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The Timeless Way of Building & A Pattern Language

Started by droqen, December 07, 2021, 07:03:59 AM

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December 07, 2021, 07:03:59 AM Last Edit: December 07, 2021, 07:54:47 AM by droqen
regarding Christopher Alexander's The Timeless Way of Building
and Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa, and Murray Silverstein's A Pattern Language

Quote from: The Timeless Way of BuildingON READING THIS BOOK

What lies in this book is perhaps more important as a whole than in its details. If you only have an hour to spend on it, it makes much more sense to read the whole book roughly in that hour, than to read only the first two chapters in detail. [..] If you read the beginning and end of each chapter, and the italic headlines that lie between them, turning the pages almost as fast as you can, you will be able to get the overall structure of the book in less than an hour.



Quote from: The Timeless Way of Building p.14The power to make buildings beautiful lies in each of us already.

It is a core so simple, and so deep, that we are born with it. This is no metaphor. I mean it literally. Imagine the greatest possible beauty and harmony in the world--the most beautiful place that you have ever seen or dreamt of. You have the power to create it, at this very moment, just as you are.


But as things are, we have so far beset ourselves with rules, and concepts, and ideas of what must be done[..]that we have become afraid of what will happen naturally, and convinced that we must work within a "system" and with "methods" since without them our surroundings will come tumbling down in chaos.

In the first pages of The Timeless Way of Building, Alexander evokes a singular nameless quality, something which is fundamental to humanity (and perhaps existence, though I would question this). It's beautiful and awe-inspiring. In particular, though, I wanted to pull this quote. You have the power to create it just as you are. A person is enough.


Quote from: The Timeless Way of Building p. 19THE 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.

This quality is objective and precise, but it cannot be named. David Deutsch's The Beginning of Infinity advocates for the infinite pursuit towards truth, and I think the quality described here is like that -- it exists, but we will never know it, rather we can infinitely move towards it, and not in a Zeno's paradox diminishing-returns sort of way, but in more of an infinitely unfolding and evolving forever kind of way. Always approaching something objective and precise and yet it's so huge that we will, can, never tire of moving towards it.


December 07, 2021, 08:14:09 AM #3 Last Edit: December 07, 2021, 08:34:12 AM by droqen
Quote from: The Timeless Way of Building p. 49Each of us lives most fully "on the wire," in the face of death, daring to do the very thing which fear prevents us from.

I think this has something to do with game design and risk. I'm still troubled by this -- the book says you need to live on the wire to find the nameless quality within yourself, for your work, while games are about delivering this experience to people for no reason other than to make them feel alive. Maybe that's fine. But is it just giving people a fish, rather than teaching them to?


Quote from: p.52there are those special secret moments in our lives, when we smile unexpectedly--when all our [inner] forces are resolved.


We cannot be aware of these most precious moments when they are actually happening.

In fact, the conscious effort to attain this quality, or to be free, or to be anything, the glance which this creates, will always spoil it.
    It is, instead, when we forget ourselves completely

"whatever you are doing at such a moment, hold on to it, repeat it"

Patterns. Not in the moment, no meta rumination and introspection, but looking back upon times spent free of those pondering concerns...


Quote from: p. 65We know, then, that what matters in a building or a town [or a virtual space -droqen] is not its outward shape, its physical geometry alone, but the events that happen there.

[..]the human events given by the situations which are repeated, the mechanical events, the rush of trains, the fall of water [..] it is roughly true that any system, any aspect of the life of a part of the world, is essentially governed by those situations, human or non-human--which keep on repeating there.

Repetition is life. Patterns are repetition.


Quote from: p.73when we see that a sidewalk in Bombay is used by people sleeping, or for parking cars . . . and that in New York it is used only for walking--we cannot interpret this correctly as a single sidewalk pattern, with two different uses. The Bombay sidewalk (space + events) is one pattern; the New York sidewalk (space + events) is another pattern. They are two entirely different patterns.

A pattern is space + events. What MDA separates, patterns marry!

To see them as patterns, the mechanics and dynamics and aesthetics are not distinct lists which interact with each other... instead a whole game is one list of interacting patterns, each pattern an inextricable package of form and content and experience.

The important thing is that patterns still present a way to break whole things up into smaller pieces, I just like the shape of these pieces much more.



Events occur in spaces - that much is "obvious, and not very interesting."

Alexander says we want to know "how the structure of the space supports the patterns of events it does" (if, in fact, it does at all?) "in such a way that if we change that if we change the structure of the space, we shall be able to predict what kinds of changes in the patterns of events this change will generate."

Easier said than done, and I guess this is why there is often a horizontal separation of roles/specialties -- how people will respond to a building, and how a building will respond to the forces of weather and gravity and so on. In order to form a true pattern one must contend with all "human and non-human" forces and situations.


Quote from: p.85If every church is different (because different events occur there -droqen), what is it that remains the same, from church to church, that we call "church"?


Quote from: p.106This state cannot be reached merely by inner work.

There is a myth, sometimes widespread, that a person need only do inner work, in order to be alive like this [..] This teaching has some value, since it is so each for a man[sic] to imagine that his problems are caused by "others." But it is a one-sided and mistaken view which also maintains the arrogance of the belief that the individual is self-sufficient, and not dependent in any essential way on his surroundings.


Quote from: p.110-112in a courtyard where the pattern of the opening and veranda and crossing paths is missing, there are forces which conflict in such a way that no one can resolve them for [themselves].
a room which has no window place, in which the windows are just "holes," sets up a hopeless inner conflict in me which I can't resolve.

Quote from: p.110-112The instinctive knowledge that a room is beautiful when it has a window place in it, is thus not an aesthetic whim. It is an instinctive expression of the fact that a room without a window place is filled with actual, palpable organic tension; and that room which has [a window place -- a window seat, or a special ledge next to the window, or a small alcove which is entirely glassed.] lacks this tension, and is, from a simple organic point of view, a better place to live.

You really have to read these three pages for yourself.


Quote from: p.112-113In each of these cases we have an example of a pattern which helps us resolve our conflicts, and an example of a pattern which prevents us.

- the first pattern allows us to resolve our forces for ourselves. It imposes nothing on us: but merely allows us to resolve our forces, as they are.

open courtyard: "people seek some kind of private outdoor space" vs. "when a courtyard is too tightly enclosed, people feel uncomfortable, and tend to stay away . . . they need to see out into some larger and more distant space."

window place: "you have a tendency to go towards the light" and "if you are in the room for any length of time, you probably want to sit down, and make yourself comfortable."

- the second pattern prevents us from resolving our forces for ourselves. it makes it impossible for us to find an activity which will allow us to resolve our inner forces, and to make ourselves whole. We turn this way, then that way, rats in a trap, searching for some activity by which we can make ourselves whole. But there are none. [emphasis mine -droqen] We cannot find a way of work which keeps us at one with our family; we cannot enjoy our presence in the [tightly closed] courtyard; and in the room without a window place, we cannot even wholeheartedly sit down. These surroundings will not let us take the steps we want to take, to be at peace with ourselves. We experience constant stress.


Quote from: p.182Each pattern is a rule which describes what you have to do to generate the entity which it defines.


December 07, 2021, 05:31:39 PM #14 Last Edit: December 07, 2021, 05:33:32 PM by droqen
Quote from: p.260-261[..] the pattern is an attempt to discover some invariant feature, which distinguishes good places from bad places with respect to some particular system of forces.

[..] the invariant behind the huge variety of forms which solve the problem. There are millions of particular solutions to any given problem; but it may be possible to find some property which will be common to all these solutions. That is what a pattern tries to do.
    Many people say they don't like the fact that a pattern gives "one solution" to a problem. This is a serious misunderstanding. Of course, there are thousands, millions, in fact, an infinite number of solutions to any given problem. There is, of course, no way to capturing the details of all these solutions in a single statement. It is always up to the creative imagination of the designer to find a new solution to the problem, which fits his[sic] particular solution.
    But when it is properly expressed, a pattern defines an invariant field which captures all the possible solutions to the problem given, in the stated range of contexts.

The task of finding, or discovering, such an invariant field is immensely hard. It is at least as hard as anything in theoretical physics.

Alexander acknowledges that it is "immensely hard" and that it merely "may be possible" rather than saying that it is always possible. Still, I think without the sense of infinity lent to me by The Beginning of Infinity, I would be having a harder time stomaching this. The idea that such a perfectly true pattern exists is more faith than reality.

I used to feel that hoping to discover an "objective and precise" quality would be a restrictive process, but after reading the first few chapters of The Beginning of Infinity I began to feel that as we get 'closer' to the truth (if such a thing is possible) the infinite possibilities never diminish, which is a very empowering and inspiring thought.