Introduction by the Editors

Foreword by Christopher Alexander

Images of Community

Review of Alexander's The Nature of Order

The Architects and City Planners:





Andrés Duany


Léon Krier


Images of Public Buildings


The Scientists:


Philip Ball, Brian  

    Goodwin, Ian



A Response by


    Alexander: New

    Concepts in


    Theory Arising

    from Studies in



Images of Neighbourhood




Built Work of


   Alexander and his



* Examples of






The Kind of


   Architecture is:

   Jane Jacobs,



   and Since


The 1982 Debate



   Alexander and

   Peter Eisenman


Images of Comfort




Nikos Salingaros:   

   Design Methods,

   Emergence and




* Brian Hanson and

   Samir Younes:  

   Reuniting Urban

   Form and Urban



Images of Building Details


* Michael Mehaffy:

   Meaning and the 

   Structure of Things



  Alexander: Our

  New Architecture

  and the Many

  World Cultures


Nikos Salingaros:

   Fractals in the New



Brian Hanson: 

   Architecture and

   the “Science of



Images of Landscape and Gardens


Michael Mehaffy: 

   Codes and the

   Architecture of Life


Nikos Salingaros: 

   Towards a


   Understanding of

   Architecture and



Brian Hanson:   

   Science, Voodoo

   Science and



Images of Houses


* Michael Mehaffy:     The New Modernity



   Alexander:  Sober

   Reflections on

   Architecture in Our



Images of Drawings


Afterword by the Editors


       *       *       *

London Conference

Information  - NEW


Discussion Page




Previous Issues


Contact Us


Additional Links

And References


Katarxis Nº 3






Work of Christopher Alexander and Associates at

the Center for Environmental Structure, 1968-2004






Introduction to the Gallery:


Toward a New Architecture of Life


Or, Why Christopher Alexander May Be

The Most Avant-Garde Modernist of All




Dining hall of the Julian Street Inn,

Shelter for the Homeless, San Jose, California

Christopher Alexander and his associates, 1987



We are very honoured to be able to feature some exclusive images of the work of Christopher Alexander and his associates in this volume.  These works are, we believe, pioneering and important examples of the kinds of ideas discussed in many of the articles in this volume.   Alexander’s buildings shows that these powerful ideas on morphogenesis are not armchair theory, but produce real, tangible results, in the human richness of the built environment.

Some avant-garde architects may look at the images in this gallery and say, as Peter Eisenman effectively did in his remarkable 1982 debate with Alexander, “that’s touching, you’re making people comfortable in a vernacular sort of way.  But the world isn’t all right.  So why do you make this sentimental art that suggests it is?”


They miss the point entirely. 




This is a broader kind of art. It is not only a sculptural exploration of ideas, an “enigmatic signifier”, as Charles Jencks puts it, about our chaotic and desperate times.  Nor is it a romanticism about things that never were, or never could be. It is a calmer voice, seeking, and believing it has found -- very much like the “new sciences” have found -- a new basis of emergent order, at the very ordinary heart of things. 


Architecture today has painted itself into an artistic corner.  It has become a kind of large-scale sculpture: a semiotic art in which the lone, heroic artist presents emotionally dense abstract forms to its viewer-users. 

















But Alexander offers something very different: a participatory art of generation, an engagement with a culture of builders and a culture of users.   It is an art that seeks to connect its participants to the real structure of things.


That is, it is a direct engagement of the concrete, a portal into the real geometric structure of nature, including our own nature.  It is a change of focus away from the “bewitchment of abstractions” that has been humanity’s deadly contemporary error, toward the real “buzzing concrescence”, in Whitehead’s memorable phrase.




And concurrently, it is an art that seeks to understand the real geometric nature of the world, and to use the collective, emergent art of the built environment to play that portal role:  not to sum up in total, as a stand-alone work of great art, the nature of the universe; but rather, to be a door to it, from everyday experience and everyday culture.


From there, grounded in the real, we can turn our attention to all the problems of this life that we care to, and must.  But instead of stepping back into an armchair (or a psychiatrist’s couch) and hand-wringing that nothing is to be done, we will have actually started to find something to be done, and to engage these realities – fully as scientists, and fully as artists. 




For such an art is in no way in opposition to the project of science, but entirely complementary and participatory in it.  Alexander the artist and architect can be fully informed by Alexander the mathematician and physicist, and vice versa.


Surprisingly, this is much closer to the original modernist project than is today’s despairing neo-modernism.   It is a revival and a continuation of the project of human progress;  it is a denial of the artificial segregation of art and science; and it is a determined project to capture technology and make it obedient to human ends, rather than accept the hegemony of an Ellulian technique.


Alexander, student at Harvard during Gropius' tenure, may in fact now be the most avant-garde  modernist:  ready to complete the unfinished, crude, primitive project, and take it into a new world of biological richness.  Thereby he does indeed seek to reform it; but he does not refute it.




For the new evidence of science does not support the fatalist view of the neo-modernists, but rather it offers a new view on the astonishing feat of life as a kind of structure, and a structural process.  It offers a basis for the revival of the modernist project, but -- appropriate for an age of dazzling new insights into biological complexity -- in a fundamentally different, richer, more articulated form.  And it is precisely  more ordinary form -- what some may regard as a more humble form.


This is where science (sci-enza, cutting away the false, or “natural philosophy” as it was known previously) can serve as our powerful ally, and indeed must serve that role if we are to live up to our promise as an allegedly intelligent species.  It must not serve as a hall of mirrors full of chaotic technological abstractions.


Alexander wants to begin again -- like the modern architects of the early 20th century.  But he wants to do so with a much richer understanding of natural morphogenesis and natural adaptation.  It is not a blind mechanical process he seeks:  it is the process of a human being, an artist-scientist.




He intends to begin again, and has done so, and shows how it may be done. Like the old modernists, he is at root an artist. He is concerned to an almost unprecedented degree, compared with other architects in our era, with the real form of things, the form of buildings, and the meaning, the spirit if you like, that arises from that form. What is remarkable perhaps, is that he views this art as more difficult than his contemporaries view it, even in relatively small buildings, not only large ones. He takes it more seriously, and talks about it less.


What he does talk about, is the sharable part of the art of building, that which can be shared and undertaken by many together -- by lay people, builders, craftsmen and artists, with a basis of common sense.




He has occasionally achieved the dazzling magnificence that the great traditional builders achieved. That is, indeed, the same “great art” that the contemporary architects insist upon.   But our contemporary mainstream architects achieve it, more often than not  only as shiny, dazzling simulacra. 


Instead of that, Alexander  is seeking to find something more genuine, more real as a building, more grounded in the real structure of things.  He is seeking to find the rules for morphogenesis, and to apply them more coherently to human expression – to the recovery of ornament, for example, now seen as a simple continuation of the differentiation of space.  If such an architecture is therefore “vernacular,” so be it.  But it is above all art, in real terms, a form and substance that evokes spirit, something that connects with the person above all. So then it can be a gateway to more genuine riches to come.  It can connect.




Note that Alexander never suggests, as some seem to think, that any particular kind of artistic expression is not valid.  He would not seek some kind of “traditional authority” to determine what must be expressed and not expressed.   For him art is a profoundly personal matter, an encounter with interior truths; its order is emergent, not imposed.  His own encounter, he himself says, is simple, unpretentious, elementary. 


But what Alexander does say is that in making art, one should not destroy cities, or damage the quality of life in them.  One should, rather, make them better, in some rational, sensible way.    This is a simple enough, common-sense test, and one that revives the project of science in architecture.  But it is a test that many of his critics – and those he criticises -- repeatedly seem to fail.  While their projects begin as shiny, new, dazzling encounters with bold ideas, they seem fated to end up, mere decades after they began, as rusting “junkspace.” 




As Alexander points out, this is hardly a sustainable way to make cities, or to sustain human life. It is hardly a sane basis for a profession that is charged with the care of the built environment. 


If that makes him an iconoclast, perhaps some icons need breaking.  Perhaps it is not Alexander who is on the defensive after all.  Perhaps – as so many people across professions, across disciplines, increasingly recognise -- we need to consider a more humane, and at the same time a more scientific, way of making cities, and towns, and countryside.


Perhaps not only our future quality of life, but our very survival depends upon it.


                                        - Michael Mehaffy