The Nature of Order – An Essay of the Art of Building and the Nature of the Universe
Book 1 – The Phenomenon of Life
We welcome comments and discussion points upon Alexander’s thoughts using the comments found below.
Please have a look at the introduction to this reading tour to see how this works.
Prologue to Books 1 – 4
The Art of Building and the Nature of the Universe
Building and construction creates the physical order of the world
Christopher Alexander starts his prologue with an observation regarding a universal human activity: the act of building and construction. He points out that this global activity creates the physical order of the world. Our world is dominated by the order we create.
Alexander’s aim: Understanding this deep geometric reality of order …
Here Alexander points to a contradiction: if this method of creating order on our planet is so widespread and common, why do we not know what this word “order” means, what its significance might be? Looking at the sciences of physics and biology, Alexander states that progress has been made in these domains toward understanding the phenomenon of order and the processes from which it arises. But architecture and building, even though of no less importance, have not yet made a similar contribution to understanding the deep geometric reality of order.
… in a way which is general, does justice to the nature of architecture and clarifies the intuitions that we have about beauty and the life of buildings
Alexander’s aim with “The Nature of Order” therefore is to show that there is a way of understanding order which is general, and which, at the same time, also does justice to the nature of building and of architecture while clarifying the intuitions that we have about beauty and the life of buildings. His motivation for this venture is not intellectual curiosity, or a special desire to write about philosophy, but to acquire, as an architect, the capacity for making beautiful buildings: to be able to make real beauty.
Alexander’s “The Nature of Order” develops and unfolds such a coherent view of order
After 35 years of hard work and study Alexander states that he has created such a coherent view of order which moreover deals honestly with the nature of beauty. He develops and unfolds this coherent view in the four books of “The Nature of Order”.
Even though his 20th-century empiricist education disputes his findings …
Alexander’s foremost challenge regarding these newly developed concepts was the stark contradiction of his findings to his 20th-century empiricist education. His findings seemed highly suspicious, like some fantastic fiction and potentially ridiculous to him.
… no other explanation is equally convincing
Alexander boldly describes these doubts in his findings and compares them with the doubts of Saint Teresa, who struggled with her faith and only truly believed in God for short periods of her life. But just like Teresa, Alexander sees in such lucid moments that the theory which he presents in his book “The Nature of Order” is true, simply because no other explanation is equally convincing.
… shared approval of the real nature of human feeling affirms his concepts
As a second verification Alexander gives an account of an evening some years previously when he was invited to a film presentation about his book “A Pattern Language” and received great approval from the audience. In the discussion, he described how he and his colleagues had made observations, distilled the essentials and written the patterns. The difference in this method from other kinds of science was the fact that everything was based on the real nature of human feeling, on the forgotten actuality that 90 percent of human experience and feeling are the same. In acknowledging this, we discover that, to a very large degree, we are all the same.
An essay not only on the art of building but also on the nature of the universe
Alexander states that two features of his proposed models are large enough to justify the claim that these books also concern the nature of the universe:
1 – All space and matter has some degree of life in it, and is more alive or less alive according to its structure and arrangement (Book I, THE PHENOMENON OF LIFE).
2 – All space and matter, which we now think to be mechanical, has some degree of “self” in it, is infused with some aspect of the personal (Book 4, THE LUMINOUS GROUND).
- Which idea of Alexander fascinates you the most and why? What are possible repercussions of his ideas and concepts?
- “No other explanation is equally convincing” – which other explanations does Alexander reference to?
- “The real nature of human feelings” – Has the stated real nature of human feelings been demonstrated by evidence?
- Which critical ideas from other thinkers and other movements have affected the interpretation of Alexander and influenced his work?
Agree or disagree with Christopher Alexander?
- “Architecture and building has not yet contributed towards understanding the deep geometric reality of order.”