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The Timeless Way of Building by Christopher Alexander

 
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Bill, thank you for posting this!
It took me a while to find it, and I only at the end of chapter one yet, but it is a fascinating book so far!
 
Sebastian Köln
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Going further in the book…

when I was trying to design a building, one of the major goals was a "long life". Durable materials, interior space, than can be modified later and simple construction, so that one can understand how it works.
But there is one problem… A building that is alive has to grow, mature, age and die. This is contrary to almost every modern approach of architecture!

The following is an idea that came to my mind:
What if we create our buildings with materials that decay?
Create buildings that are build by the people themselves that want to live at a certain location they love?
A building that is not passed to the next generation, but might be the grave of their inhabitants?
A building that is part of a garden and decays as as any plant does, creating fertile soil for the next generation?
Maybe a round building with outer walls out of living willow trees, woven into a vault. The inside hung with cloth that resists any water dripping through. Then any suitable organic material that creates an insulation (staw, wool, ...) followed by clay (for straw) or wood.

Regarding computers in architecture: http://www.generative-modeling.org/
 
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I love the way you are thinking!

Buildings seem to have the possibility for a very long life, but this may put them out of touch with the lifestyles of the current generation of people living in them. Is this a living building or a dead relic of another time?
Buildings are for people and must serve them in order to be alive, so designing our homes to outlast more than a few generations may not be the best option for a healthy relationship with the built environment. Since our modern lives are so different from our ancestors, many of our ancient buildings require a full reboot in order to properly serve the current generation living in them. Maybe they should be composted and made into new buildings?

All Blessings,
Bill
 
Sebastian Köln
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Bill Bradbury wrote:Buildings seem to have the possibility for a very long life, but this may put them out of touch with the lifestyles of the current generation of people living in them. Is this a living building or a dead relic of another time?


Most of the buildings of the "current generation" are an undeclared pile of toxic waste. They do not decay because they are filled with toxins to kill every live that might beak them down.

I would clearly separate private buildings for the people and public buildings. The latter should last at least a few centuries, while one century would be more then enough for the former. I am living in Germany and this means there are many old buildings here.
Our house is modern with a little over 100 years. I commonly see buildings that are 300 years old, sometimes 500 or more.
Another difference is the time it takes to build a private building (on the order of one human year - maybe two) compared to churches that are in a state of permanent (re)building. They easily exceed 10,000 human years.

But the real issue are the patterns.
- Some might be recovered by analyzing old buildings
- Some are lost
- They need to be shared freely (just as any language is shared)
- Their meaning and appropriate environment may not be separated from them

And there is something that I don't understand: Why where they lost?

Instead of being widely shared, the pattern languages which determine how a town gets made become specialized and private.

 
pollinator
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Bill, it has been a long time since I read Christopher Alexander's books, but I seem to recall that he used the Christian churches of medieval Europe as examples of his patterns, and a quick search on google books seems to confirm that.
 
Sebastian Köln
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A few more thoughts

The Pattern System that Christopher Alexander describes is great, but why was it abandoned?

Could it be, that the people could not see beauty anymore?
Assuming I cannot tell a "good" place from a "bad" place, how would the whole pattern idea make sense to me?

Or did they prefer "the cool" and new stuff, over the "old and known" principles?
 
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The Pattern System that Christopher Alexander describes is great, but why was it abandoned?



Money, I think. It's cheaper to build mass production square houses designed for no one in particular  than it is to build something specifically for a certain family. Also I keep getting told as I attempt to get my house built "you have to look at resale value!!" (I may agree with the concept there, but not with their ideas about what will make it resellable, but that's another issue.) Standardization is cheap and profitable. laying out towns correctly costs money and "liveability" is not a taxable thing that makes it worth the infrastructure (again, I have disagreements with it all)  And, as I'm learning the difficult way, codes is enforced by old school construction people, who don't care for innovations.
 
Sebastian Köln
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Sounds like some investment banker thinking… all that matters it the amount of money when it is sold. Ridiculous.

Money… I think you are closer then I was.

A an applied pattern language requires a shared language. When ideas and patterns are seen as "private property" it fails.
Money causes this thinking.
 
Pearl Sutton
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requires a shared language. When ideas and patterns are seen as "private property" it fails.


The people who think like that DO share a language, unfortunately they are louder than those of us who speak the other language. It's simply two different languages, that use the same words with different meanings.
 
Bill Bradbury
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Gilbert Fritz wrote:Bill, it has been a long time since I read Christopher Alexander's books, but I seem to recall that he used the Christian churches of medieval Europe as examples of his patterns, and a quick search on google books seems to confirm that.



Hi Gilbert,

Yes an architect and a builder have different viewpoints even if they share the same perspective. You are correct that I have inserted my own opinions into this book review, please feel free to ignore them.

I would like to return to the pattern of the spirals that were predominant in our Indo-European ancestors long before medieval Europe built their churches on patterns of the cross.

All Blessings,
Bill
 
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Pearl Sutton wrote:...I saw how to look at buildings, and see "what patterns are working here, which are not, and why?" and I have used that to design our OWN patterns for ourselves. I took some of his patterns, some intact, some modified, and figured out some of my own, and used them...

...To me the best part of the book was the CONCEPT "there are patterns, look for them, find your OWN." ...seeing what patterns we we responding to when we loved or hated a feature or a whole building. I also took the pattern idea into our base permaculture layout, made sure the patterns that matter to us are designed into the landscape NOW, before the work on the dirt begins, so when it's farther along it will be growing up to be OUR patterns in the trees and land (as well as base permaculture patterns like "here be swales") and not the ones other people want or need...

....one of my MAJOR patterns that other people call "a godforsaken mess" is "tools within my reach" I use a lot of tools, in all my things I do, from computers and saws, to sewing machines, medical stuff, and a lot of kitchen supplies. If it's not within reach, I make it that way, whether it makes a "mess" or not, I'm a master of the "pile of chaos" system of living... Learning JUST that one thing about myself was worth the price of the book....

....I cried when I read it, there is SO much potential for neat, human friendly designs, and it's not common in this culture. I read his comments about what it would look like if it's allowed to continue like it was headed (70's I think, when it was written) and then I looked as I drove around, saw soul dead strip malls, suburbs not made for humans... And I cried, for what we COULD have, versus what we do.



Pearl!!! I too cried when I read Alexander's books! My heart said 'YES!' in a big way, like coming home to the homey-est home in the friendliest neighborhood I could ever imagine.  It became a huge part of my worldview immediately, and still informs my life two-plus decades later. Everything man-made that crosses my path is run through my personal Pattern Language framework either consciously or at a gut level. I'm forever 'remodeling' every place I live or visit, picturing in my mind how changing something would make the place more useful, beautiful or people-friendly. Next week I'm joining our town's Planning and Zoning committee so maybe I can make a difference in one small section of suburban blight

OMG--- your personal pattern of 'A godforsaken mess'! Thank you for this insight! I've never heard it spelled out like this before.  I, too, must have my tools and raw materials easily at-hand, with wildly diverse interests competing for my time and attention. Most of my 'genres' overlap but some don't play well with others and need their own space. My tools and supplies are a constant source of delight and feed my soul with an almost spiritual connection I can't even describe... either that or I'm a deeply-entrenched hoarder....
 
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