Christopher Alexander

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Christopher Alexander in 2005

Christopher Alexander (October 4, 1936March 17, 2022) was an Austrian-born British architect. He was an emeritus professor at the University of California, Berkeley. His theories about the nature of human-centered design have affected fields beyond architecture, including urban design, software, and sociology.


  • In my life as an architect, I found that the single thing which inhibits young professionals, new students most severely, is their acceptance of standards that are too low.
  • ...the constitution of the universe may be such that the human self and the substance that things [are] made out of, the spatial matter or whatever you call it, are much more inextricably related than we realized.
    • Debate with Peter Eisenman at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, 17 November 1982.

The Timeless Way of Building (1979)[edit]

C. Alexander (1979) The Timeless Way of Building. Oxford University Press,

  • ...we have so far beset ourselves with rules, and concepts, and ideas of what must be done to make a building or a town alive, that we have become afraid of what will happen naturally, and convinced that we must work within a "system" and with "methods" since without them our surroundings will come tumbling down in chaos.
    • p. 14
  • A thing is whole according to how free it is of inner contradictions. When it is at war with itself, and gives rise to forces which act to tear it down, it is unwhole. The more free it is of its own inner contradictions, the more whole and healthy and wholehearted it becomes.
    • p. 31
  • When we know those moments, when we smile, when we let go, when we are not on guard at all – these are the moments when our most important forces show themselves; whatever you are doing at such a moment, hold on to it, repeat it – for that certain smile is the best knowledge that we ever have of what our hidden forces are, and where they lie, and how they can be loosed.
    • p. 52
  • Every place is given its character by certain patterns of events that keep on happening there.... These patterns of events are locked in with certain geometric patterns in the space. Indeed, each building and each town is ultimately made out of these patterns in the space, and out of nothing else; they [patterns in the space] are the atoms and molecules from which a building or a town is made.
  • On the geometric level, we see certain physical elements repeated endlessly, combined in an almost endless variety of combinations... It is puzzling to realize that the elements, which seem like elementary building blocks, keep varying, and are different every time that they occur .... If the elements are different every time that they occur, evidently then, it cannot be the elements themselves which are repeating in a building or town; these so-called elements cannot be the ultimate "atomic" constituents of space.
  • Look more find out what it really is that is repeating there .... Beyond its elements, each building [or town] is defined by certain patterns of relationships among the elements.... These relationships are not extra, but necessary to the elements... The elements themselves are patterns of relationships.
    • Cited in: Peter Coad (1992, p. 152) About To find patterns, what does one look for?
  • One begins to think with that new building block, rather than with littler pieces. And finally, the things which seem like elements dissolve, and leave a fabric of relationships behind, which is the stuff that actually repeats itself, and gives the structure to a building or a town.
    • Cited in: Peter Coad (1992, p. 152) About what happens when one finds a pattern?
  • ...a great architect's creative power, his capacity to make something beautiful, lies in his capacity to observe correctly, and deeply. A painter's talent lies in his capacity to see – he sees more acutely, more precisely, what it is that really matters in a thing, and where its qualities come from.
    • p. 218
  • Nothing which is not simple and direct can survive the slow transmision from person to person.
    • p. 230
  • ...every pattern we define must be formulated in the form of a rule which establishes a relationship between a context, a system of forces which arises in that context, and a configuration which allows these forces to resolve themselves in that context.
    • p. 253

External links[edit]

Encyclopedic article on Christopher Alexander on Wikipedia