Christopher Alexander
The Timeless Way of Building

September 13 2020

I am fascinated by the question, what it takes for the human-animal to lead a good life, appropriate to our inherent nature?

And where better to start this investigation than by looking at the physical spaces we inhabit and how they make us feel. Is it possible to differentiate between places that make us become alive and others that are less so?

The spacial reality of most people alive today is largely man-made, and we have to start from the realization that “we shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us”. So how do we create built environments that are nurturing?

This inquiry is the core of Christopher Alexander’s human-centered design philosophy, which has influenced many areas of creative thinking beyond architecture, including urban planning, software design, sociology, and others. I’ve recently read his seminal book The Timeless Way of Building in which he describes “that age-old process by which the people of a society have always pulled the order of their world from their own being.” This Quality without a name, as he calls it, governs any coherent system that feels alive, and brings about freedom from inner contradictions. This wholeness emerges when feeling directs our creative process rather than mental concepts or mere efficiency.

To seek the timeless way we must first know the quality without a name. There is a central quality which is the root criterion of life and spirit in a man, a town, a building, or a wilderness. This quality is objective and precise, but it cannot be named.

Christopher Alexander

The book features black-and-white photographs of scenes from everyday life and architecture but I’ve decided to illustrate this topic with a video that is not directly related to Alexander’s work but is the most vivid expression of his concept in action. It is a portrait of architect-maker Charles Bello, whos ingenuity and lust for life has moved me to tears. His straightforward approach to life and creation is the embodiment of the timeless way.

The video is created by Kirsten Dirksen, who runs my favorite youtube channel.