Alexander Today

As predicted, I finished The Oregon Experiment in fairly short order. (See previous reviews of the first two books, The Timeless Way of Building and A Pattern Language.)

While I can wholeheartedly recommend the first two, The Oregon Experiment is a much smaller book, for a not too much smaller price, and offers little in the way of new insights, especially in comparison with earlier volumes. Part of my disappointment is largely due to a misconception on my part; I had been expecting a kind of analysis of applying the pattern language the the University of Oregon, and a report on how well it worked. Instead, I got a report on how the process for using it was set up, apparently written before anything tangible had come of it.

I made an attempt to see how UoO is doing today, which hasn’t been completed to my satisfaction yet (explained later) I have discovered that UoO is still basing it’s policies on the principles set down in The Oregon Experiment nearly thirty years ago, which should say something. On the other hand, the current campus map looks largely like the 1970 one, and nothing like the speculative maps in the book. Clearly the UoO planners have taken a different interpenetration of the patterns than Christopher Alexander had at the time.

I guess the final verdict is that I can’t recommend buying the book to anyone, except perhaps those actually looking at setting up a similar planning process. Others may find the book worth borrowing, but would hardly be impoverished without it.

While searching for reports on the success of the UoO process, I discovered that Christopher Alexander is alive, well, and on the web at patternlanguage.com. Among many other things, is information about his four-volume magnum opus, The Nature of Order, currently working it’s way through typesetting and printing. As if I didn’t have enough to read:

Meanwhile, I’ve started reading C.A.’s Notes on the Synthesis of Form. This is much earlier work, predating the pattern language idea by several years. Still, I’ve gathered that it is a well known and respected work. It is also a “flip-book”: generally a couple times a page one has to flip to the back to see if a note is just the bare bones reference information, or a one-two paragraph exposition on the point at hand. A spare bookmark comes in handy ;^)

Completing my earlier point… Many of said references, both in context and title, sound extraordinarily fascinating. Then again, maybe I should just wait for The Nature of Order‘s bibliography, for the updated list…

Posted Sunday, December 1st, 2002 under Review.

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