The Timeless Way of Building

_The Timeless Way of Building_
Christopher Alexander
( c . 01979 )


( my personal selections )



" There is one timeless way of building.

It is thousands of years old, and the same today as it has always 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. 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.

It is the process through which the order of a building or a town grows out directly from the inner nature of the people, and the animals, and plants, and matter which are in it.

It is the process which allows the life inside a person, or a family, or a town, to flourish, openly, in freedom, so vividly that it gives birth, of its own accord, to the natural order which is needed to sustain life. "

. . .

" Each one of us has, somewhere in their heart, the dream to make a living world, a universe "

. . .

" The power to make buildings beautiful lies in each of us already.

It is a core so simple, and so deep, that we were 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.

And this power we have is so firmly rooted and coherent in every one of us that once it is liberated, it will allow us, by our individual, unconnected acts, to make a town, without the slightest need for plans, because, like every living process, it is the process which builds order out of nothing. "

. . .

" We have been taught that there is no objective difference between a good building and a bad building, good towns and bad.

The fact is that the difference between a good town and a bad town, is an objective matter. It is the difference between health and sickness, wholeness and dividedness, self-maintenance and self-destruction. In a world which is healthy, whole, alive, and self-maintaining, people themselves can be alive and self-creating. In a world which is unwhole and self-destroying, people cannot be alive : they will inevitably themselves be self-destroying, and miserable.

But it is easy to understand why people believe so firmly that there is no single, solid basis for the difference between good and bad.

It happens because the single central quality which makes the difference cannot be named. "

. . .

" We know, now, what the quality without a name is like, in feeling and in character. But so far, concretely, we have not seen this quality in any system larger than a tree, a pond, a bench. Yet it can be in anything --in buildings, animals, plants, cities, streets, the wilderness-- and in ourselves. We shall begin to understand it concretely, in all these larger pieces of the world, only when we first understand it in ourselves. "

. . .

" We can identify the towns and buildings, streets and gardens, flower beds, chairs, tables, tablecloths, wine bottles, garden seats, and kitchen sinks which have this quality--simply by asking whether they are like us when we are free.

We need only ask ourselves which places --which towns, which buildings, which rooms, have made us feel like this-- which of them have that breath of sudden passion in them, which whispers to us, and lets us recall those moments when we are ourselves.

And the connection between the two --between this quality in our own lives, and the same quality in our surroundings-- is not just an analogy, or similarity. The fact is that one creates the other.

Places which have this quality, invite this quality to come to life in us. And when we have this quality in us, we tend to make it come to life in towns and buildings which we help to build. It is a self-supporting, self-maintaining, generating quality. It is the quality of life. And we must seek it, for our own sakes, in our surroundings, simply in order that we can ourselves become alive. "

. . .

โ€ The quality without a name is circular : it exists in us, when it exists in our buildings ; and it only exists in our buildings, when we have it in ourselves.

To understand this clearly, we must first recognize that what a town or building is, is governed, above all, by what is happening there. โ€œ

. . .

โ€ Those of us who are concerned with buildings tend to forget too easily that all the life and soul of a place, all our experiences there, depend not simply on the physical environment, but on the patterns of events which we experience there. "

. . .

" What matters in a building or a town is not its outward shape, its physical geometry alone, but the events that happen there.

All the events which happen there-- the human events given by the situations which are repeated, the mechanical events, the rush of trains, the fall of water, the slow cracking of structures, the growing of the grass, the melting of the snow, the rusting of iron, the flowering of roses, the heat of a summer's day, the cooking, loving, playing, dying, and not only ourselves but of the animals, and plants, and even the inorganic processes which make the whole.

Of course, some events happen once in a lifetime ; others happen more often ; and some happen very often indeed. But although it is true a unique event can sometimes change our lives completely, or leave its mark on us, it is not too much to say that, by and large, the overall character of our lives is given by those events which keep on recurring over and over again.

And, by the same token, it is roughly true that any aspect of the life of a part of the world, is essentially governed by those situations, human of non-human -- which keep on repeating there. "

. . .

" We glimpse the fact that our world has a structure, in the simple fact that certain patterns of events --both human and nonhuman-- keep repeating, and account, essentially, for much the greater part of the events which happen there.

Our individual lives are made of them. . .so are our lives together. . .they are the rules, through which our culture maintains itself, keeps itself alive, and it is building our lives, out of these patterns of events, that we are people of our culture.

There is no aspect of our lives which is not governed by these patterns of events. And if the quality without a name can come into our lives at all, it is clear that it depends entirely on the specific nature of these patterns of events from which our world is made "

. . .

" The patterns of events which govern life in buildings and in towns cannot be separated from the space where they occur.

Each one is a living thing, a pattern of events in space, just like a stream, a waterfall, a fire, a storm-- a thing which happens, over and over again, and is exactly one of the elements from which the world is made.

And it is therefore clear that we can only understand these patterns of events by seeing them as living elements of space themselves.

It is the space itself which lives and breathes ; it is the space we call the porch, which is the pattern of events we also call watching the world go by.

The life which happens in a building or a town is not merely anchored in the space but made up from the space itself.

For since space is made up of these living elements, these labeled patterns of events in space, we see that what seems at first sight like the dead geometry we call a building or town is indeed a quick thing, a living system, a collection of interacting, and adjacent, patterns of events in space. And, if we hope to understand the life which happens in a building or a town, we must therefore try to understand the structure of the space itself.

We shall now try to find some way of understanding space which yields its patterns of events in a completely natural way, so that we can succeed in seeing patterns of events, and space, as one. "

. . .