Christopher Alexander on living structure

“I realize that you probably think I’m nuts,” says architect Christopher Alexander near the end of his famous 1996 OOPSLA talk.

A standing ovation and an audible “wow” indicate that, nuts or not, the audience of was with him.

“What is the connection between: what I am doing in the field of architecture and what you are doing in the field of computing?” Both talk and subsequent paper are organized around this question, regardless of notable differences between the two. The conference was on Object-Oriented Programs, Systems, Languages and Applications; and the 1999 paper was published as “The origins of pattern theory: the future of the theory, and the generation of a living world.” The video was posted in 2013 and only caught my attention recently.

Alexander’s story, essentially: There is something we can objectively call “living structure.” We know it when we are in its presence. “The objects that are the most profound, functionally, are the ones that also promote the greatest feeling in us.” I’ve dedicated myself to the creation of living structure. This creation is intentional, and its creation cannot happen without intention. I’m here to ask for your help.

One of the efforts of the pattern language was not merely to try to identify structural features which would make the environment positive or nurturing — but also to do it in fashion which could be in everybody’s hands, so that the whole thing would effectively then generate itself, going forward.

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