[Scpg] the Nature of Order C Alexander Pattern Books

Wesley Roe and Marjorie Lakin Erickson lakinroe at silcom.com
Mon Sep 8 06:05:59 PDT 2003

The Nature of Order

                       "In the past century, architecture has
                       always been a minor science - if it has
                       been a science at all. Present day
                       architects who want to be scientific, try to
                       incorporate the ideas of physics,
                       psychology, anthropology . . . in their
                       work . . . in the hope of keeping in tune
                       with the "scientific" times.

                       I believe we are on the threshold of a new
                       era, when this relation between
                       architecture and the physical sciences may
                       be reversed - when the proper
                       understanding of the deep questions of
                       space, as they are embodied in
                       architecture . . . will play a revolutionary
                       role in the way we see the world . . . and
                       will perhaps play the role for the world
                       view of the 21st and 22nd centuries, that
                       physics has played in shaping the world
                       view of the 19th and 20th."

                                          Christopher Alexander, Berkeley, 1983


                        This four-volume work is the culmination of theoretical
                        studies begun three decades ago and published in a 
                        of books -- including The Timeless Way of Building and
                        A Pattern Language -- in which Christopher Alexander
                        has advanced a new theory of architecture and matter
                        which has attracted thousands of readers and practical
                        followers throughout the world. He has tried to 
grasp the
                        fundamental truths of traditional ways of building & to
                        understand especially what gives life and beauty 
and true
                        functionality to buildings and towns, in a context 
                        sheds light on the character of order in all 


                        The four books of the Nature of Order redefine
                        architecture as we know it. Each of the books is
                        independent, and deals with one facet of the problem.
                        Taken together the four books redefine the cosmology
                        that provides architecture with its underpinning; they
                        redefine the procedures of planning, design and 
                        they redefine the style, the shapes of buildings 
and the
                        forms of construction. Here is an entirely new way of
                        thinking about the world, one likely to enter fields as
                        diverse as computer science, sociology, philosophy, and
                        art. As one writer has expressed it, "The books provide
                        the language for the construction and transition to 
a new
                        kind of society, rooted in the nature of human 

                        The four books, all essays on the topic of living 
                        are connected and interdependent. Each can be read by
                        itself, and each sheds light on one facet of the 
problem of
                        living structure: First the definition, second the 
process of
                        generating living structure, third the practical 
vision of a
                        world made of living structure, and fourth, the
                        cosmological underpinnings and implications caused by
                        the idea of living structure.

                        They offer a view of a human-centered universe, a view
                        of order, in which the soul, or human feeling, and 
the soul,
                        play a central role. Here, experiments are not only
                        conceivable in the abstract Cartesian mode, but a new
                        class of experiments reveal the foundation of all 
                        and all process, as being something which resides in
                        human beings. Whether this something, which is
                        demonstrated and used throughout the four books, is a
                        new entity underlying matter, or what used to be called
                        the "soul," is left for the reader to decide.

                           BOOK 1: THE PHENOMENON OF LIFE

                        In Book 1, Alexander defines life and living 
structure as
                        the necessary criteria for quality in buildings. 
Starting with
                        an analysis of the arbitrariness of present-day
                        architecture, and going to the root of functional 
order in
                        the world, he proposes a scientific basis for 
looking at life
                        as an objective concept that is rooted in 
structure. The
                        book shows living structure in good buildings and bad;
                        human artifacts; and natural systems, and discusses the
                        presence of the same living order in all systems. It is
                        proposed that living structure, or living order, 
depends on
                        features which make a close connection with the human
                        self, and a way of regarding living structures 
makes them
                        amenable to empirical treatment. The quality of 
works of
                        art, artifacts, buildings is defined, not merely in 
terms of
                        living structure, but also in their capacity to 
affect human
                        growth and human well-being.

                        BOOK 2: THE PROCESS OF CREATING LIFE

                        In Book 2, Alexander examines the kinds of process that
                        are capable of generating living structure. The 
unfolding of
                        living structure in natural systems is first 
compared to the
                        unfolding of buildings and town plans in traditional
                        society, and then contrasted with present day 
                        The comparison reveals deep and shocking problems
                        which pervade the present day planning and construction
                        of buildings. He describes the detailed character 
of living
                        process needed to generate, design, plan, and build
                        buildings with living structure. The character of 
                        process is contrasted, repeatedly, with the 
character of
                        present-day professional process, which departs, again
                        and again, from present process, in order to meet the
                        necessities inherent in any truly life-creating 
                        Pervasive changes needed to create a world in which
                        living process - and hence living structure - are 
                        only through a transformation of society. The dynamic
                        methods of Book 2, focusing on process, give an 
                        different picture of the facts and concepts 
presented in
                        Book 1.

                          BOOK 3: A VISION OF A LIVING WORLD

                        In Book 3 Alexander presents hundreds of his own
                        buildings and those of other contemporaries who have
                        used similar methods consistent with the theory of 
                        process. The projects include neighborhoods, housing
                        built by people for themselves, public buildings, 
                        urban space, ornament, colors, details of construction
                        innovation. The many buildings shown in Book 3, and the
                        methods needed to design and building these buildings,
                        shed light on the phenomenon of life, on the nature of
                        living structure, and make it more practical, more
                        graspable. Six hundred pages of projects built and
                        planned over a thirty year period, including many 
                        experiments, illustrate the impact which is likely 
to follow
                        from the use of living process in the world. The book
                        provides the reader with an intuitive feel for the 
kind of
                        world, its style and geometry, which is likely to 
                        together with its ecological and natural character. 
It closes
                        with an assessment of the archetypal character such a
                        new, living world, is likely to reveal.

                            BOOK 4: THE LUMINOUS GROUND

                        In Book 4, the culmination of the quartet, Alexander
                        addresses the cosmological implications of the 
theory he
                        has constructed and presented. The book begins with a
                        critique of current cosmological thinking, and its
                        separation from personal feeling and value. The 
outline of
                        a theory in which matter itself is more 
spirit-like, more
                        personal in character, is sketched. The cosmological
                        modifications presented in Book 4, are needed, to
                        supplement the definition of the personal nature of 
                        design, and form, and acts as a substrate for an 
                        to implement living process. The book contains a long
                        chapter, nearly one hundred pages long - almost a book
                        in itself - in which Alexander presents his theory 
of color,
                        as one ingredient of the new cosmological picture which
                        he puts forward. This volume draws attention to new
                        ways of looking at consciousness, and modifies physical
                        theory so that the human person - what we know as self,
                        and what Alexander calls the "I" - enters in as a
                        fundamental and necessary ingredient of all matter.

                        "The four volumes have been written so
                        that each stands alone as an independent
                        book, and may be read without benefit of
                        the others.

                        The full meaning of the four books, and
                        the architectural, social, and
                        cosmological scheme they introduce, can
                        only be understood by seeing the interplay
                        of these four complementary points of

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