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Christopher Alexander - A sketch of his work

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Christopher Alexander Material and links Key books Web links
christopher alexander Alexander and software engineering

Alexander as teacher - an anecdote



Negative patterns & negative thinking


newThe Nature of Order

A new theory of urban design

The timeless way of building

A pattern language

Notes on the synthesis of form

Pattern Language website

Nature of Order website

Notes on Christopher Alexander (by Nikos A Salingaros, professor of mathematics, Texas) 

Great Buildings Online

Lecture on Domestic Architecture

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Christopher Alexander and Software Engineering

veryard projects > people > alexander > software engineering

Christopher Alexander's work is frequently cited in the software world, usually after a delay of about 15 years. Thus Notes was used by Ed Yourdon and Tom De Marco in the 1970s, to support a view of top-down design. Patterns made a serious entry into the software world the early 1990s. His book on Urban Design has not yet achieved such popularity, although I think it is extremely relevant to business and IT planning.

In the past, Alexander has expressed some ambivalence and suspicion about the use of his work by software engineers. More recently, he has been persuaded to make occasional keynote speeches at software conferences and to write prefaces for software books. It may even be true that some software practitioners understand his work better than most architects.  However, he is clearly troubled by the fact that software practitioners mostly only pick up fragments of his work, and ignore the holistic aspects of his thinking that he regards as crucial.

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Christopher Alexander as Teacher

veryard projects > people > alexander > teacher

I once had the privilege to observe Alexander teaching first-year students at the Prince of Wales Institute of Architecture in London. Like any wise teacher, he spent more time listening than speaking. It was the end of the first term of the foundation year, and he asked them what they'd learned so far. They had apparently been exposed to an eclectic mixture of ideas and techniques. Many of them seemed unable to understand how it all fitted together, or where it might be leading, and a tone of dissatisfaction crept into the discussion. He encouraged them to speak. They answered his questions thoughtfully, although they may have wondered when the lecture was going to start.

During a coffee break, some of the students apologized to him for the facilities. The room in which the seminar was held was a fine 18th century drawing room overlooking Regent's Park, but it was not ideal for holding a seminar. The seating was awkward and uncomfortable, you had to trip over people to get to the board, the lighting and ventilation were poor, there was traffic noise outside, and so on. Perhaps some of the negative feelings about the course were now being attached to the building. Perhaps some of them felt bad that the Institute couldn't provide better accommodation for such an eminent visitor.

Alexander decided to set them a task: to design a new lecture room for the Institute, one in which they would be proud to entertain guest lecturers such as himself. They protested: they hadn't been taught to do proper design yet. In fact, that was one of their main complaints about the course so far, hadn't he been listening?

Of course he had been listening. Patiently he pointed out to them how they could use the ideas and techniques they had been taught, and apply them to this design task. Observation, analysis, drawing, simple model-building, and so on. He integrated these components for the students, or better still, gave them the opportunity to integrate them for themselves, not through abstract theory but by embodying them in a practical task.

Now that's what I call Education.

book comment ordering
Christopher Alexander
The Nature of Order

Oxford University Press 2001-2002

Seriously overdue

Book One The Phenomenon of Life 0195106393 Dec 2001
Book Two The Process of Creating Life 0195106407 Mar 2002
Book Three A Vision of the Living World 0195106415 May 2002
Book Four The Luminous Ground 0195150236 July 2002
Christopher Alexander et al. A New Theory of Urban Design.

Oxford University Press 1987

Describes how large systems can evolve in a coordinated way, organically, without central top-down planning. buy a copy - ukbuy a copy - us
Christopher Alexander. The Timeless Way of Building.

Oxford University Press 1979

A profound book, influenced by Daoist thinking. Explains, rather abstractly, how to use the Patterns.

Software engineers tend to avoid this one, finding it more mystical than practical.

buy a copy - ukbuy a copy - us
Christopher Alexander et al. A Pattern Language.

Oxford University Press 1977

Offers a catalogue of design patterns suitable for towns, buildings and construction. Standard reference for software patterns. buy a copy - ukbuy a copy - us
Christopher Alexander. Notes on the Synthesis of Form.

Harvard University Press 1964

A ground-breaking work on the fit between requirements and design. Cited by software methodologists such as Ed Youdon and Tom De Marco to support top-down design methods, although Alexander has since repudiated such approaches. buy a copy - ukbuy a copy - us

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This page last updated on May 10th, 2004
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