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The Nature of Order // Book Two // The Process of Creating Life

Started by droqen, January 04, 2023, 05:17:11 PM

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These quotes match up with the way it feels to make things on a good day -- there is a genuine sensation of transformations which preserve what already is, and which strengthens what already is, and doing this feels in some cases effortless. I don't think the act is creationless or egoless -- something new often must be created -- but at the same time the thing that is created, fitted, placed, that new thing is often obvious. The obvious thing.

It is very hard to get started without "the wholeness that exists". The problem of the blank page, the blank canvas. In most or all of the work that I've actually finished (games, music, poems) there has been a distinct phase where the work proceeded "without effort". In a platformer, this phase is very often the level design. There is all this work to make the thing function, and then the laying out of levels is effortless. . . This probably isn't the same thing as what Alexander is describing exactly, but this is the experience I've had which relates to him best in this moment.

The worst part about making a videogame is building up new wholenesses from scratch every time.

I also enjoy this part.


Quote from: droqen on January 06, 2023, 12:07:35 AMBook one's fifteen properties reside in my mind, incredibly powerful conceptual tools. My all-overriding hope is that Book two presents such a functional taxonomy of properties of living processes by which I might judge mine.

He has delivered!

P. 65-66
. . . if under a structure-preserving transformation, new centers are being added that enliven or deepen the existing centers, this means that the fifteen properties must slowly come into being, step by step, with each new transformation. . . . the presence of the fifteen properties in a naturally evolving structure, will increase as the evolution goes forward, as a direct result of the repeated use of structure-preserving transformations.

Let us now consider the fifteen properties, not merely as results of the structure-preserving transformations, but as the names of particular types of structure-preserving transformations themselves. . . . for any given structure, this transformation may be thought of as injecting into it new centers which provide more beautifully articulated intermediate [instances of the property].
. . . In general, all the geometric properties identified in Book 1 are also associated with dynamic transformations which will inject these geometric properties into the system of centers of any emerging, growing whole.


When I wrote that initial quote I thought, even hoped, the 'properties of living processes' might take a form mirroring the fifteen properties. Yes, Alexander goes through each and every property and describes one or more transformations that might produce them. I will summarize them for future reference. I do not do this to indicate that these are rigid rules, but I think they will make a very useful starting point for seeing what a process might be lacking if it aspires to a feeling of aliveness. i.e.: is it missing a certain type of transformation?


- introduce intermediate-sized centers to fill out the hierarchy of scales by...
* differentiating a loosely distinguished zone into parts, or
* introducing smaller parts

- all the transformations help to achieve this fundamental goal, but we might achieve it somewhat directly

. . . i'm going to do this in a different format. slides, anyone?
Alright, I did it in google docs, but then I just copied and pasted it and reproduced the nice formatting in bbcode


Introduce intermediate-sized centers to fill out the hierarchy of scales.
Two methods:
Differentiate a loosely distinguished zone into parts
Introduce smaller parts

All the transformations help, in some form, to achieve this fundamental goal.
Some key words: differentiate, distinguish, sharpen, give weight, define.

Strengthen the existing 'cloudy zone of space' which surrounds any center.

Generate a repeating pattern of similar entities within a previously undifferentiated field.
It simultaneously generates a second pattern of repeating centers, interlocking and alternating with the first.

Strengthen the existing 'cloudy zone of space' which exists between other centers.


Give an existing center or system of centers an internal axis of symmetry.
Do not extend this symmetry beyond the center's influence. Sometimes this transformation is only applied to the "kernel"; that is, it is better to go too small than too large.

8 DEEP INTERLOCK (and ambiguity)
Create connections between contrasting parts in which each enters the other.
Especially in an existing 'boundary zone', which has perhaps experienced the boundary transformation.

Increase the distinction between two kinds of centers.
The contrast may be achieved by any physical characteristics. This may also be described as a sharpening of the separation.

Systematically vary certain aspects according to an uneven or non-homogenous field.
Aspects: size, shape, weight, darkness, or spacing.
Fields may be simple (an axis, a position) or complex and even structureless.
This transformation is capable of "introducing coherence of a new kind into an almost random-like field of structure."

Prefer (local) fit over (global) regularity.
This is used "in the course of" other transformations.
Examples given are making positive space, strong centers, local symmetries, or alternating repetition.

Take characteristics of certain repeating centers, apply them to other centers in the field.
Characteristics: procedures, angles, shapes, and shape-characters.

Clean up a relatively differentiated area that does not need its differentiation.
Make it homogenous.

In a way, a specific case of the contrast transformation, increasing the distinction between centers whose distinction is their relative strength and complexity; in other words, makes the 'weaker' and 'simpler' area maximally weak and simple.
Produces a boundary zone around the newly homogenous area.

14 SIMPLICITY (and inner calm)
Remove unwanted centers.
Cleans up unnecessary structure. Similar to the void transformation, but throughout the structure, rather than in one area.

Take pieces of two separate areas; copy them inside one another.


The above is my summary of the transformations given on pages 77-79. Yes, my summary of good shape really is "???"

On one hand there is a sort of recursive beauty in the way these transformations (and the properties) are out of order, repeat one another inside one another in an ambiguous way (in a way that suggests deep interlock, which I do believe is there).

On the other, it is nice to boil things down to their essence. I suppose I might say that I am applying the SIMPLICITY (and inner calm) transformation to the fifteen transformations themselves. yes. I am not saying that the property of good shape, or even that the transformation of good shape, is unnecessary . . . but in some sense I think that describing it is meaningless. Isn't it frustrating? The properties themselves are practically an attempt to break down what "good shape" is in the first place, and one of the fifteen is itself "good shape". Each one of the properties contains each of the other properties, but good shape contains almost nothing but all of the other properties. It is a necessary component, but it is also meaningless.


Okay, fine.

Exaggerate the characteristics of an existing center or system of centers.
Generally this is akin to taking certain repeated features and strengthening them as centers, but without overwhelming the parent center which binds them into one shape.

~ Linked from #108, on imperfect symmetries in form language -- many pages and chapters ahead in this book


P. 82
To grasp the underlying nature of this process clearly and systematically, we need just the one assumption: Throughout the process, centers will always tend to form in such a way as to preserve and enhance previous structure --- and this means, in such a way as to help sustain other existing and emerging centers. Mathematically, this structure-preserving process will them be embodied in the fifteen possible transformations I have described.

P. 84
This is a startling and new conception of ethics and aesthetics. It describes good structure as a structure which has unfolded "well," through these transformations, without violating the structure that exists.
. . . This startling view provides us with a view of ethics and aesthetics that dignifies our respect for what exists, and treasures that which grows from this respect. It views with disfavor only that which emerges arbitrarily, without respect for what exists, and provides a vision of the world as a horn of shimmering plenty in which the "new" grows unceasingly from the structure that exists around us already. That this horn of plenty is inexhaustible, and that we may conceive an everlasting fountain of novelty without ever having to beat ourselves over the head for the sake of novelty per se --- that may perhaps be one of the greatest potential legacies of this new view of the world.


What is to be done about that unfavourable stuff which exists? Alexander writes about "our respect for what exists," and I believe this must in some cases extend to even nonliving stuff, dead stuff, bad structure which has not unfolded well.

There is an incomplete thought hinted at in what are the stakes? as well as in my currently pinned tweet; my anarchy has mutated over time since my reading of The Dispossessed.

It is so easy to imagine, whole cloth, a new world, a new set of rules, a new society, and suppose that even with its flaws it represents a "better" world. I have been applying that way of thinking to Alexander's writing; surely he is calling for an overturning of architectural thinking? A revolution?

But he calls for no such thing, and it follows from his own theories and way of thinking that the way forward should grow, should follow naturally, from where we are now. The design of the world does not matter; the process matters. The design of those processes do not matter; the process of those processes matters. We are where we are, now. What does a smooth unfolding from this point onward look like?

This does not mean nothing should change, or nothing daring should be done, but at all levels, one can apply transformations, smooth transformations, structure-preserving transformations, "without violating the structure that exists," and this will increase the life in the structure.

The only ways in which the fifteen transformations "allow" for the destruction of centers are the VOID transformation and the SIMPLICITY transformation, which as written can target only unnecessary centers. (My summary of SIMPLICITY says "unwanted" first, but let us say that "unwanted" describes a consensus or objective state, rather than an individual one.)

The view of ethics and aesthetics as presented "dignifies our respect for what exists, and treasures that which grows from this respect" and avoids us "having to beat ourselves over the head for the sake of novelty."

It may be the case that Alexander is looking too much into the past (as some of his critics claim), but in his words I see only the future. From where we are now, identify living centers, identify those centers which win our respect for their existence, and transform space so that they are strengthened, and strengthened, and strengthened, forever.






P. 86
Any part of the world we build will have life if it is created by structure-preserving transformations, and will not have life if it is not created by structure-preserving transformations.
. . . This means that even if we architects were to understand completely the living structure described in Book 1, and tried to put this structure into our designs, if we were nevertheless trying to get our buildings conceived, designed, and built by the social processes which currently exist --- the buildings would still inevitably break life and could not have life.
. . . it is, ultimately, the process, not the design, which gives life . . .
. . . Thus the issue of process is immense. In its impact on the quality of architecture, it is more important than the static structure of the designs.


P. 86
     The absence of life we recognize as a familiar problem of the past century does not come about merely because modernistic design was ignorant of the structural principles expressed in Book 1. It comes about, far more profoundly, because the processes which create objects, artifacts, buildings, neighborhoods, agriculture, forests, towns, roads, bridges --- nearly all fail to have the character of unfolding wholeness.


P. 88
. . . at each step, the weaver [of a traditional carpet] looks at the wholeness, judges it, and makes a next step which extends the wholeness. . . . the mode of perception typical of "primitive" people tends to be holistic. There is no motivation which will tend to make people fracture the wholeness at any stage. [emphasis mine] This is, in many ways, the type of process which has been called unconsciousness, or primitive. It takes the wholeness, continues it, enhances it, develops it.


P. 92
    One might say: but the shape of modern timbers, too, is determined by the modern lumber-milling process, just as ancient timbers were shaped by the process of the adze. But there is an enormous difference. The modern process leaves no room for feedback. The process goes on without regard for the character of each log and its position [emphasis mine] in a building. The traditional adzing process allows each timber to be hewn, shaped, and carved according to its place in the house. And there is constant feedback going on. With almost every stroke [emphasis mine] . . . the carver looks at what he has done, judges it, checks it against the wholeness to see if it fits --- and , as a result, he keeps the structure-preserving process on course.

// I read this as a counter to the more general argument of "all things are produced by a process, so what's the problem?" --- I think his focus on feedback, local feedback, and response to feedback, is the key here. People do not want to fracture the wholeness, but if they are forced to, or (more often) they are made blind to the impact they have on the wholeness, it can still occur.


P. 103, under "LOVE OF LIFE"
In order to make buildings by unfolding --- hence by structure-preserving transformations --- it is necessary, truly, to pay attention to the wholeness in the world. This "paying attention to the wholeness" is essentially synonymous with love of life. . . . to everything: to the life of water, other people, the thirst of a stranger, the starts in the black sky. . . . to the emptiness of the desert, to the passion of an old woman sitting on her doorstep, to one's own passion, . . . to a banana skin on the ground

P. 105
. . . this open place comes from structure-preserving transformations of that wholeness which includes the children, and preserves and extends their love of children. We, in our sophistication, have lost that love --- perhaps not in our hearts, but certainly in our technical willingness to allow the love of children to be overlaid with . . . "necessities."







Is every building process a process of unfolding wholeness? Is the creation of order, or life, in buildings and in towns inevitable? Does the life, the deep wholeness formed by the fifteen properties, appear mechanically, and inevitably, as a result of any building process?
     Evidently not!

// Oh, yes, this is exactly what I was talking about two posts ago, in #41 :)


P. 108
     I have argued that in the absence of any interference [structure-preserving transformation] will tend to keep on happening in nature. . . . there is no way, in the normal operation of the laws of physics, that this structure can be destroyed even when it is being transformed. . . .
Humans guide their actions according to a mental "picture" of the situation. . . The images, or schemata, which people use to guide their actions may be wholeness-preserving, or they may not be. . . .
For a variety of reasons, in modern society the rules of the game --- the schemata and images --- have become more and more willful, more rule-bound. . .
. . . the everyday processes through which buildings and the world are made, lost the essential features which made them able to create living structure.