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Christopher Alexander

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A professor-emeritus (the University of California, Berkeley) and licensed contractor as well as architect, Christopher Alexander (born October 4, 1936 in Vienna, Austria) is famous mostly for his popular appeal, and his theoretical contributions. With Sarah Ishikawa and Murray Silverstein, he produced and validated an architectural system, a pattern language designed to empower any human being to design and build quite well at any scale. He began the project because he believes that users know more about the buildings they need than any architect could. Based in England, he continues to practice architecture and consult in planning.



Alexander was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1936, and grew up in England. His education started in sciences. He was awarded the top open scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge University in 1954, in chemistry and physics and went on to read mathematics. He earned a Bachelor's degree in Architecture and a Master's degree in Mathematics. He took his doctorate in Harvard (the first Ph.D. in Architecture ever awarded at Harvard University), and was elected fellow at Harvard. During the same period he worked at MIT in transportation theory and in computer science, and worked at Harvard in cognition and cognitive studies. He became professor of Architecture at Berkeley in 1963, taught there continously for 38 years, and is now Professor Emeritius at the University of California. He is widely recognized as the father of the pattern language movement in computer science. He was elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1996 for his contributions to architecture.



The Timeless Way of Building described the perfection of use to which buildings could aspire.

"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. "

A Pattern Language : Towns, Buildings, Construction described a practical architectural system in a form that a theoretical mathematician or computer scientist might call a generative grammar.

The work originated from an observation that many medieval cities are attractive and harmonious. The authors said that this occurs because they were built to local regulations that required specific features, but freed the architect to adapt them to particular situations.

The book provides rules and pictures, and leaves decisions to be taken from the precise environment of the project. It describes exact methods for constructing practical, safe and attractive designs at every scale, from entire regions, through cities, neighborhoods, gardens, buildings, rooms, built-in furniture, and fixtures down to the level of doorknobs.

A notable value is that the architectural system consists only of classic patterns tested in the real world and reviewed by multiple architects for beauty and practicality.

The book includes all needed surveying and structural calculations, and a novel simplified building system that copes with regional shortages of wood and steel, uses easily-stored inexpensive materials, and produces long-lasting classic buildings with small amounts of materials, design and labor. It first has users prototype a structure on-site in temporary materials. Once accepted, these are finished by filling them with very-low-density concrete. It uses vaulted construction to build as high as three stories, permitting very high densities.

This book's method was adopted by the University of Oregon, as described in The Oregon Experiment, but has not been used much there, although it remains the official building method. It has also been adopted in part by some cities as a building code.

The idea of a pattern language appears to apply to any complex engineering task, and has been applied to some of them. It has been especially influential in software engineering where patterns have been used to document collective knowledge in the field.

The Nature of Order: An Essay on the Art of Building and the Nature of the Universe is his latest and major work. It consists of four volumes. In it, he puts forward a new theory about the nature of the space around us and describes how this theory influences thinking about architecture, building, and so forth. The mostly static patterns from A Pattern Language have been amended by more dynamic "sequences," which describe how to work towards patterns (which can roughly been seen as the end result of sequences). Sequences, like patterns, promise to be tools of wider scope than building (just as his theory of space goes beyond architecture).

His other books are:

  • The Production of Houses
  • A New Theory of Urban Design
  • A Foreshadowing of 21st Century Art, The Geometry of Very Early Turkish Carpets
  • The Mary Rose Museum
  • Notes on the Synthesis of Form
  • The Linz Cafe

Published in 2002-2003

  • The Nature of Order I - IV


Among Alexander'University_of_Tokyo" title ="University of Tokyo">University of Tokyo; the Julian Street Inn (a homeless shelter) in San Jose, California (both described in Nature of Order); the Martinez House (an experimental house in Martinez, California made of lightweight concrete); and the low-cost housing in Mexicali, Mexico (described in The Production of Houses).

External links

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations by or about Christopher Alexander.

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