"Which one of these two things would I prefer to become by the day of my death?"

In the first of a two part series, San Francisco Chronicle Art Critic Kenneth Baker, ventures into the mind-altering world of Christopher Alexander’s 4 book opus, The Nature of Order.

In a nutshell, Alexander proposes that life is not merely in space but of it, an idea of potentially momentous force for critique and improvement of the built environment. “The idea that one part of space might have relatively more life, and another relatively less life,” he writes, “and the idea that this distinction would not be based on the presence of biological organisms but might instead be inherent in the space itself according to its structure — would challenge our beliefs about the world to the very roots.”Alexander has sufficient scientific background to take his argument all the way and propose that the nature of space accounts for the occurrence of any life whatsoever in the universe.

As in earlier books, Alexander suggests that builders and artists in traditional societies frequently possessed the kind of knowledge he has rediscovered and tried to reconcile with science’s world picture. He boldly contends in Vol. 4 of “The Nature of Order” that his rediscoveries about the deep connection between life and space have made possible — and always will — buildings and other human creations that mirror a self-like quality of the universe as a whole, which some spiritual traditions call God.

I honestly haven’t read much of Alexander’s work. Like many other architecture students, I picked up A Pattern Language for a while, and although it wasn’t life changing, I still carry with me many of the smaller ideas that the book proposed. Baker’s passionate review is inspiring. If a jaded art critic can find this book so radical and so challenging, maybe its time I made the plunge into the world of Christopher Alexander.

1 reply on “"Which one of these two things would I prefer to become by the day of my death?"”

My mother got me volume 1 for xmas and I’m about 1/3 the way through that one, in the midst of Alexander trying to explain his concept of the presence of life in overlapping centers throughout all of space, some centers stronger than others. It’s an idea I like (whether it’s mathematically and scientifically valid or not), since I’ve always ranked relationships and interactions over singular objects. The world around us – be it natural or man-made – is all about the interdependence of elements, never about something exluded from everything around it. Alexander just propounds that for 1200+ pages instead of two sentences. And so far he’s pretty convincing.

Reading it, I’m glad we have somebody like Alexander, with his mixture of math, science, architecture, tradition, new-age transcendence.

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