they are alive, they let our inner forces loose, and, set us free; but when they are dead they keep us locked in inner conflict.
Every place is given its character by certain patterns of events that keep on happening there. These patterns of events are locked in with certain geometric patterns in the space. Indeed, each building and each town is ultimately made out of these patterns in the space, and out of nothing else; they are the atoms and molecules from which a building or a town is made.
The difference between the novice and the master is simply that the novice has not learnt, yet, how to do things in such a way that he can afford to make small mistakes. The master knows that the sequence of his actions will always allow him to cover his mistakes a little further down the line. It is this simple but essential knowledge which gives the work of a master carpenter its wonderful, smooth, relaxed, and almost unconcerned simplicity.
It is a common experience that attempts to solve just one piece of a problem first, then others, and so on, lead to endless involutions. You no sooner solve one aspect of a thing, than another point is out of point. And when you correct that one, something else goes wrong. You go round and round in circles, unable to produce a form that is thoroughly right.
There are geologists who can pick up a rock and say, 'Yes, there's oil under there.' A geologist who has been studying those kinds of rocks for 10 or 20 years is able to make that pronouncement.
All matter/space has some degree of "self" in it, and this self, or anyway some aspect of the personal, is something which infuses all matter/space and everything we know as matter but now think to be mechanical.
On the geometric level, we see certain physical elements repeated endlessly, combined in an almost endless variety of combinations. It is puzzling to realize that the elements, which seem like elementary building blocks, keep varying, and are different every time that they occur. If the elements are different every time that they occur, evidently then, it cannot be the elements themselves which are repeating in a building or town; these so-called elements cannot be the ultimate "atomic" constituents of space.
We must face the fact that we are on the brink of times when man may be able to magnify his intellectual and inventive capability, just as in the nineteenth century he used machines to magnify his physical capacity. Again, as then, our innocence is lost. And again, of course, the innocence, once lost, cannot be regained. The loss demands attention, not denial.
One begins to think with that new building block, rather than with littler pieces. And finally, the things which seem like elements dissolve, and leave a fabric of relationships behind, which is the stuff that actually repeats itself, and gives the structure to a building or a town.
Images in the 20th century had a unique power where image became divorced from reality, and often more important than reality. Buildings were judged more by the way they looked in magazines than by the satisfaction people felt when using them.
People are deeply nourished by the process of creating wholeness. — © Christopher Alexander
People are deeply nourished by the process of creating wholeness.
There is a myth, sometimes widespread, that a person need only do inner work...that a man is entirely responsible for his own problems; and that to cure himself, he need only change himself....The fact is, a person is so formed by his surroundings, that his state of harmony depends entirely on his harmony with his surroundings.
Yet still, there are those special secret moments in our lives, when we smile unexpectedly-when all our forces are resolved. A woman can often see these moments in us, better than a man, better than we ourselves, even. When we know these moments, when we smile, when we are not on guard at all-these are the moments when our most important forces show themselves; whatever it is you are doing at such a moment, hold on to it, repeat it-for that certain smile is the best knowledge that we ever have of what our hidden forces are, and where they lie, and how they can be loosed.
When they have a choice, people will always gravitate to those rooms which have light on two sides, and leave the rooms which are lit only from one side unused and empty.
Most of the wonderful places in the world were not made by architects but by the people.
In my life as an architect, I found that the single thing which inhibits young professionals, new students most severely, is their acceptance of standards that are too low.
All space and matter, organic or inorganic, has some degree of life in it, and matter/space is more alive or less alive according to its structure and arrangement.
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