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Exploring Natural Wisdom

I suspect that we will soon start to see a new understanding of architecture that acknowledges, in a more profound way, the deep impact that buildings have on us and the 'life' that we feel within them (or not). Christopher Alexander has captured the essence of the matter in his 'Timeless Way' 



There is one timeless way of building. It is a thousand years old, and the same today as it has ever been.

A building or a town will only be alive to the extent that it is governed by the timeless way.

1. It is a process which brings order out of nothing but ourselves; it cannot be obtained , but it will happen of its own accord, if we will only let it. To seek the timeless way we first must know the quality without a name.

2. There is a central quality which is the rooted criterion of life and the spirit of man, a town, a building,or a wilderness. This quality is objective and precise, but it cannot be named.

3. The search which we make for this quality, in our own lives, is the central search of any person, and the crux of any individual persons story. It is the search for those moments and situations when we are most alive.

4. In order to define this quality in buildings and in the towns, we must begin by understanding that every place is given its character by certain patterns of events that keep on happening there.

5. These patterns of events are always interlocked with certain geometric patterns in space. Indeed, as we shall see, each building and each town is ultimately made out of these patterns in the space, and out of nothing else: They are the atoms and the molecules from which a building is made.

6. the specific patterns of which a building or a town is made may be alive or dead. To the extent they are alive, they let our inner forces loose, and set us free; but when they are dead, they keep us locked in inner conflict.

7. The more living patterns there are in a place-a room, a building, or a town-the more it comes to life as an entity, the more it glows, the more it glows, the more it has that self maintaining fire which is the quality without a name.

8. And when a building has a fire, then it becomes a part of nature. Like ocean waves, or blades of grass, its parts are governed by the endless play of repetition and the variety created in the presence of the fact that all things pass. This is the quality itself. To reach the quality without a name we must then build a living pattern language as a gate.

9. This quality in buildings and in towns cannot be made, but only generated, indirectly, by the ordinary actions of the people, just as a flower cannot be made, but only generated from a seed.

10. The people can shape buildings for themselves, and have done it for centuries, by using languages which I call pattern languages. A pattern language gives each person who uses it the power to create an infinite variety of new and unique buildings, just as his ordinary language gives him the power to create an infinite variety of sentences.

11. These pattern languages are not confined to villages and farm society. All acts of building are governed by a pattern language of some sort, and the patterns in the world are there, entirely because they are created by pattern languages which people use.

12. And, beyond that, it is not just the shape of towns and buildings which comes from pattern languages-it is their quality as well. Even the life and beauty of the most awe-inspiring great religious buildings came from the language their builders used.

13. But in our time the languages have broken down. Since they are no longer shared, the processes which keep them deep have broken down; and it is therefore virtually impossible for anybody, in our time, to make a building live.

14. To work our way towards a shared and living language once again, we must first learn how to discover patterns which are deep, and capable of generating life.
15. We may then gradually improve these patterns which we share, by testing them against experience: we can determine, very simply, whether these patterns make our surroundings live, or not, by recognising how they make us feel.

16. Once we have understood how to discover individual patterns which are alive, we may then make a language for ourselves for any building task we face. The structure of the language is created by the network of connections among individual patterns: and the language lives, or not, as a totality, to the degree these patterns form a whole.

17. Then finally, from separate languages for different building tasks, we can create a larger structure still, a structure of structures, enveloping constantly, which is common language for a town. This is the gate. Once we have built the gate we can pass through it to the practice of the timeless way.

There is one timeless way of building. It is a thousand years old, and the same today as it has ever been.

The great traditional buildings of the past, the villages and tents and temples in which man feels at home, have always been made by people who were very close to the center of this way. It is not possible to make great buildings, or great towns, beautiful places, places where you feel yourself, places where you feel alive, except by following this way. And, as you will see, this way will lead anyone who looks for it to buildings which are themselves as ancient in their form, as the trees and hills, and as our faces are.

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

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

It is so powerful and fundamental that with its help you can make any building in the world as beautiful as any place that you have ever seen.

Once you understand this way, you will be able to make your room alive; you will be able to design a house together with your family; a garden for your children; places where you can work; beautiful terraces where you can sit and dream.

It is so powerful, that with its help hundreds of people together can create a town, which is alive and vibrant, peaceful and relaxed, a town as beautiful as any town in history.

Without the help of architects or planners, if you are working in the timeless way, a town will grow under you hands, as steady as the flowers in your garden.

And there is no other way in which a building or a town which lives can possibly be made.

By Chris Alexander, The timeless Way of Building.
Oxford Books. ISBN 0-19-502402-8




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