"I am not one who was born in the custody of wisdom. I am one who is fond of olden times and intense in quest of the sacred knowing of the ancients." Gustave Courbet

29 March 2017


The activity we call building creates the physical order of the world, constantly, unendingly, day after day. Our world is dominated by the order we create.  Although we are responsible for the creation of order on this enormous scale, we hardly even know what the word "order" means. Issues which were straightforward in other ages – such as spirit, for example, or the life that can exist in stone – are inadmissible for us.

The Nature of the Universe:
(i) all space and matter, organic or inorganic, has some degree of life in it, and the matter/space is more alive or less alive according to its structure or arrangement.
(ii) all matter/space has some degree of "self" in it, and that this self, or anyway some aspect of the personal, is something which infuses all matter/space, and everything we know as matter but now think to be mechanical.

I have come to believe that architecture is so agonizingly disturbed because we – the architects of our time – are struggling with a conception of the world, a world-picture, that essentially makes it impossible to make buildings well. This worldview is the mechanist-rationalist worldview.

More precisely, I believe that the mistake and confusion in our picture of the art of building has come from our conception of what matter is.

Our idea of matter is essentially governed by our idea of order.  Our impression of matter is governed by our idea of how space can be arranged; and that in turn is governed by our idea of how orderly arrangement in space creates matter.  So it is the nature of order which lies at the root of the problem of architecture.

Although science gives us a way of seeing order as a producer of effects – in particular because the scientific view of things shows us the geometry of matter as if it were part of a machine, a machine which can do certain things – we still do not have a way of seeing the order of a thing which simply exists.

With this mechanistic viewpoint, the picture of the world as a machine doesn't have an "I" in it.  Of course it is still there in our experience.  But it isn't part of the picture we have of how things are.  Also, The picture of the world we have from physics, because it is built only out of mental machines, no longer has any definite feeling of value in it; value has become sidelined as a matter of opinion, not intrinsic to the nature of the world at all.

The real nature of this deep order hinges on a simple and fundamental question: What kinds of statements do we recognize as being true or false?

Christopher Alexander, from The Phenomenon of Life: The Nature of Order

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