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- A study of Christopher Alexander's timeless way of building
- Ellis, Cliff
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- v, 105 leaves : illustrations, plans ; 28 cm
- Subjects / Keywords:
- Architecture -- Philosophy ( lcsh )
Architecture -- Philosophy ( fast )
- bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )
- Includes bibliographical references (leaves 99-105).
- General Note:
- Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for a Master's degree in Planning and Community Development, College of Design and Planning.
- Statement of Responsibility:
- by Cliff Ellis.
- Source Institution:
- University of Colorado Denver
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- Auraria Library
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- LD1190.A78 1982 .E64 ( lcc )
A STUDY OF CHRISTOPHER ALEXANDER'S TIMELESS WAY OF BUILDING
Studio 3 Project
Master's of Planning and Community Development Program College of Environmental Design University of Colorado at Denver
TABLE OF CONTENTS
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS iv
PERSONAL CONTEXT/EVOLUTION OF THOUGHT 6
HISTORICAL CONTEXT 15
THE TIMELESS WAY 23
THE CURRENT SITUATION 35
THE GOOD BUILT ENVIRONMENT 41
THE PROCESS 47
SOURCES OF ILLUSTRATIONS 105
i i i
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
Figure No. Following Page No.
1. The "diaorams" o-f Community and Privacy 8
2. Urban Cluster. Community and Privacy 8
3. Diaorams -for an Indian Villaqe, Notes 10
4. "A City Is Not a Tree" 10
5. "Industrial Ribbon," A Pattern Lanquaqe 28
6. "Industrial Ribbon," A Pattern Lanquaqe 28
7. "Industrial Ribbon." A Pattern Lanquaqe 28
8. "Industrial Ribbon," A Pattern Lanquaqe 28
9. "City Country Fingers'! 45
10. "Mosaic of Subcultures" 45
11. Organic order: Trinity College, Cambridge 47
12. Berkeley campus 47
13. University of Illinois, Chicago Circle Campus 47
14. Large lump development 49
15. Piecemeal growth 49
16. User-designed Apartment Building, France 49
17. University of Oregon campus, 1975 50
CD tH Piecemeal growth on the University of Oregon 50 campus, 1990's
19. Diagnosis map 50
20. The slow growth of twelve houses 50
DAVE HILL JIM WESTKOTT HERB SMITH PAUL HEATH
Ideas that have long been used may be used still, if they remain ideas and have not congealed into memories. Incorporated into a design that calls for them, traditional forms cease to be incongruous, as words that still have a felt meaning may be old without being obsolete. All depends on men subserving an actual ideal and having so firm and genuine an appreciation of the past as to distinguish at once what is still serviceable in it from what is already ghostly and dead.
George Santayana, The Life of Reason
For the past twenty years, Christopher Alexander and his colleagues have been developing a provocative theory of environmental design. This theory has been presented in three recent books: The Timeless Way of Building. A Pattern Language, and The Oregon Experiment. Alexander advocates a radical departure from current building practices. He has devised a planning process which places the responsibility for planning and design on the people at large, and he has assembled a collection of solutions to recurring design problems which will serve as a guide for their activities. Alexander calls these solutions "patterns"; collectively they form a "pattern language." A Pattern Language contains patterns for everything from a metropolitan region to a window, and includes a method for combining them into coherent wholes. The Timeless Wav of Building describes the theoretical foundations of this process, The Oregon Exper iment its application on a university campus. These books do not resemble conventional planning texts in style or
consumer good, governed by the dictates of engineering, law, and economics. These laments are not new; but detailed, constructive alternatives have been in short supply. Now, Christopher Alexander has created a body o-f thought which is substantial enough to mark out a new direction in environmental design. It is important that planners pay attention to such developments, and not lose themselves in day-to-day routines or arcane research.
This study is not a detailed analysis o-f individual patterns, but an attempt to appraise the theory as a whole and the response it has elicited -from the critics. The philosophic -foundations given in The Timeless Way o-f Bui 1ding have been outlined and discussed, but it was not possible, in a paper o-f this length, to pursue all o-f the conceptual enigmas to the bitter end. I have merely indicated where deficiencies exist, and have pointed in the direction where remedies may lie. It would have been both -fruitful and exciting to examine Alexanders work more thoroughly from the perspective of architectural and planning history. However, I havent the erudition to do justice to this dimension, and historical issues have been discussed just enough to throw some light upon Alexanders practical prescriptions regarding both process and design. I have not dissected them to determine if they can be ap
plied tomorrow at the local planning department; rather, I have tried to determine if they may serve as a sensible vision -for the future. We need to know if they are better than what we have now, why, and whether they conflict with what we know about human nature, economics, and social structures. Of course, only the surface of this immense topic has been touched in this modest essay.
The method used in this paper is the age-old one of essayists and reviewers: read the texts and commentary carefully, and then apply all of ones analytical powers to arrive at an intelligent judgment. I have tried to present adequate evidence to support my contentions, but space limitations have not allowed for lengthy analyses. While respecting the usual standards for evidence and logic, I make no claims to extraordinary objectivity. I have strong beliefs about the issues under discussion and, inevitably, they have colored my perceptions. The paper is based upon Alexanders five major books and nineteen of his articles. The critical commentary consists of twentysix essays and articles from various books and magazines, most of them devoted to architecture and planning. In addition, a number of other books in various fields contributed to my under standing of Alexanders work, and these too have been listed in the bibliography.
The paper has -five sections. The first describes Alexander's personal context and shows how his ideas have evolved throughout the last two decades. The second sketches the historical background of his theory, including some of the sources from which he has drawn his recommendations. The third section is an exposition of Alexander's argument: the underlying philosophy, analysis of current problems, conception of the good built environment, and the means offered to achieve it. The fourth section is a critique which includes both the thoughts of reviewers and my own evaluation. Finally, the conlusion attempts to draw the most important findings of the study into a concise summary, and suggests some directions in which further research might go.
PERSONAL CONTEXT/EVOLUTION OF THOUGHT
Alexander was born in Vienna, Austria, o-f British parents, in 1936. He was educated at Oundle School, Northamptonshire, and attended Cambridge University -from 1956 to 1959. He received a B.A. in architecture and an M.A. in mathematics -from Cambridge. Alexander went on to Harvard, where he received a Ph.D. in architecture in 1963. His publishing history began early; "Perception and Modular Co-ordination" appeared in the Royal Institute o-f British Architects Journal in 1959.<1> This article was -full o-f abstruse mathematics, but his 1960 article in the Architects" Year Book, "The Revolution Finished Twenty Years Ago, expressed another side o-f Alexander, his concern with the social and historical aspects o-f architecture. It contained many pithy declarations:
The great architect. The most damaging idea in modern architecture.
...we must give up our tortured search -for novelty.... Things that are well designed have not been subject to the search -for novelty. Bricks, the knife and fork, the sheet of paper, coins. Imagine if everything we made were as well done as the round roman coin. We could be satisfied.
There would be no need to throw away last year's model.
We cannot train for genius. But we can attain a universal competence...mainly we are trying to get for ourselves what has been common to all the great cultures of the past... Agreement.
It is not for a privileged few that we shall work, neither will it be a cultured few who do the working. Architecture and design will pass
out of the hands o-f indi viduals. <2>
Many o-f these ideas would reappear in Alexander's writings o-f the sixties and seventies.
In 1963, Alexander collaborated with Serge Chermayeff to produce Community and Privacy. which criticized the current urban scene and described a new design method in which the architect/planner lists all o-f the parameters of a design problem, determines which ones interact densely with other ones, generates physical solutions to each of the "sub-probleras11 defined by these dense interactions, and then synthesizes all of these solutions into a satisfactory form. The idea was to break down complex problems into manageable parts; in this case a computer was used to analyze the interactions of parameters and determine where the cleavages within the design problem actually occurred. The solutions to each of the sub-problems were summarized in schematic drawings which the authors called diagrams," the precursors of "patterns."
In 1964, Alexanders doctoral dissertation at Harvard was published as Notes on the Synthesis of Form; it became one of the most influential architectural books of the sixties. Alexander pointed out the failures of crude rationalist design and observed that, in contrast, traditional or "unselfconscious" cultures were able to create
towns and buildings with exceptionally good -fit between built -form and human needs. Alexander attempted to set out a method whereby good fit could be obtained in complex modern design situations where the designers "chances of success are small because the number of factors which must fall simultaneously into place is so enormous."<3> The method is a continuation of the work in Community and Privacy. It requires an exhaustive listing of all the requirements that must be met in the design situation, grouping them into subsets of highly interactive requirements which are relatively independent of other subsets within the problem, and then solving these independent sub-problems one at a time. Because each subproblem is relatively independent of all the others, changing something within one of the sub-problems should not disrupt the remainder of the design. This makes it possible to fuse the solutions to the subproblems into a unified whole with minimal difficulty. The designer would no longer need to "hide his incompetence in a frenzy of artistic individuality*^^; instead he could follow a rational method which would lead him, step-by-step, to a spatial arrangement which addresses all of the complexities of the problem.
Acclaimed though it was, Notes on the Synthesis of Form proved to be more of a stimulating theory than a
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1. The "diagrams" of Communitv
and______Pri vacv; schematic
statements that summarize the physical implications of five components of a design problem (in this case urban dwelling units), and a composite diagram fusing them into a possible pi an.
2. Urban Clusters the diagrams into plan.
transl a more
doorbells, mail, waiting community space
tenant bulk storage
cart storage entry
doorbells, mail, waiting vending machines, laundromat
service entry garbage
shop and maintenance equipment storage
cart storage entry
doorbells, mail, waiting community gathering
emergency access tenant bulk storage cart storage entry
ation of f i ni shed
workable solution to the problems o-f modern planning and design. The method was too cumbersome -for use in practical situations and many observers questioned how objective the listing o-f initial requirements could be. The mathematical elegance o-f Notes did not dispel serious doubts about its application in the real world, where costs and regulations o-ften dictate design decisions. In 1971, Alexander repudiated much o-f his earlier books
Indeed, since the book was published, a whole academic -field has grown up around the idea o-f "design methods" and I have been hailed as one o-f the leading exponents o-f these so-called design methods. I am very sorry that this has happened, and want to state, publicly, that I reject the whole idea o-f design methods as a subject o-f study, since I think it is absurd to separate the study o-f designing -from the practice o-f design. In -fact, people who study design methods without also practicing design are almost always -frustrated designers who have no sap in them, who have lost, or never had, the urge to shape things. Such a person will never be able to say anything about "how" to shape things either.<5>
During 1963-64, Alexander worked as a consulting ar chitect -for the Bay Area Rapid Transit System, a relationship which ended unhappily. After extensive research, Alexander and his colleagues identified 500 requirements for transit design. For example*
People should not have to sit touching strangers; a passenger should encounter as few obstacles as possible between the time he enters the system and the time he reaches his seat in the train; there should be no dead end station corridors where a woman could be trapped.<6>
But the BART engineers did not appreciate their efforts.
The research had been underway about a year, and had cost nearly *100,000 when it was abruptly halted by BART and the engineers. They had seen Alexanders list of requirements and had dismissed it as a "joke book." <7>
Alexander was not the only architect to come into conflict with the engineers. Throughout this project the engineers, armed with their quantitative standards and cost estimates, triumphed over the architects, who were more inclined to design with sociological and psychological factors in mind.
In 1966, Alexander became a professor of architecture at the University of California at Berkeley, where he still teaches. In 1967, he became director of the Center for Environmental Structure. During these years, Alexander modified many of his earlier ideas, moving away from the emphasis on hierarchical clarity and sophisticated mathema-ics. In "A City Is Not A Tree" (1965), Alexander contended that cities planned artificially," with a tree-like interrelation of parts, do not have the complexity and overlap characteristic of "natural" cities, which are based on another type of graph, a semi-lattice. If we want cities which are lively and humane, we must identify the "abstract ordering principle" characteristic of "natural" cities and ensure that our current acts of planning allow it to evolve in modern cities. This rejection of tree-like hierarchies
3. Notes on the Synthesis o-f Form; diagrams -for an Indian Village arranged in a hierarchical "tree."
4. "A City Is Not a Tree": A semi-lattice (left) expresses the overlap and diversity characteristic of "natural" cities.
"Artificial" cities based upon a structure (right) lack this complexity.
was a shift in the direction o-f user involvement and
In 196566, Alexander and Barry Poyner co-authored "The Atoms o-f Environmental Structure which defended the thesis that design solutions can be objectively right or wrong, although perfect objectivity was declared to be "an illusion." Again, Alexander focused on the relation of the designed environment to human needs or "tendencies."<8> He asserted that "a good environment is not so much one that meets needs as one that allows men to meet needs for themselves." Many human needs can be satisfied without modifying the environment by professional design. Design becomes necessary only when tendencies conflict and the built environment is preventing the successful resolution of the conflict. The environment must be rearranged so that these tendencies can operate freely and this requires a strenuous analytical effort. "In order to create a building in which no tendencies conflict, the designer must try to predict all the conflicts that could possibly occur in it, define the geometric relations that prevent these conflicts, and combine these relations to form a cohesive whole."<9> According to Alexander, it should be possible for achitects and planners to identify the spatial relations which allow basic human tendencies free expression,
and to organize this knowledge in an everimproving body of generic design solutions "the atoms o-f environmental structure." At last, we moderns would have "a sane, constructive, and evolutionary attitude to design," instead of the erratic and functionally ill-adapted works of individuals trying to make a splash in the world of architecture.
Two other articles from this period focused on par ticular problems in modern cities, and yielded some unusual recommendations. "The Pattern of Streets" (1966) offered a cure for traffic congestion. Using a highly deductive argument, Alexander arrived at the conclusion that the best street network is one in which "all streets are parallel: there are no cross streets: streets are connected by freeways three miles apart."<10> Alexander claimed that "the pattern of parallel streets solves the problem of congestion," but his argument was strongly criticized by Daniel Carson and Peter H. Roosen-Runge in an exchange in the Journal of the American Institute of PIanners.<11> In "The City as a Mechanism for Sustaining Human Contact" (1967), Alexander turned to the failure of modern cities to provide settings and occasions for meaningful social relations. His psychological reflections are fascinating, but the physical solution proposed by Alexander is one of his more impractical excursions into urban design.
By 1968, Alexander and his colleagues had reformulated their ideas into the "pattern language" format. They then applied them in the design of a "Multi-Service Center" in the Bronx, New York.<12> In 1969, the pattern language was used in the design of low-cost housing in Lima, Peru; the occasion was an international design competition. Alexanders entry received no award, but was praised highly in a dissenting opinion by several of the Judges:
Christopher Alexanders (project) attacks the low-cost housing problem with special application to Peruvian conditions and resources in an imaginative way far above the level of all other projects....We particularly commend it for emphasizing in every design decision the need to provide freedom of individual choice.
We strongly urge the UN to publish this milestone in low-cost housing design as it is now. so that it may benefit the many in all countries who need and are awaiting new and better answers.<13>
In 1972, Alexander received the AIA Research Medal, an a ward which was created expressly for him.
The pattern language was used in a number of design projects throughout the seventies, and as Alexander and his colleagues tested their ideas in real building situations they worked toward a full-length exposition of their theory of design. As early as 1970, in an article titled "The Environment", the main ideas had been clearly and concisely laid out.<14> In 1975, The Oregon Experiment was published; this work described a planning process developed by CES for
the University of Oregon at Eugene. Although tailored to the unique circumstances o-f a university campus, the authors claimed that it could "with minor modi-fications, be adopted as a master plan by any community, anywhere in the world." A Pattern Lanouaoe appeared in 1977; it contained 253 o-f Alexander's patterns including illustrations and supporting evidence. Finally, in 1979 Alexander published The Timeless Wav o-f Buildino. the philosophy behind the other works. These three volumes are the primary focus of this paper, although Alexander's other writings will be referred to when necessary.
As for the future, Alexander is still testing his theories in projects around the world, and working toward a more adequate explanation of "the political and economic processes needed to implement this process fully, in a town." Hopefully, this book, should it appear, will give those who admire his work further reasons to believe that he has constructed not just a pleasing vision, but a serious alternative to the building practices of the present.
From the beginning of his career, Alexander has been highly critical o-f modern architecture, and in his most recent writings he makes it clear that it is in the -forms o-f traditional societies that he -finds "the deepest substance o-f what li-fe is, both in functional terms and also in more fundamental terms."<15> He views the current situation in architecture and planning with an unforgiving eyes
The things that we have come to know as Design represent an absurd and ridiculous even immoral preoccupation with a world of pretence and show, which almost no one believes, truly and profoundly but which continues year after year, as designers, architects, artists, and interior designers go on trying to impress one another and themselves with their new "conception." ...it almost goes without saying that the things of our time, the things which we have pretended to like in the last 50 years ...belong to a fantasy world which has absolutely no connection at all with this deepest reality.<16>
How did Alexander arrive at this position? What historical currents did he navigate in order to become the champion of "the timeless way of building?"
Alexander was an architecture student at Cambridge during the late fifties at a time when many young architects in England had become disenchanted with abstract
Platonic thinking, such as that exemplified in Chandigarh and Brazilia. These grand designs, each sprung from the intuition of a master builder, seemed to have flawed relations with the needs of users. The dark side of their formal clarity was their failure to achieve a close match between built form and human needs. Alexander was one of
those young architects who rejected the personal visions of individuals as a sound basis for architecture and city planning, and hoped to replace it with a rational design method. There seemed to be no reason why one could not
specify a logical process by which any competent designer
could create a building or town which was at least func-
tionally adequate and perhaps quite beautiful. After all, history offers countless examples of beautiful environments constructed by laymen: could not a modern equivalent of their collective wisdom be fashioned, so that we would no longer flounder in a sea of competing schools and movements? Alexander and several other designers concerned with "design methods" were eventually given a label the parametric school of design so called because a crucial part of their method was the "analysis, measurement, and reconciliation of all the elements which could be called parameters in a building."<17>
The early 1960's was the heroic period of design sys-
tematization and, looking back, Alexanders early books seem brash and overcon-fident. As Juan Pablo Bonta has written, "During a heroic period new ideas burst through forcibly, in the struggle for survival which necessitates recourse to any means that seem viable."<18> But all heroic periods come to an end, and Alexander eventually recanted many of his earlier ideas. As the sixties advanced Alexander became disenchanted with complicated design methods, intelligible only to professionals. He began to see design and building by users as the only avenue to the organic order he sought. As for the patterns which would guide such a process, many of them had already been used in towns and buildings from the past. The architecture of the modern masters Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius was, for the most part, a collection of mistakes, a straying from genuine functionalism into sterile formalism and stylistic megalomania.
Although Alexander has veered away from modern architecture altogether, he does not advocate a return to the pretentious, pseudo-historical styles against which the pioneers of the modern movement revolted. He admires the simplicity and honesty of traditional buildings which fulfill their purpose without ostentation; a Swiss farmhouse, a Zen temple, a tiny gothic church. But he believes that
this kind o-f simplicity is quite different -From the self-conscious sleekness displayed by the "style metaphys-icists" of the modern movement. The latter has become a fashionable dogma, the private property of architects who must compete with one another in the achievement of star tling effects. The lines are clear, the surfaces shimmer, but as functional entities most modern buildings are as far away from the realities of human life as the ornate structures they replaced.
Although there may be superficial resemblances between Alexanders buildings and those of the Neovernacular movement in England, the spirit of the pattern language is completely different. Neovernacular buildings employ visual effects to simulate the folksy character of rural villages. These cosmetic treatments have no functional basis and are intended only to create a reassuring nostalgic atmosphere. Alexanders patterns are not cosmetic; they are based upon extensive research and analysis, and have explicit connections to clearly defined human needs. They must not be confused with Neovernacular attempts to imitate vanishing historical styles.<19>
With regard to the architectural debates going on a round him, Alexander has adopted a more and more intolerant attitude:
...the strange contraptions and devices which are
being o-f-fered today in the name of "good design" are only conceits and -Fantasies ...no one, no sane person really likes these ridiculous things, but only pretends to like them, goes on taking part and playing the game, because it is so -frightening to think one might be rejected, cast out -from the -Fraternity o-F "Art" and "Design."<20>
Alienation -From modern building practices can hardly go much -further. Alexander has seceded -from the mainstream and turned his e-f-forts to the creation o-f patterns, tools -for the people at large, a kind o-f Whole Earth Catalog -for lay architects and planners. Ideologically he -fits in with the decentralists, communitarians, and alternative technology advocates o-f the sixties and seventies more than he belongs with any of the established schools o-f modern architecture.
However, -from the perspective o-f modern planning theory Alexander does not appear to be as hopeless a renegade. His reverence -for nature and respect -for the soundness o-f traditional designs parallel that of the organic school of planning theory, and he seems to have more mentors here than among the architects. A reading of Lewis Mumford's classic "The Case Against 'Modern Architecture'" will remind the forgetful that Alexander's criticisms are not entirely new. Mumford made the essential points years ago.<21> The Mumfordian influence is also evident in Alexander's positive prescriptions. There is the celebration of organic order; the advocacy of multinodal regional decen-
tralization; the concern -for historical continuity, subtle
adaptation to natural -features, and the weaving o4 landscape elements into the -fabric of the city; recognition of natural sizes and density limits for .cities, communities, and neighborhoods; and attention to delicate sociological and psychological relationships. Alexanders discussion of urban spaces borrows from Camillo Sittes City Planning According to Artistic Principles. His ideas on work communities and "responsible anarchy" show the influence of E.F. Schumacher and Ivan Illich. The insistence on decentralized user control and the image of the planner as an aid to user groups bring to mind Robert Goodmans After the Planners. The concept of piecemeal growth, and the habit of seeing the city as a problem in organized complexity, hearken back to Jane Jacobs The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Ecological concerns in some of the patterns are reinforced with arguments from Ian McHargs Design With Nature, and references to other luminaries of the environmental movement are common.
This genealogy of patterns could go on indefinitely, but the influences mentioned above are representative. Clearly, the organic and communitarian themes are strongest; conspicuously absent are the technocratic and mechanistic doctrines so common in land development today. Yet it must be noted that Alexander has criticized the "organ-
ic British New Towns -for their hierarchical layouts which do not encourage the complex, overlapping patterns of use found in many historic cities. The pattern language is in large part a reaction against British town planning o-f the 1950s, and Alexander is selective in his use o-f ideas -from the Howard-Geddes-Mumford tradition.
Many o-f the patterns in A Pattern Language are not modern at all; they have evolved through the centuries -from the work o-f architect-builders who remain anonymous. In this sense the historical context o-f Alexanders ideas -fans out into a thousand rays stretching into the distant past, and we must abandon the attempt to capture them all in any summary. But it must be noted that the heart o-f Alexanders work has nothing to do with the conscious copying o-f traditional -forms. Alexanders goal is to discover those spatial relationships which are essential -for human corn-fort and well-being. Traditional builders o-f ten understood these relationships: modern builders have usually ignored them. Therefore, in our time, a good city, one containing the patterns which make a city work, may appear to borrow heavily -from traditional models. For Alexander, this appearance is misleading. A good city respects certain timeless -facts about space, human existence, and their relation; it is this respect -for the rules of good building that is valuable, not the desire to recapture the past.
Alexander's gaze is -focused not on history, but on the one
"timeless way of building."
THE TIMELESS WAY
In The Timeless Wav p-f Building. Alexander leads the reader through an elaborate meditation on the philosophical -foundations of environmental design. He seems to have found a philosophical home in Taoism, or some personal variant thereof, and The Timeless Wav shares the elusiveness and deceptive simplicity of Taoist texts. However, Alexander has not duplicated the brevity of Lao Tsu; the book is lengthy and didactic. In it he explains the purpose of planning and building (The Quality); the nature of the environment which must be created and repaired (The Gate); and the path which must be followed if we are to evolve beautiful and functional towns and buildings (The Way). Let us examine these ideas.
According to Alexander, the quality we are after when we design buildings and towns cannot be specified by any list of words. We may try to pin it down with words like alive, whole, comfortable, free, exact, egoless, and eter nal; but the quality slips through these verbal nets, not
because it is murky, but because words are too broad and imprecise to capture it.
It is not only simple beauty of form and color.
... It is not only fitness to purpose. ... And it is not only the spiritual quality of beautiful music or of a quiet mosque. ...
The quality which has no name includes these simpler, sweeter qualities. But it is so ordinary as well, that it somehow reminds us of the passing of our own life. It is a slightly bitter quality.<22>
There is no way to freeze the quality in a precise definition; we must settle for "the quality without a name" and strive, in our own lives, to understand this quality which will always evade our attempts to conceptualize it.
The purpose of environmental design is to create this quality in the built environment, and this requires a clear understanding of what we are dealing with when we plan and
design. Accordi ng to Alexander, although the actual phys-
ical elements of each town and building are different
(houses, streets, offices, walls, windows, doors, etc.),
there are patterns of relationships between the elements which often repeat themselves (e.g. office buildings tend to be concentrated at the center of town).<23> These patterns of relationships reveal the underlying structure of the town, a structure which either allows, or frustrates various human behaviors. A rather small number of these patterns a few hundred can produce the incredible va
riety o-f a Paris or London. Patterns are the atoms of our man-made universe"; like the atoms of physics and chemistry, a limited number of elements is capable of generating a world of infinite complexity.
Patterns of relationships do not cause or create e vents; it would be better to say that they allow certain patterns of events to happen, or make sure that they keep on repeating. Alexander made a clear statement of his position in a 1970 articles
I have not claimed ... that the form of buildings alone will have an influence on people's lives, on their behaviour, or on their needs. In every case, the pattern for walls or doors or buildings that I have specified, is specified along with some kind of social change. The environmental change, without the social, would accomplish nothing. But the reverse is also true. These social changes cannot be made unless the physical changes are made with them. There is no more point in trying to make the social change without the physical, than vice versa.<24>
If a designer wants to provide for certain behaviors, and contribute to the stability of those behaviors over time, he must be sure that there is a match between the pattern of relationships in space, and the pattern of events going on there. The nature of this match is difficult to describe.
For example, in a modern town, the concrete spatial pattern of a sidewalk does not "cause the kinds of human behavior which happen there.
What happens is much more complex. The people on the sidewalk, being culture-bound, know that the space which they are part of is a
sidewalk, and, as part of their culture, they have the pattern o-f a sidewalk in their minds. It is this pattern in their minds which causes them to behave the way that people do behave on sidewalks, not the purely spatial aspect o-f the concrete and the walls and curbs.<25>
The meanings o-f physical structures can vary -from culture
to culture, but this does not invalidate Alexander's notion
When 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 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. <26>
The closeness between a pattern of events, and the space in which this pattern of events occurs, is an underlying theme in all of Alexanders writings. He uses a metaphor from nature to give the reader a concrete image of this inseparable unity of place and function:
We do not separate the stream bed from the stream. There is no distinction in our minds between the bed of the stream, its banks, its winding configuration in the land and the rushing of the water, the growth of plants, the swimming of the fish.<27>
The quality of patterns varies widely. Some are alive; they are stable, self-sustaining, and allow people to "express their inner forces." Dead patterns are unstable and self-destructive; they prevent the resolution of conflicts,
and eventually lead to the collapse of the system of which they are a part. A small sunny courtyard which is intensely used and cared tor by the people around it is a man-made pattern which lives; a large windswept urban plaza which is shunned by people is a dead pattern. Living patterns have that fugitive mating of order and disorder which we admire in beautiful landscapes. Throughout The Timeless Wav of Bui 1dino. Alexander uses nature as a standard of beauty and function. He does not refer to Taoist texts the words are his own and the book has no footnotes but the similarity is inescapable. Man is a part of Nature and he is involved for eternity in the mutual interdependence of all beings. There is an order in nature, but it is organic order. As Alan Watts has written in Taos The Watercourse Way:
j_i may therefore be understood as organic order, as distinct from mechanical or legal order, both of which go by the book. Li is the asymmetrical, non-repetitive, and unregimented order which we find in the patterns of moving water, the forms of trees and clouds, of frost crystals on the window, or the scattering of pebbles on beach sand. ... Li is its principle of order which, following Needham, we can best translate as "organic pattern"; and water is its eloquent metaphor.<28>
We are afraid that this organic order may turn out to be a frightening chaos; we want to control nature ruthlessly, and shape it according to our geometrical or mechanical i-deas of order. To a Taoist, and to Alexander, this view is
misdirected; the proper course is to care-fully observe the forces present in nature, understand the principles governing their transformation, and then work with those -forces to achieve ones goal with a minimum of effort. The goal is elegant adaptation, not aggressive domination. Buildings and communities which embody this harmony with nature will manifest a beauty and functional perfection which transcend historical styles. They will be products of the one "timeless way of building."
The knowledge of this way can be written down and shared in the form of patterns:
A pattern defines an arrangement of parts in the environment, which is needed to solve a recurrent social, psychological, or technical problem. Each pattern has three very clearly defined sections; context, solution, and problem.
The context defines a set of conditions. The problem defines a complex of needs which always occurs in the given context. The solution defines the spatial arrangement of parts which must be present in the given context in order to solve the problem.<29>
The process of discovering patterns often begins with nothing more than a feeling that something feels good about a certain arrangement of spatial elements. When confronted with this indeterminate "something" in the environment which appears to be working, we must ask:
(1) What, exactly, is this something?
(2) Why, exactly, is this something helping to make the place alive?
(3) When, or where, exactly, will this pattern
42 INDUSTRIAL RIBBON*
. in a city where work is decentralized by scattered work (9), the placing of industry is of particular importance since it usually needs a certain amount of concentration. Like work communities (41), the industry can easily be placed to help in the formation of the larger boundaries between subculturessubculture BOUNDARY (13).
Exaggerated zoning laws separate industry from the rest of urban life completely, and contribute to the plastic unreality of sheltered residential neighborhoods.
It is true, obviously, that industry creates smoke, smells, noise, and heavy truck traffic; and it is therefore necessary to prevent the heaviest industry, especially, from interfering with the calm and safety of the places where people live.
But it is also true that in the modern city industry gets treated like a disease. The areas where it exists are assumed to be dirty and derelict. They are kept to the other side of the tracks, swept under the rug. And people forget altogether that the things which surround them in their daily livesbread, chemicals, cars, oil, gaskets, radios, chairsarc all made in these forbidden industrial zones. Under these conditions it is not surprising that people treat life as an unreal charade, and forget the simplest realities and facts of their existence.
Since the 1930s various efforts have been made, on behalf of the workers, to make factories green and pleasant. This social welfare approach to the nature of industries is once again unreal, in the opposite direction. A workshop, where things are being made, is not a garden or a hospital. The gardens which surround the new industrial parks are more for show than for the workers anyway since a few small inner courts or gardens would be far more useful to the workers themselves. And the contribution of an industrial park to the social and emotional life of the surrounding city is almost nil.
What is needed is a form of industry which is small enough . so that it docs not need to be so sharply segregated; genuine, so that it seems like a workshop, because it is a workshop; placed
5, 6, 7, S. A Pattern Language; The pattern "Industrial Ribbon" illustrating the standard -format picture, introductory paragraph, headline (stating the essence o-f the problem), body (empirical background, evidence, discussion) solution, diagram and linkages to other patterns.
42 INDUSTRIAL RIBBON
The social welfare "green" industrial -park.
in such a wav that the truck traffic which it generates does not endanger nearby neighborhoods; and formed along the edge of neighborhoods so that it is not a dangerous, forgotten zone, but so that it is a real part of life, accessible to children from the surrounding houses, woven into the fabric of city life, in a way that properly reflects its huge importance in the scheme of things.
But many industries are not small. They need large areas to function properly. A survey of planned industrial districts shows that 71.2 per cent of the industries require o to 5.0 acres, 13.6 per cent require 5 to 10 acres, and 9.9 per cent require 10 25
acres. (Robert E. Holey, Industrial Districts Restudied: An Analysis of Characteristics, Urban Land Institute, Technical Bulletin No. 41, 1961.) These industries can only fit into a neighborhood BOUNDARY (15) Or SUBCULTURE BOUNDARY (13) if the boundarv is wide enough. Ribbons whose width varies between 200 and ;oo feet, with sites varying in length between 200 and 2000 feet, will be able to provide the necessary range of one to 2;-acre sites in compact blocks, and are still narrow enough to keep communities on opposite sides of the ribbon reasonably connected.
The industrial ribbons require truck access and some rail transport. Truck roads and rail spurs should always be located in the center of the ribbon, so that the edges of the ribbon remain open
Truck traffic from an industrial area to a nearby freeway destroys a neighborhood.
to the community. Even more important, the ribbons must be placed so that they do not generate a heavy concentration of dangerous and noisy truck traffic through neighborhoods. Since most truck traffic comes to and from the freeways, this means that the industrial ribbons must be placed fairly near to ring
Place industry in ribbons, between 200 and 500 feet wide, which form the boundaries between communities. Break these ribbons into long blocks, varying in area between 1 and 25 acres; and treat the edge of every ribbon as a place where people from nearby communities can benefit from the offshoots of the industrial activity.
Place the ribbons near enough to ring roads (17) so that trucks can pass directly from the ribbons to the ring road, without having to pass through any other intermediate areas. Develop the internal layout of the industrial ribbon like any other work community, though slightly more spread outwork community (41). Place tlic important buildings of each industry, the heart of the plant, toward the edge of the ribbon to form usable streets and outdoor spacespositive outdoor space (106), nun.disc FRONTS (l22).
You must draw the pattern, name it, and be able to tell someone how to build "one o-f those."
Alexander draws upon many sources o-f knowledge to support his patterns: published literature in all -Fields, personal observations, laboratory tests, -Field work, interviews, mathematical calculations, deductive arguments. Alexander points out that discovering patterns can be "an extremely expensive business; it takes months and months o-F painstaking work to come up with one or two.<31> Theory and practice must be closely intertwined:
Research, divorced -From design, is almost always dry and li-Feless. By being academic and separated -From life, it cam create terrible results. The only kind of results that I consider worthwhile is the kind that is carried out within the actual task of planning and designing buildings, so that it is constantly being enriched by actual experiences and difficulties of the building task.<32>
Whenever something doesnt help me make better designs, I get rid of it, and fast.<33>
Alexander claims that the difference between a good building and a bad building is "an objective matter."
...most designers would maintain that no program can ever be made nonarbitrary. They would say that the rightness or wrongness of a program is not a factual matter but a moral one; it is not a question of fact but a question of value. These people argue in the same way about the physical environment itself. They say that the environment cannot be right or wrong in any objective sense but that it can only be judged according to criteria, or goals, or policies, or values, which have themselves been arbitrarily chosen.
We believe this point o-F view is mistaken. We believe that it is possible to define design in such a way that the rightness or wrongness of a building is clearly a question of fact, not a question of value. We also believe that if design is defined in this way, a statement of what a building ought to do can yield physical conclusions about the geometry of the building directly.<34>
With a belief in objective correctness as strong as this, we might expect that Alexanders criteria for evidence would exclude "feelings" entirely. To the contrary, feelings are a most important source of knowledge about the
rightness,and wrongness of patterns in the built environment. For Alexander, they are a source of agreement, not dissension. How can this be?
Almost all of Alexanders works grapple with the social or psychological implications of built form. Early on, he realized that it is very difficult to amass hard evidence proving that a design solution helps to resolve a conflict between human tendencies, especially when those tendencies are hard to define with exactitude. But he warned that these tendencies,
...though they may be speculative, are often more significant from a human point of view. It would be extremely dangerous to ignore such tendencies just because we have no data to "support" them. Provided they are stated clearly, so that they can be shown wrong by someone willing to undertake the necessary experiments, it is as important to include these tendencies, in the program as it is to include those tendencies that we are sure of.<35>
In The Timeless Way of Building, Alexander returned to this
theme in his discussion of the "aliveness" o-f patterns. All patterns must meet two preliminary conditions: "The problem is real," and The con-figuration solves the problem." These are empirical questions; they can be answered by observation, testing, analysis. But -for Alexander this is not e-nough. The pattern must be capable of generating life, and to do this it must be more than just sensible or technically adequate. It must deal with "all the forces that are actually present in the situation." Now, with entities as complex as buildings and cities, there is no analytical way of knowing that all the forces have been dealt with. Even if we had the techniques, in most planning situations the experiments required to verify the proposed solution would be too costly and time consuming. For Alexander there is another way. "We must rely on feelings more than intellect. "<36> It is possible to feel "the wholeness of the system" and thereby know that a pattern is complete.
For Alexander, this is not the same as expressing "taste, style, or opinion", or what someone "thinks about a building." You must rid yourself of preconceptions about what the building ought to be, and focus attention on the situation itself. You must not base your decision on fear of other peoples opinions, especially fear of going a-
gainst -fashionable theories o-f architecture and planning. When these conditions are met, there is "an extraordinary degree o-f agreement in peoples -feelings about patterns."<37> In a bold conceptual move, Alexander claims that "attention to reality goes -far beyond the realm o-f values."<38> Although lengthy, this passage is worth quoting in -full:
Usually people say that the choice of patterns depends on your opinions about what is important.
One person thinks high buildings are best; another person likes low ones. ...When we try to resolve disagreements like this, we are led back to peoples fundamental aims in life: to their fundamental goals or values. But people do not agree about their values. So this kind of discussion still leaves us in a position where patterns seem only to depend on opinions. The best you can say, according to this view, is that a certain pattern does or doesnt help to satisfy a certain goal or value. Or that some "forces" are "good" and others "bad."
But a pattern which is real makes no Judgments about the legitimacy of the forces in a situation.
By seeming to be unethical, by making no Judgments about individual opinions, or goals, or values, the pattern rises to another level of
Its result is to allow things to be alive and this is a higher good than the victory of any one artificial system of values.
The only way that a pattern can actually help to make a situation genuinely more alive is by recognizing all the forces which actually
exist, and then finding a world in which these forces can slide past each other.<39>
Patterns which meet this standard may become "a piece of
nature... as valid, as eternal, as the ripples in the
surface of a pond." No "design method" will ever guarantee the appearance of the quality without a name, and yet it is possible, in Alexander's view, to specify a step-by-step process which, if followed in the spirit of the whole theory, will lead to the creation of buildings and towns which really live. This goal has always preoccupied Alexander, but it is only with the publication of The Timeless Wav of Building that he has surrounded it with a fully developed world-view.
While appearing to be a seamless unity, The Timeless Wav of Building does leave many questions unanswered. The elusiveness of the writing is simultaneously appealing and frustrating. The sanity and wisdom of the book come through but, all the same, one wishes that the arguments were tighter and more firmly anchored in supporting material from history, philosophy, and other disciplines. No doubt, Alexander had no intention of writing a scholarly work, replete with references to secondary sources, and to a certain extent A Pattern Language provides the concreteness missing in The Timeless Wav. Still, at some point Alexander is going to have to buttress the reflections in The Timeless Wav with more prosaic arguments, linked more closely to the awkward realities of our industrialized nation-states in the closing decades of the twentieth cen
tury. It is to this arena that we must now turn.
THE CURRENT SITUATION
Alexander does not provide a detailed, thoroughly researched analysis o-f the state o-f architecture and city planning in our time, but he does devote a section of The Timeless Wav to current ills. In his view, we are living in a time when many of the most fundamental principles of good design have been lost, discarded in the rush to embrace the new and different. It was not always so.
Alexander believes that traditional cultures possessed a widespread agreement about environmental design which e nabled the millions of individual acts of building to come together in a beautiful well-ordered cityscape the University of Cambridge in England is a favorite example. There were "traditional approaches to well-defined problems," and without the aid of master plans each part of the environment, though unique, combined with all the other parts to form a global whole. Each culture had a pattern language, a body of morphological laws which guided the city's growth. It wasnt necessarily in books at all; the builders rules of thumb were often passed down via apprenticeships or from father to son. These shared pattern
languages governed the evolution o-f "natural" cities.
"Natural" cities (Siena, Liverpool, Kyoto, Manhattan)
are characterized by complexity, ambiguity, and overlap o-f
-functions, all o-f which make them alive when compared with
the "artificial" cities (Levittown, Chandigarh, the British
New Towns) created in the twentieth century.<40> Natural
cities exhibit more variety, detail, and internal differ
entiation among their parts; they have a unique balance
between order and disorder. In our time, the traditional
pattern languages which once made it possible for people to
build beautiful cities are, for the most part, dead. The
art of building has become specialized and private, the
restricted domain of professional architects and planners.
Economic and technological imperatives have overruled and
displaced craftsmanship. People have come to believe that
they are incompetent to design. Many of the old patterns,
so finely attuned to simple human needs, have been replaced
by defective patterns based upon architectural and planning
theories, industrial technologies, or the expediencies of
the market. Misfits between form and function abound.
At one time it would have been unthinkable to build any room, except a stable or a workshed, without windows on two sides. In our own time, all knowledge of this pattern is forgotten. Most rooms, in most buildings, have light from one side only. And even a "great" architect like Le Corbusier, builds whole apartments, long and narrow, with windows only at the narrow ends as he did in the Marseilles apartments block
with terrible glare and discomfort as results.
There is not a single building built in recent times, nor a single part of a city laid out by planners, in which such trivial mistakes caused by the loss of patterns cannot be described a hundredfold. This is as true of the greatest works of so-called modern masters, as of the most mundane works built by tract developers.<41>
These mistakes are not quickly corrected, because the users have nothing to do with the design or construction of the building; there is no opportunity for the fine adaptation that comes from knowing your own deepest needs and shaping an environment which satisfies them.
The environment has acquired an inhuman, chaotic quality. According to Alexander, planners have responded to this by efforts to gain "total design control of the environment." But these are moves in the wrong direction they often make things worse.
They cannot create a whole environment, because they are not sufficiently responsive to the real needs, forces, demands, problems, of the people involved. Instead of making the environment more whole, they make it less whole.
At this stage, the pattern languages become still more fragmented, and more dead. They are controlled by even fewer people; they have even less of the living connection with the people which they need.<42>
For Alexander, a living city can only be formed by a genetic process, the cumulative result of millions of individual acts of building guided by a shared pattern language.
In the absence o-f such a process, only two scenarios are possible. If planning control is abandoned, the city will become an uncoordinated, random collection o-f discordant parts. I-f strong planning control is instituted, chaos will be avoided, but only by the creation o-f artificial totalities which, while neat and orderly in a mechanical sense, are unresponsive to unexpected changes and insensitive to the unique needs o-f users.
The Timeless Wav of Buildino does not provide a detailed analysis of current problems: one must go through ft Pattern Language to find concrete references, with documentation, to specific flaws in our present environment. Among the criticisms in A Pattern Language one finds the following (paraphrases are my own):
Spatial units do not correspond with social and political realities. There are natural limits to the sizes of regions, towns, communities, workgroups, and clusters of families. The modern city often ignores these limits.
Many cities have become too large; they have drained rural areas of economic vitality and overburdened the ecological systems of the regions in which they occur. Urban sprawl has made it impossible for most city dwellers to have meaningful contact with the countryside.
Modern cities are too homogeneous and lacking in variety; there are not enough distinct subcultures with their own turf, each subculture supporting a different style of life but accessible to all.
Work and home life have been separated far too much this creates "intolerable rifts in
Cars are destroying the environment and social li-fe.
Modern buildings are designed to reap speculative gains -for banks and landowners instead o-f to satis-fy basic human needs.
Common land has gradually disappeared from the city, causing serious damage to peoples feeling of connection with the larger social system.
Peoples ability to own, modify, and repair their own dwellings has diminished, making it very difficult to create stable self-healing communities."
The culprits are rather ill-defined: rapid, uncontrolled industrialization; the indiscriminate application of new technologies; centralization of political and economic power; the subordination of architecture and planning to speculative gain; the megalomaniac pretensions of designers; and fallacious theories of urban form. All of these familiar nemeses stand in the way of a transition to the good built environment.
In constructing this argument, Alexander does not attach himself to a single school of social thought; he picks and chooses from a wide range of sources, and he has not really fused these fragments into a coherent whole. Alexander has indicated that later volumes in the CES series will deal with the political and economic basis of his theory, and the system of production required to produce
houses. One hopes that these works will -flesh out Alexanders indictment o-f the current state of affairs in architecture and planning. As long as Alexanders explanation of underlying causes remains vague, or overly dependent on brief references to secondary literature, his vision of the good built environment will be tainted with an atmosphere of naive utopianism a fate it does not deserve.
THE GOOD BUILT ENVIRONMENT
Alexander's view of the good built environment is
closely related to his understanding o-f those states in
which human beings are most alive:
It is when all our -forces can move freely in us.
In nature, this quality is almost automatic, because there are no images to interfere with natural processes of making things. ... And we are only free, and have the quality without a name in us, when we give up the images which guide our lives. ... Nothing to keep, nothing to lose ... no hidden fears, no morals, no rules, no undercurrent of constraint ... no subtle fear of other people's ridicule ... no outward elements of majesty at all ... it happens when our inner forces are resolved.<43>
In keeping with this high valuation of personal freedom, Alexander believes that the good society will be a form of "responsible anarchy" in which people "are free to build as they please, are strongly encouraged by self-interest to act on behalf of larger community needs, but are not forced to do so by centralized fiscal or legal control."<44> Alexander believes that "there are natural limits to the size of groups that can govern themselves in a human way,"<45> and he attempts to define optimum sizes for various human associations. Most modern nation states are far
too large, and the world should be gradually reorganized into independent regions, each with two to ten million people. Within these regions, there should be a distribution o-f cities and towns of different sizes (for example, "one town with 1,000,000 people, 10 towns with 100,000 people each, 100 towns with 10,000 people each, and 1000 towns with 100 people each).<46> Within towns, more divisions are necesary. "Individuals have no effective voice in any community of more that 5,000 10,000 persons?" therefore, cities must be divided into sub-units of that size, and each of these "Communities of 7000" must be given the power to initiate, decide, and execute the affairs that concern it closely: land use, housing, maintenance, streets, parks, police, schooling, welfare, neighborhood services."<47> The whole of society must eventually organize itself into a nested hierarchy of social units (regions, towns, communities, neighborhoods, work groups, clusters of families) each responsible for a piece of the environment.
At the lower level, each individual person owns his own private space, and is responsible for helping to create the patterns there according to his needs. Ownership of ones own house or apartment is essential, and Alexander advocates doing "everything possible to make the tradi
tional -forms o-f rental impossible, indeed, illegal."
Indeed, it is very clear that all those processes which encourage speculation in land, -for the sake o-f pro-fit, are unhealthy and destructive, because they invite people to treat houses as commodities, to build things tor 'resale,' and not in such a way as to tit their own needs.<48>
A similar stricture applies to commercial enterprises: we
live in a world ot franchises which are devoid of any per
sonal quality. These would have no place in Alexanders
Communities can only get this personal quality back if the prohibit all forms of franchise and chain stores, place limits on the actual size of stores in a community, and prohibit absentee owners from owning shops.<49>
For Alexander, the common land which is shared and maintained by groups of individuals is just as important as the private spaces. "Without common land no social system can survive."<50> Common land will be held by all the social groups in the society, from the family all the way up to the regions. Each family and work group will have its own common area, and will be responsible for its improvement and repair. Clusters of families and workgroups will be legally defined entities which own their own land <"that land which the families all use together, but which is not private to any of them"). In similar fashion, each neighborhood will actually own the land which is common to its members local roads, local parks and communities will
own their own land, such as larger roads and some public buildings. Finally, we come to the town which, in our cur rent system, owns almost all o-f the streets, parks, and public buildings. In Alexanders good society, the town owns "only those which are specifically used by everyone the very largest ones ...."<51>
The larger patterns which encompass many of these smaller social units can only come into being if "each group is made responsible for helping the next larger group create the larger patterns which the larger group requires." The final shape of the town will emerge as each of these social units improves its own land and assists the social groups around it in accordance with a shared pattern 1anguage.
It is a process by which small acts of individuals, almost at random, are sieved and harnessed so that what they create is orderly, even though the product of confusion.
It creates order, not by forcing it, nor by imposing it upon the world (through plans or drawings or components): but because it is a process which draws order from its surroundings it allows it to come together.<52>
A major change in attitudes toward land ownership and economic relations must occur if modern cities are to e-volve in the direction of Alexanders "responsible anarchy." The precise nature of such a transformation is not given by Alexander, although he refers to secondary sources
which -fill in some o-f the gaps. With regard to the physical form o-f the good built environment Alexander provided a concise sketch in an article published in 1970. This summary is seven years older than A Pattern Language but it is still a good re-flection o-f Alexander's ideas.
There is no CBD.<53> The city consists o-f hundreds o-f small residential islands, each with a different subculture. Density is high at the edge of these islands, and falls off towards the center of each one. The islands are widely separated, and surrounded by a sea of employment and communal facilities. Also winding around the islands there are nets of high speed one way arteries. All employment is radically
decentralized even when a corporation is large, it consists of many small autonomous group-run workshops. The university and schools are woven in and out of the fabric of the city.
The do not exist as distinct entities. Houses and households have a much greater variety of size and type than they do today. ... None of these dwellings will be high-rise in the modern sense all houses will have at least some part where they can come into open, visible contact with the outside. All dwellings are owned. The city is dotted with many tiny knots of trees, undisturbed by demolition and construction. ... There are many kinds of highly specialized places devoted to public meeting. ... The detailed structure of all these buildings, especially the dwellings, is such that the final details are personal.
Even without making drawings, or models, or filling in the details, I think it is clear that this is a kind of city utterly different from the one in which we live today. <54>
Alexander believes that cities cannot be "creations ...
thought out, conceived entire, designed." Healthy urban
growth must be incremental, organic, a response to the
ongoing diagnosis of the city's strengths and weaknesses by
Keep interlocking fingers of farmland and urban land, even at the center of the metropolis. The urban fingers should never be more than i mile wide, while the farmland fingers should never be less than i mile wide.
fingers, i mile wide
at most i mile wide
Whenever land is hilly, keep the country fingers in the valleys and the citv fingers on the upper slopes of hillsidesagricultural valleys (4). Break the city fingers into hundreds of distinct self-governing subculturesmosaic of subcultures (8), and run the major roads and railways down the middle of these citv fingersweb of public transportation (16), ring roads ('?)
"City Country Fingers"
Do everything possible to enrich the cultures and subcultures of the city, by breaking the city, as far as possible, into a vast mosaic of small and different subcultures, each with its own spatial territory, and each with the power to create its own distinct life style. Make sure that the subcultures are small enough, so that each person has access to the full variety of life styles in the subcultures near his own.
hundreds of different subcultures
We imagine that the smallest subcultures will be no bigger than i jo feet across; the largest perhaps as much as a quarter of a mile
--COMMUNITY OF 7OOO ( I 2), IDENTIFIABLE NEIGHBORHOOD
(14), house cluster (37). To ensure that the life styles of each subculture can develop freely, uninhibited by those which arc adjacent, it is essential to create substantial boundaries of nonrcsidential land between adjacent subculturessubculture BOUNDARY (13). .
"Mosaic o-f Subcultures"
all o-f its citizens, and their acts of building and repair
based upon that diagnosis.
The recent history o-f architecture and planning has created the false impression that architects and planners are the only people who know how to lay out buildings. The evidence from the last two or three thousand years of human history tells the opposite story. Almost all the environments in human history have been designed by lay people. ... But of course, in order to create order, not chaos, people must have some shared principles. Nothing would be worse than an environment in which each square foot was designed according to entirely different
principles, this would be chaos indeed.<55>
In Alexanders theory the pattern language will take the place of vanished traditions in guiding the many acts of building so that they produce a whole. As time passes, the pattern language will no longer seem bookish and artificial; it will become a deeply integrated expression of the cultures which use it and modify it.
Finally, within the framework of a common
language, millions of individual acts of building will together generate a town which is alive, and whole, and unpredictable, without control this is the slow emergence of the quality without a name, as if from nothing.<56>
However, Alexander has not neglected the task of outlining a detailed process, complete with institutional structures, procedures, and even written forms, which will channel individual acts into forms beneficial to the entire community. This process which creates order out of individual acts must now be discussed.
In The Oregon Experiment, Alexander describes a process which will generate wholeness in a community. It has six elements: organic order, participation, piecemeal growth, patterns, diagnosis and coordination.
Organic order is de-fined as "the kind o-f order that is achieved when there is a per-fect balance between the needs o-f the parts and the needs o-f the whole." Centralized master planning cannot create organic order, -for several reasons: it cannot adapt easily to unforeseen changes, it cannot guide the crucial details at the site planning scale, it alienates users, and it is too incomprehensible and remote -from the daily experience o-f most people. The deliberate "non-planning" o-f the real estate market cannot create organic order; it produces "a litter o-f fragmented buildings" which never come together into either a functional or aesthetic whole. Organic order can emerge only if communities are shaped gradually from many local acts, guided by a communal pattern language.
The requirement of "participation" states that "all decisions about what to build and how to build it will be
12. Berkeleys The parts are more important than the whole.
13. Chicago Circle: The whole straightjackets the parts.
in the hands o-f the users." Participation is both intrinsically good, because it satisfies a deep human need to create, and good for the built environment, because it allows for a close adaptation to user needs which no other system can hope to match.<57> The Oregon Experiment includes a description of the design experience written by John McManus, a professor of music at the University of Oregon:
We expected... the usual architect-user relation: we would pour out our problems., and we expected the planners to come back with a picture. But it kept coming back to us... they kept drawing it out of us... Slowly, little by little, we started seeing it... the pieces started to fit together... It seemed the planners were there to draw it out of us; to make us come to grips with the problems.... The secretaries drew up an office plan for the administration. Each one made a drawing..then they picked the best.... The financial secretary came up with it.... She said,
"This is how we want it..." And so we put it in....<58>
Alexander knows that most people arent designing their own environments now, but he has seen feelings of incompetence or indifference transformed into the excitement of successful design. The potential for such conversions forms an essential part of his implementation strategy.
The concept "piecemeal growth" discourages the design and construction of large areas of the environment at one time. The problems with "large lump development" are legion. They destroy the historical continuity of the urban
fabric; inevitable design mistakes tend to be large and resistant to correction; they use up huge sums o-f money, o-ften leaving insu-f-ficient funds for maintenance and repair. Alexander insists that the city must evolve from many smaller projects along with those large projects, such as bridges, highways, sewers, and water systems, which are absolutely necessary. He produces Evidence to prove that piecemeal growth does not cost more than large lump development; his figures show that cost increases with building height, and that cost increases sharply when buildings reach a gross area of 20,000 square feet. In addition he points out that each of the small projects
The fourth link in Alexander's implementation strategy, "Patterns," has already been discussed. He defines a pattern this time as:
A statement of some general planning principle so formulated that its correctness, or incorrectness, can be supported by empirical evidence, discussed in public, and then, according to the outcome of these discussions, adopted, or not, by a planning board which speaks for the whole community.<59>
Christopher Alexander: User-designed Apartment Building, St Quentin-en-Yvelines. near Versailles, 1974 (project)
Alexander also describes the administrative procedures by which patterns can be officially adopted and, where necessary, modified or deleted.
"Diagnosis" is Alexander's term for the process whereby problem areas in the community are identified and described, so that acts of building and repair can be encouraged there. Diagnosis helps to ensure that global order will emerge from individual acts. Each year the community, assisted by a planning staff, will prepare a diagnosis map which will be adopted by a planning board and made available to everyone. Both individual and communal projects can then be geared to the creation of patterns which bring life back into neglected areas and complete the structure of healthier areas.
Finally, "Coordination" deals with mechanisms "to make sure that the projects which get built are always the ones which contribute most to the emergence of organic order in the community." There are no fixed maps which specify building locations years in advance, but rather a review process conducted by a planning board which determines which projects are most deserving of funding. Alexander's example is from the University of Oregon, not an actual city, so unfortunately the meaning of "Coordination" for a metropolis remains unclear. In a real city, most projects
17. Campus o-f the Oregon in 1975.
18. How the campus might look in the 1990's after twenty years o-f piecemeal growth (This is an illustration, not a plan).
19. Section o-f the University o-f Oregon, diagnosis Northwest corner.
20. The slow growth o-f twelve houses.
will be -funded by private money, although there will be centralized -funding -for major public works. Presumably all members o-f the planning boards will be elected, and the di-f-ferent levels o-f government will agree as to their proper jurisdictions and the procedures -for coordination of planning activities.
There will be niches for planners as technical advisers to users, caretakers of the communal pattern language, and researchers testing new patterns and improving old ones. Presumably in cases where users are diffuse or incapable of contributing to the design process,pianners will assume more responsibility for specific design decisions; and it is hard to imagine that planning at the scale of cities and regions could be undertaken without technical analyses of transportation, ecology, geology, drainage and other critical factors. However, on any scale portraying the range of power and decision making authority of professional planners, Alexanders scheme falls in the zone of decentralized non-technocratic planning.
The absence of centralized legal or financial control is an appealing idea, but experience indicates that there must be a significant degree of control in any city if problems which transcend neighborhood and community boundaries are to be addressed. In A Pattern Language the soft,
non-coercive tone o-f The Timeless Wav o-f Building gives way
to the practicalities o-f government, and Alexander suggests some strong measures to implement the pattern language. These measures may be adopted by democratic governing bodies, but they are serious limitations on individual action all the same.
Alexanders implementation tools may be grouped into three levels o-f intensity: legal requirements, incentives, and voluntary acts. At the level o-f legal requirements we find regional zoning policies to ensure the proper distribution o-f towns, greenbelt zoning to protect small towns and the countryside around them, prohibitions of -franchise and chain stores, building height limitations, limits on parking areas, and ordinances to protect sacred sites. The detailed -form o-f these restrictions is not discussed. Among the incentives, we -find tax incentives -for the creation o-f small parks, pathways, and other amenities; -financial incentives to encourage the proper distribution o-f towns; and -financial incentives -for the economic reconstruction o-f small towns.
O-f course, Alexander would prefer that all of the patterns come into being without coercion or externally supplied incentives, but until a sense of social responsibility permeates the general public, prompting noble sac-
rifices -for the common welfare, the larger patterns are unlikely to develop without assistance. At the smaller scale, though, voluntary action will be more typical. Individuals, -Families, workgroups, and small businesses can make sure that the parts o-F the environment they control contain the rel event patterns and contribute to the completion o-F the larger patterns needed by the community.
Parts o-F the pattern language can be used immediately; many o-F the architectural design ideas and other recommendations at the site planning scale, are not dependent on massive social change. But at the city planning scale Alexanders proposals require major changes in society as a whole. An extensive decentralization o-F power and responsibility must occur. One is reminded o-F Thomas Jeffersons -famous dictum "Divide the counties into wards. <60> Alexander describes no detailed pathway -for this trans-formation, although it is clear that he envisions no sudden dismantling of existing institutions. One infers that change must occur gradually as people, reacting to our current maladies, see the virtues of "responsible anarchy" and band together in work groups, neighborhood groups, and other voluntary associations.
Books like A Pattern Language will give people the tools to carve out enclaves of alternative design. As these
prove workable and multiply, more and more people will give assent to the principles of The Timeless Wav until whole towns have adopted Alexanders process as a guide -for growth and repair.
How will the pattern language be disseminated to millions o-f people, i-f at present it is restricted to a relatively small group o-f architects, planners, and students? In an interchange with several other architects published in 1967 under the title "Design Innovations" Alexander sketched out an approach to the problem.
The critical issue is not whether you give certain work to architects or not, but whether new relations become imbedded in peoples minds people at large. I-f people want buildings with certain characteristics and they develop an idea o-f what these buildings should look like, theyll get them. Theyll go and demand them. At the University o-f Cali-fornia, as we begin to build up complexes o-f relations, we shall go onto the national TV network and explain why certain -forms are necessary -forms that do not exist now. One thing Ive -found in my short experience with architecture is that people at large are incredibly willing to understand the consequences o-f functional thinking... They really see the point of it because it has to do with their lives.<61>
All of the conventional publishing channels can be used: "The full presentation of patterns, the criticism and debate concerning patterns, evidence concerning the validity and testing of patterns, may be collected in archives in various libraries, offices, universities, and other cen
ters.M<62> But the idea is not to distribute the pattern language like an inflexible shop manual for environmental design. People must refine it as they use it to create buildings suited to their particular needs. Through an evolutionary process, the good patterns will spread widely! the bad patterns will eventually drop out. The result will be a number of everimproving shared languages, each a balance of species-wide invariants and local uniqueness. These pattern languages will be the working documents for Alexanders good environment, the core of the organic process which will enable men to create cities which really live.
Alexanders ideas have prompted both harsh criticism and -fervent praise. His three recent books have not yet been reviewed by all the major journals so this survey o-f the critical commentary is based upon a sampling, not a definitive collection. Nevertheless, Alexanders central theses have been in circulation -for -fifteen years now, and most of his strengths and weaknesses have been discovered.
Perhaps the most common complaint is that Alexanders theory is impractical, an attempt to recreate the architecture of a nostalgic, unreal past in the late 20th century. A strong statement of this view is Hugh Kenners "Where Every Prospect Pleases," a review of A Pattern Language and The Oregon Experiment. Kenners essay is witty, unscholarly, and rough on Alexander, whom he places within "a Utopian literary genre that goes through the motions of imparting technical advice while it sponsors fantasies of a world sprung loose from time and turmoil, where either there are no other people or theyre all on your side."<63> Kenner detects, and gives penetrating names to,
three -fallacies in Alexander's theory.
(1) The Esperanto Fallacy* recalling another
high-minded e-f-fort to confect a universal tongue from smoothed out features of existing ones. Alexander & Co. have not always avoided the trap of extolling in seductive prose the nicer
features of sundry European towns ... and
pretending they make a deep-rooted unity, mastery of which will elicit spontaneous expression.
<2) The Sansculotte Fallacy: the tendency to assume that you or the people youre talking to are in charge of whatever matters; that legal and financial difficulties aren't there, or arent serious, or answer to no ones wishes save an exploiters.<64>
(3) The Pelagian Fallacy: the assumption that uncorrupted men will profess just this inventory of common needs, pellucid, naively clear.<65>
Sensing that the gullible will be attracted to Alexanders theory in spite of these flaws, he attributes this to the human penchant for making "a leap of faith, the faith we all have in good things that are not disproved because they have never been tried." Kenners review is not a cautious, balanced one he is having sport with Alexander but he has posed some difficult questions. Is Alexanders pattern language just a collage of architectural memories, lacking any genuine inner unity or claim to universality? Is it founded upon a hopelessly optimistic view of human nature?
Kenners "Esperanto" criticism is not based upon a careful reading of Alexander. Esperanto, of course, is an
artificial language based mainly on root words common to the Indo-European languages. It has never made much headway against existing national tongues. Because Alexander does endorse the existence of universally valid solutions to certain design problems, it may appear that he is attempting to fashion an Esperanto of design, thereby destroying legitimate variety in architecture and planning. Unquestionably he is rejecting most of modern architecture, and if the pattern language is used in a clumsy, dictatorial fashion by people wholly lacking in the spirit of Alexander's writing, it could become a threat to legitimate expressiveness and lyricism in design. But Alexander is not trying to crush all variety in a puritanical fervor, and the imposition of a single architectural "style" is not the goal of The Timeless Way.
First of all, Alexander states that his pattern language is only one of many possible pattern languages. He does feel that it contains many patterns which will probably show up in every culture, but in the end, this must be determined by the different cultures themselves. As for the patterns which do seem to possess cross-cultural validity, they are not intended to be "cookie cutters," carelessly eliminating cultural diversity. A pattern is a relation between parts of the environment which can appear
in a million cultural variations without losing its essence. It is rather like a core around which a cultural variation can grow. For example, the pattern "Housing In Between" is a response to a common problem: "Wherever there is a sharp separation between residential and nonresiden-tial parts of town, the nonresidential areas will quickly turn to slums." The proposed solution is to "Build houses into the -fabric o-f shops, small industry, schools, public services, universities all those parts o-f cities which draw people in during the day, but which tend to be "non-residential."<66> This certainly is in conflict with cer tain current practices, which Alexander believes to be objectively wrong, but there is plenty o-f room for the new pattern to be implemented in a variety of ways, while still holding to the spirit of the pattern. "Housing In Between" will be subtly different in Kansas City, Rio de Janeiro, and Paris. No two cities will look the same, even though their essential structure can be traced back to as few as several hundred patterns.
Nevertheless, there are reasons why A Pattern Language has been misconstrued as a nostalgic European scrapbook. The photographs in the books often picture venerable old buildings, and many examples in the text are drawn from European towns. Alexander often looks to the past for ar
chetypal design solutions because they are likely to be thoroughly tested, at least with regard to their -fit with very basic human tendencies. But what Alexander is a-fter is the "underlying structure" o-f the traditional solutions, the abstract spatial arrangements which ensure that certain human tendencies are accommodated without undue -friction. The designer is actively discouraged -from copying the historical examples, a strategy which would surely produce only a pastiche o-f historical curiosities.
The examples were adduced to provide vivid illustrations o-f successful solutions, and as evidence that real human beings have chosen to construct, maintain, and value buildings and towns embodying the patterns. Alexander does believe that these patterns have been lost in our time; but he is thoroughly modern in insisting that these traditional patterns must stand or fall on their own merits. He doesnt ask the reader to accept them just because they worked in the past.
Kenners criticism is too glib. Alexander indulges in romanticism at times, but he has provided the remedy by encouraging unrestricted criticism and testing of the patterns. He has not attempted to flatten out the diversity of national traditions into a graceless artificial language.
Kenners "Sansculotte Fallacy" is more telling; he has
located lacunae where sophisticated answers should be. Alexander does skip over political, legal, and -Financial di-f-ficulties, and leaves the reader hanging by a promise that subsequent works will save the day. We receive insufficient indication that he has surveyed the formidable political and economic groups which would mobilize all their forces to defeat his proposals, or that he has assessed the array of legal weapons that could be used to maintain existing property relationships. He doesn't devote enough space to the difficult tradeoffs between access, sense, control, and the various other dimensions of a city's per formance.<67> For example, piecemeal growth may require too much time in situations where there is a pressing need for housing and services. Highly decentralized control may interfere with the rational management of problems which transcend local boundaries.
As a result, Alexander may have -seduced some planners and architects into thinking that the millennium is drawing nigh. Perhaps some idealists have tried to assault the status quo armed only with a battered copy of A Pattern Language and some good intentions. Alexander could have discouraged such quixotic forays by offering a sober appraisal of the entrenched powers that be, and by emphasizing the immense difficulty of moving human societies even a
notch closer to excellence.
In spite o-f all this, the criticism is not -fatal. Most thoughtful readers realize that the changes Alexander envisions must come slowly. He is asking -for nothing short o-f a cultural shift, a tilt in the landscape in the direction of communal responsibility, decentralization, the human scale, and respect for nature. What Alexander needs is a theory of social change commensurate with his ambitious design ideas. The secondary sources to which he refers are good leads, but they arent a substitute for a comprehensive treatment addressing the special concerns of environmental design. In particular, a detailed explanation of why modern architecture went astray would be helpful. Alexanders whole social analysis is rather vague; it needs the concreteness of the historian.
Kenners "Pelagian Fallacy" raises some issues which ten volumes would not suffice to resolve. The criticism hinges on the nature of man itself. Kenner believes that Alexander has a naive trust in the willingness of men to agree on just this collection of patterns and then embark upon a spirited building program to make them realities. Unquestionably, Alexander believes that the latent design talents of lay people are being wasted. But has he overestimated the potential for average people to adopt a pat-
tern language and work together in the construction of a livable environment?
Alexander does have evidence that people have used his patterns successfully to build healthy environments. There are all the historical examples of userbuilt communities, too numerous to mention, and the various modern experiments with user design and management, including Alexanders own. However, these do not parry all skepticism about the feasibility of these ideas at the city planning scale in a rapidly changing modern world characterized by specialization, mobility, and technological sophistication. Most people are content, at least on the surface, to let professionals design their homes, offices, factories, and schools. They may grumble about the ineptitude of the designs (certainly not always the fault of the architect or planner), but they arent volunteering to do the work themselves. Alexanders proposals for disseminating the pattern language are fragmentary, and unequal to the task of prompting millions of people to assume responsibility for their surroundings. The "culture of narcissism" blankets America, and shows few signs of budging.
We are confronted here with the task of evaluating a leap into an imagined future. Kenner thinks Alexanders vision is unrealistic; human nature will not allow it.
Others, and I count mysel-f among them, are willing to grant
a more respected place to speculative endeavors. When taken
as a long-term goal Alexanders ideal does not seem off the
mark. Of course, there are dangers in "utopian" visions;
they may lead to premature actions which bring only failure
and disillusion. As the social philosopher Eugen
Our ideas about good and evil are one thing, and the right time to introduce a change for the better is another. The idealist who thinks anything can be good outside of time and space only makes a fool of himself. Timeliness is everything. ...Any man who looks around him finds a great many desirable points which might make for the improvement of his environment. It is the wise man who realizes that it will take all his energy to carry one per cent of these good and desirable points into reality.<68>
If Alexander misreads the currents of cultural change, experiments with the pattern language could founder like so many other well-intentioned schemes. But until more of the returns are in, Alexanders theory shouldnt be dismissed as a historical romance projected into the future. He has assembled enough evidence to be taken seriously. Back in 1947, David Riesman made a fine statement of the issue, and it has lost none of its relevance in the intervening years:
The real question is one about people, not plans: are they really hopeless addicts or can they, enough of them, appreciate what a good community plan would be like even when they have grown up under a bad plan? The utopians faith is that the answer is affirmative. That faith is supported by the very tradition of utopian
thinking in which the planner works, and which is a record o-f just such human ability to transcend the ideologies provided by the culture and to add something new to the small precious stock o-f social ideas.<69>
We have already touched upon the problem of values, a forbidding subject over which philosophers have labored for thousands of years. Alexander's attempt to elucidate "one timeless way of building" has perturbed a number of critics who believe that the pattern language may be just a reflection of the values of Alexander and his colleagues, not a manifestation of imperatives dictated by nature. After examining eight patterns from A Pattern Language. Cedric Price declared:
I, personally, am opposed to all these propositions. (I dislike sunlight, use bus stops to speed my journey, consider the Pantheon one of the world's finest buildings, have blocked up all the windows in my kitchen, and live alongside one of London's busiest streets with great enjoyment) and do not imagine I am alone.<70>
A more scholarly evaluation of Alexander's work has been given by Francis Duffy and John Torrey in "A Progress Report on the Pattern Language" (1968):
Although patterns within themselves avoid the problem of compromise, it can be argued that, willy nilly, each pattern will have built into it the consequences of a value system. It is impossible to be entirely objective, to cut oneself free from past experiences and tradition.
Not only is each pattern culture-based so that it is difficult to transmit patterns from one culture to another, but it is difficult even to hand over a pattern to one's closest collaborator because any pattern is liable to be viewed
differently. <71 >
These are serious criticisms. Alexander's insistence that there are archetypal design solutions, grounded in the constancies of human nature and the physical world, goes against the grain o-f modern thought. Few contemporary thinkers accept the existence o-f a single human tel os with an attendant set o-f cardinal virtues. Instead we are le-ft to choose -from a bewildering array of values and opinions. To question this state of affairs is to risk being taken for a Platonist, a philosopherking manque, a reactionary.
In my view, it is not at all certain that we must accept the relativism so characteristic of our bureaucratic and individualistic society. I think Alexander is correct in trying to make a case for objectively good designs, remembering always that he does allow slack for cultural and individual variations. However, he has created problems for himself with the oracular tone he uses in The Timeless Wav of Building. In that work he does not construct a thorough argument, rich with linkages to philosophy, psychology, anthropology, and history. Alexander did attempt something like this once in an article titled "Changes In Form Required by Social and Psychological Demands,<72> but it was never expanded into a philosophically adequate defense of a "timeless way of building." In this article he attempted to
identify objective human needs, drawing upon the work of Alexander Leighton, Abraham Maslow, and Erik Erikson. He then made some hypotheses about what cultural institutions and environmental supports would be necessary to meet these needs. This was a worthwhile attempt to base design solutions on the findings of modern social psychology, but it did not prove that certain patterns are beyond the realm of values entirely. Modern social psychology is not, after all, value free, and inferences based upon social psychological data are themselves subject to error.
The Timeless Way fares no better. The proportion of assertion to argument is far too high. There is no indication that an adequate historical consciousness informs his reflection, and we dont know how his alleged transcendence of values is related to the existing tradition in moral philosophy. Like it or not, we are living in an age of moral ambiguity.
In our society the acids of individualism have for centuries eaten into our moral structures, for both good and ill. But not only this: we live with the inheritance of not only one, but of a number of well-integrated moralities. Aristotelianism, primitive Christian simplicity, the puritan ethic, the aristocratic ethic of consumption, and the traditions of democracy and socialism have all left their mark upon our moral vocabulary. Within each of these moralities there is a proposed end or ends, a set of rules, a list of virtues. But the ends, the rules, the virtues, differ.<73>
The picture becomes even more complicated when the built -form correlates o-F these value systems are considered. The assertion that "Attention to reality goes far beyond the realm of values" may be true, but as a bare assertion it isnt going to be of much help when people start taking sides on complex issues in environmental design. Alexanders idea of using authentic feelings as a criterion of good design has merit they must play a critical role in any argument for timeless patterns but it isnt clear how this criterion can be applied in messy, real world situations where authentic feelings lay buried under layers of sedimented propaganda. When feelings clash, how do we determine which ones are authentic? Alexander has given us fragments of an argument a valuable argument but not a way out of our perpi exities.<74>
A few remarks of a more practical nature can be made in defense of Alexander. The agreement Alexander wants cannot be imposed from above; no one is going to force Cedric Price to live in a sunny house on a quiet street. The pattern "Mosaic of Subcultures" encourages the formation of many subcultures, each sustaining a different lifestyle but still open to people from outside; this pattern is an explicit defense against narrow-mindedness and excessive cultural homogeneity. The larger patterns which
cut across subculture boundaries will be embodied in legislation only with the democratic consent of those parties a-f-fected by the legislation. Another point: at the heart o-f Alexander's theory is the insistence on incremental growth small projects which can be undone i-f they prove to be mistaken. This incremental growth acts as a damper on changes, allowing value differences to be negotiated before massive chunks of the environment have been molded according to one party's preferences. Finally, even if Alexander were forced to retreat from his extreme position on the transcendence of values, the pattern language would still be a bountiful catalog of possible design solutions, although they would no longer be clothed in the mantle of timelessness.
Throughout his works, Alexander relies upon analogies from nature; the city is like an organism, the pattern language will act as a genetic code guiding the city's growth, the city can be repaired by a process similar to the healing of an injured tissue. Nature is set forth as a standard of beauty and function in environmental design. The image is powerful, but the organism analogy has been criticised by authors such as Kevin Lynch, who refers to it's fundamental ineptness."<75> Is Alexander's theory, then, grounded upon a defective philosophy which incor-
rectly sees the city as a collection o-f processes similar to those in a living organisms?
First o-f all, it is important to recognize the limits o-f analogy. Saying that one entity bears a likeness to a not her need not commit one to an overliteral use o-f insights from one field in another where they may be inappropriate. Analogies can be illustrative, without being used to evade commonly accepted standards of logic and evidence. In my view, Alexander does not use the organism analogy as a substitute for empirical support. And 1 do not believe there is any inherent contradiction between Alexander's almost mystical devotion to nature, and adherence to rigorous standards for proof. Interestingly, in Tao; The Watercourse May. Alan Watts points out that nature mysticism and empiricism have traditionally gone together in Oriental thoughts
That is why, as Joseph Needham points out, the Taoists contributed far more to Chinese science than the Confucians, for whereas the latter had their noses in books and were concerned with the following of rules, the former were observers of nature. ... He goes on to show, with parallels from the West, that mysticism and empiricism go together in opposition to scholasticism they base themselves on the non-linear world of experience rather than the linear world of letters. What is important for the mystic is not belief in the right doctrine but attainment of the true experience, whereas the scholastic theologians would not look through Galileos telescope because they considered that they already knew, from Scripture, the order of the heavens. The scientist and the mystic both make
experiments in which what has been written is always subordinate to the observation o-f what is.<76>
This insight may serve as an antidote to the commonly held view that nature mysticism and scienti-fic rigor cannot be found together.
When we examine Kevin Lynch's critique o-f the city-as-organism analogy, we find that Alexander has actually steered clear of most of the pitfalls noted by Lynch. Alexander does not propose "cutting out slums." He does not advocate rigid separations of uses. He rejects simple treelike hierarchies as models for the structure of the city. He does favor ambiguity, overlap of functions, and "melting transitions." He allows for continuous change in the city's fabric, as long as it occurs mostly in small increments. He is not a hater of cities. In spite of all these departures from what Lynch sees as the canon of organic planning theory, Alexander still falls within that
tradition more than any other. The organism analogy is a guiding concept in his work. He has joined in the search for an optimum size for various parts of the city (house clusters, neighborhoods, communities). He advocates a distribution of towns and cities similar to the multinucleate model which Lynch finds feasible. He favors the preservation of fingers of countryside within metropolitan areas.
The strongest influence of the organic analogy has been on Alexanders prescription tor the guidance o-f a citys growth; piecemeal growth, user participation, diagnosis and repair, the central idea o-f a shared pattern language as a code -for healthy development, and the adoption o-f a holistic view o-f the city. The whole thrust of these concepts is on learning, evolution, -flexibility, and wholeness. To my mind, these are real virtues, o-f ten lacking in other models of urban form. As Lynch himself has written:
Above all, perhaps, it is this holistic view which is the most important contribution of organic theory: the habit of looking at a settlement as a whole of many functions, whose diverse elements (even if not strictly separable) are in constant and supportive interchange, and where process and form are indivisible. This idea and the accompanying emotions of wonder and delight in diversity and subtle linkage are and enormous advance over the models of eternal crystal or simple machine.<77>
While accepting the fundamental soundness of Alexanders organic model for urban growth, I do not think that he has explored its complexities and internal difficulties deeply enough. Alexander is a master at writing smooth prose; in The Timeless Wav of Buildino. one can almost imagine him as a Taoist sage dispensing wisdom in a forest glade. He is not as good at tenaciously probing the other side of the argument, extracting its valid points, and
disclosing the unavoidable compromises that may be required
to get something built in the real world. Lynch is a master
at this. Lets take an example. Alexander advocates
decentralized user control; he explains the detects in our
present practices and lays out his own proposals in detail.
Unfortunately, his presentation is one-sided. Lynch spends
as much time confronting difficulties with local control as
extolling its benefits. He seems to enjoy ferreting out
conflicts and inconsistencies.
Control of local turf slips easily into exclusion or expulsion of the unwanted. Exclusion may not be a serious issue at the small scale of the true neighborhood, but at local district levels and above, it becomes an important deprivation of access. Local control of the suburbs, extensively employed, results in trapping lower-income groups in the inner city, or in shunting them into a few less favored sectors of expansion. ... The
quality of local services will vary widely when no overall set of standards can be imposed and paid for. Shortterm interests may override long-term goals.<78>
Alexander needs more of this willingness to confront the unpleasant. One hopes that his proposals will improve as they are constantly re-examined and subjected to further testing and debate.
Alexanders theory, would be more consistent if he emphasized the hard work, ingenuity, and sophisticated
thought needed to implement his ideas. The "naturalness" he seeks will never be achieved through a policy of laissez
aller. It requires a communal effort informed by sound
principles regarding ecology, engineering, law, economics,
and political organization. One is tempted to reflect upon
the following two quotations:
To act as nature does is the most ordinary thing in the world.
To be natural is such a very difficult pose to keep up.
Alexander knows that the "naturalness" of an organism or ecosystem and that of a city are different the city being a collection of conscious beings endowed with the power to learn and make choices but this is occasionally obscured in The Timeless Wav of Building where he dwells too much on the alleged simplicity of it all. This does not mesh well with the complicated procedures advocated in A Pattern Language and The Oregon Experiment.
Another criticism is that Alexander presents inadequate evidence for the individual patterns in A Pattern Language. In his review in the Journal of the American Planning Association, Dennis Michael Ryan finds A Pattern Language to be weakened by its messy collection of handpicked examples (data that is either incomplete, nonexistent, or superfluous)" and its "questionable combination of personal observation, precedents, and empirical logic."<79>
The criticism has some validity, but must be qualified. Surely the sparseness of evidence is at least in part a function of space limitations: ft Pattern Language is 1171 pages long, but there is still room for only a few pages per pattern. Many patterns (Independent Regions, The Distribution of Towns) could easily fill a volume by themselves. Others (Accessible Green, Positive Outdoor Space) are covered more adequately in ft Pattern Language but still
fall far short of a thorough treatment. Every one of them could be expanded easily into a twenty page article. Clearly, condensation was essential. However, this cannot serve as a blanket excuse for deficiencies in empirical support for the patterns, ft number of them are hanging by rather thin threads, especially when one contemplates their massive implications, e.g. "Four-Story-Limit," "Parallel Roads," and Web of Public Transporation."
The best remedy for gaps in the evidence is further efforts by both planners and laymen to augment the supporting material for valid patterns and expose the weaknesses of flawed ones. The debate which followed the publication of "The Pattern of Streets" in The Journal of the American Institute of Planners is the kind of exacting analysis that is needed.<80> Alexander has an innovative theory that he wants to defend. The temptation to ignore
conflicting evidence is great, and he needs his critics to keep him honest.
A related concern is the soundness of Alexander's logic. Has he used his data well, and constructed chains of reasoning which lead from valid premises to workable design solutions? Again, the critics have identified some failings:
If we intend to derive our design concepts from findings of the life and behavioral sciences, we must devise methods of going from first order facts observed in existing environments to corrective forms for new environments. There are too many unsubstantiated inferences between the first order fact...and the resultant form...<81>
This was directed at Alexanders article, "The City As A Mechanism for Sustaining Human Contact," and was a good criticism. Alexander did make leaps from fact to form which were tenuous; the resulting design proposals failed to take numerous variables into account. It is still a problem in A Pattern Language. where behavioral data play such an important role. In spite of all the literature on form-behavior relations, these relations are not thoroughly understood, and the pattern language is not the only system that has been proposed to derive spatial arrangements from human behavior. Until experience shows one system to be superior to the others, caution is in order.<82> The temptation to make brisk transitions from social psychological
data to physical -forms is strong, but, as Alexander himself is aware, environmental design cannot be used as a univer sal therapy for the problems of mankind.
At times, Alexander has been faulted for relying too much on deductive arguments: Daniel Carson found this in "The Pattern of Streets:"
The method used by Alexander has limitations... Conclusions drawn must be able to stand up under test, preferably empirical, but if not, then at least logical. If the data needed for evaluation are not available now, certainly their general nature should be outlined to give some idea how far into the future we must go in order to make use of them. In other words, the method would be heuristic, not solely deductive (or rational), and it should employ standard feedbacks of information at check points along the way to the solution.<83>
Alexander admitted that there were flaws in his solution, and proposed modifications, but defended the soundness of the basic idea. He argued that he was developing a new ar chetype, an abstract pattern, and that even if it didnt address all the complexities of the problem, and generated secondary effects of its own, it was still a valid first step in solving the problem. This is not an altogether satisfactory reply, since Alexander often presents his patterns as though they were more finished solutions than they really are, but at least it clarified Alexanders intent. The generation of archetypes is only one phase in problem solving, not the whole process; it must be followed
by the specification o-f
"all the details which must be
built into it to make it work."
A number o-f critics have expressed doubts about the
pattern language as a generator o-f architectural -form. Is
the link between human behavior and speci-fic patterns so
close that there is no room -for the -free play of purely
aesthetic forms, or those forms with unusual symbolic
meanings? Charles Jencks has written:
A rational, conscious method of design tends to discourage all the unconscious, delightful and spontaneous parts of creation that give any work its life. Although there may not be any necessary reason why this should be so, it incontestably is so. Where systematic designers try to be witty and frivolous they inevitably become trite and cute which may have more to do with psychological types than methods. Still the problem exists.<85>
Critics have also questioned how the architect or planner can unify or link the patterns into a coherent whole. Has Alexander really solved this problem, or will formal and geometrical schemes often be required to provide an over arching structure within which patterns may be used to solve specific functional problems? What about the integration of "non-pattern" material? Alexander's patterns focus on user needs, but there are also the requirements of engineers and construction men, and institutional and economic factors which, like it or not, have a powerful influence on design.<86>
These problems remain on the agenda -for those involved in -further development of the pattern language. I-f the pattern language is to gradually make more inroads into the real world of planning and building, there are going to have to be some compromises with technical requirements and, in general, the needs of nonusers. In my view, Alexander's theoretical work needs to be supplemented with some strategies for the short and middle range, including ways that the pattern language can be used by planners and ar chitects in existing firms and agencies. The millions of user-designers called for in the theory do not yet exist, but our cities continue to expand, adopting forms which may endure for half a century or more. The valid insights of the pattern language must be applied now as far as that is possible, even if it means making some painful compromises.
Finally, the tone of Alexander's writings must be discussed, for it has contributed much to the skeptical reception of his ideas. Ryan refers to his "preaching of values" and the "aura of prejudice and superiority" which surrounds his works.<87> Cedric Price lashes out at his "conceited singlemindedness" and "meanness of language."<88> In his review of The Timeless Way of Building. H.W. Jandl remarks that "after some 575 pages the author begins to sound like architecture's answer to Kahlil
Gibran. "<89> Indeed, Alexander has often used a tone which
is sage-like and all-knowing, and it has cast doubt upon the genuineness of his demand -for openness and variety. A Pattern Language is not without humor, but The Timeless Way o-f Building has a didactic air about it. In interviews, one detects a haughtiness which is excusable, perhaps even necessary, in innovators, but which one would prefer to see diluted with humility in followers. The presence of these traits in Alexander does not justify a hasty rejection of his ideas, but one must be on guard for assertions which are more inflexible than they need be. If the pattern language idea spreads to a larger group of researchers, writers, and builders, it is almost certain that Alexander's olympian tone will be replaced by a more conciliatory one. The scriptures of the founder will then have called forth their inevitable complement, the commentaries and theses of colleagues and students.
Although there has been little whole-hearted acceptance of Alexander's work, most reviewers have found it to be a valuable exploratory effort into regions neglected by many planners and architects today. Modern architecture is under assault from many quarters, for good reasons, and Alexander is one of the few critics who has offered a detailed alternative. Even those who cannot embrace his plans
for decentralization and user design o-ften -find merit in the idea o-f developing a body o-f generic design solutions which distill the insights o-f the social sciences and humanities into speci-fic spatial arrangements.
Alexanders attempt to match built -form with a -full range o-f human behaviors is a major virtue. It is an extremely di-f-ficult task, and Alexander has not played it sa-fe by trying to please everyone; the patterns represent de-finite conclusions about what does and doesnt work, stated without tear ot being untashionable. He heads straight tor the ditticult questions; the relation ot built torm and the stages ot human development, the need tor a well-detined political realm, the spatial correlates ot social interaction, the rhythm ot work and domestic lite, the requisites tor tull biological and psychological health.
In addition to these larger concerns, he deals with
hundreds ot tine-grain relationships between less complex
human behaviors and the settings which support them (looking
out ot a window, sitting in the sun, taking a walk, parking
a car, locating an entrance). His patient, careful concern
for these details is exceptional. As Dennis Michael Ryan
writes in The Journal of the American Planning Association:
People and environments if they are so inextricably and fundamentally connected, where do you start in order to make good buildings and
towns? What should concern us the spatial and form elements that make up places, or some kind o-f relationship between the two? Alexander's most valuable contribution to architecture and planning lies in how he con-fronts this question as no on else, to my knowledge, has.<90>
Architects and planners need some system to trans-form the insights o-f the social sciences and humanities into physical solutions: Alexander's pattern language is such a system, and could play a major role in upgrading the quality o-f design in the coming decades. I-f this were the only positive contribution o-f his theory, it would justify the whole effort.
Another praiseworthy characteristic is the openness of patterns to correction. As Alexander points out, it is actually quite difficult to criticize a whole building or town in such a way that the lessons learned become immediately usable in subsequent designs.
...the number of things going on in a building is so immense that it's really tough to have an adequate response to them. Even designers really can't be sure about what they're doing: Has he got the whole picture? Has he identified all the needs? He doesnt really know.<91>
But when a building or town is understood as a complex interweaving of patterns (each of which has been identified, named, and drawn) it becomes possible to criticize them constructively. One pattern can be studied at a time to determine if it is an adequate response to the forces pre-
sent in the situation.
Patterns are like hypotheses; they are based upon empirical evidence and may be tested and refuted.
Deciding whether a pattern is suitable is a rational process rather than a matter of sales talk or mystique. The pattern language contains a principle of growth, for as contexts and forces change, old patterns will become vulnerable and new patterns will have to replace them.<92>
It has long been Alexander's contention that "we need a way of moving forward in architecture, by creative jumps that can be criticized and refuted." As far as I know, the pattern language is the only theory of environmental design which has made this a paramount concern and developed it into a richly illustrated series of works accessible to laymen as well as professional designers. No other theory shows as much promise for bridging the gap between planners and the people at large, a gap which will never be closed as long as design knowledge remains concealed in books and journals oriented solely to professionals.
Even from a narrowly practical point of view, the pattern language offers distinct advantages to planners and architects. By acting as a repository of design ideas, it can reduce design time and improve the quality of design.
One of the most important social arguments for patterns is that they save the designer the wasteful labor of working out each new design solution from the beginnning. Patterns provide everyone with the accumulated experience of all designers.<93>
Although Alexander has imbedded the pattern language in an all-embracing philosophy o-f life, and presented it as part of a radical critique of existing design practices, it can be used by conventional designers as an aid or supplement to their current procedures. In my opinion, the use of the pattern language by people with other world-views will be beneficial, for it will test the universality of the pattern language and lead individuals to explore its connection with philosophies other than Alexander's. Such a broadening of its philosophical roots should be encouraged; The Timeless Way of Building need not be the final philosophical justification for the pattern language.
Alexander has added another articulate voice to the critics of massive development projects. He has offered excellent insights into the reasons for the failure of "large lump developments" to provide for the full range of human activities. He has also sketched out an alternative piecemeal growth which allows for the fine adaptation to diverse needs which we admire so much in cities of the past. Even Hugh Kenner had a kind word to say about Alexanders rejection of large lump development at the Univer sity of Oregon:
Theres no worse process than the one by which university buildings are usually commissioned, though it dents ones faith in the Alexander alternative to reflect that the best part of the countrys most architecturally
successful campus reflects the master plan of one man, Thomas Jefferson. Lacking a Jefferson, though, the Alexander principles organic order, participation, piecemeal growth offer more hope than any other procedure that comes to mind.<94>
Finally, Alexander must be commended for advocating the intense involvement of users in the creation of buildings and towns. As in political life, it is easy for an e-lite to assume control; all too quickly, the capacities of the people wither from disuse, until "common sense" dictates that they are inherently incapable of managing their own affairs. A vicious circle appears, from which it is very difficult to break out.
The United States in the late twentieth century may represent a low point in the history of environmental design by lay people, but Alexander has refused to accept current conditions as "proof" that the people at large are unwilling or unable to assume responsibility for the physical environment which so strongly influences their lives. I find Alexander's position to be reminiscent of the stand taken by Immanuel Kant who, in the late eighteenth century, refused to accept the proposition that certain people are "not ripe for freedom"*
If one accepts this assumption, freedom will never be achieved, for one cannot arrive at the maturity for freedom without having already acquired it; one must be free to learn how to make use of one's powers freely and usefully.<95>
Unquestionably, the potential -for -failure with user par ticipation in design is great, but there will never be any progress unless users are given opportunities to develop their insights and abilities. Alexander recognizes this and, admirably I think, re-fuses to water down his insistence on participation. He has had the courage to go out and test his ideas in the world. At a time when specialization is being taken to extremes in all -fields, it is refreshing to -find an articulate defender of what might be called "many dimensional competence." As city planning becomes more specialized and technical, it becomes easier for planners to withdraw inside a shell of expertise, far away from the individuals for whom they are planning, and e qually far from difficult political choices between alternative futures. Alexander's books provide a welcome counter-current to this trend, and should be required reading for all planners.