Christoper Alexander

rinku asked about Christopher Alexander. Herein is a review of all the material I am personally familiar with, mostly back references to previous entries.

First stop would be his website (java, lots of images) that contains some biographical information, along with some of his material.

For books, he has many, not all of which I’ve read. I’m only going to discuss the ones I’ve read, or plan to. Let’s go chronological (title links are my reviews of each book):

Notes on the Synthesis of Form: A very early work. Especially in light of the later material, not really worth the casual reader’s time.

The Timeless Way of Building: Nearly twenty years old, but still makes for a good manifesto and introduction to patterns.

The Pattern Language: Useful if you are making a building, or just want an example of a reasonably complete pattern language; published at the same time as The Timeless Way of Building.

The Oregon Experiment: Once again, probably only worth it if you really go gonzo for Alexander’s stuff.

A Foreshadowing of 21st Century Art: The first reference I’ve seen to his current conception of wholeness; nominally about carpets but really about centers, beauty, and wholeness in art.

The Nature of Order: Supposedly this has existed in some form since the time of The Timeless Way of Building; there were citations to the unpublished manuscript in Foreshadowing, published ten years earlier. Maybe it is Alexander’s life’s work; of course I’d love to be proven wrong on that account :-) It may very well contain the current and up to date version of his theories, obviating the need to read the earlier the works, but I can’t say for certain yet. Of the four volumes, only the first has been published; my pre-order has arrived but I haven’t had a chance to read it yet. It has a separate web site (which is excruciatingly slow…) I’ve gathered from the notes and such that I’ve read so far that a central part of the material is centers and the 15 principles that organize them to create whole geometry, of which buildings are kind. Richard Gabriel has already applied them to poetry (pdf); if I can find the game analog of geometry, perhaps I can apply them to game design…

Posted Wednesday, July 16th, 2003 under Review.

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