Noticias de Arquitectura

Alexander The Great
diciembre 17, 2007, 4:37 pm
Filed under: Teóricos

Architect Has Long Championed The Idea That Buildings Must Serve People

Since the 1960s, Christopher Alexander has been architecture’s greatest iconoclast, calling for a return of building to an ages-old process of construction.

Alexander rejects modern architecture not because of stylistic concerns, but because it creates vast, unnatural, mechanical and disorienting structures. These places might cut a dazzling figure on the landscape, but they do not enhance the lives of the people who use them. Too often, they degrade their users and the surrounding terrain.

But unlike other opponents of the establishment, Alexander has developed a powerful alternative. He has designed and built countless houses, campuses, music halls, town centers, gardens, rooms, courtyards and pieces of furniture. And he has documented his work in 20 books and trained hundreds of young architects to build in a new way that’s really an old way.

His magnum opus is the four-volume, 2,150-page “The Nature of Order,” published from 2002 to 2005. This work is by turns practical and poetical, preaching and prodding, philosophical and polemical. It is the capstone to a brilliant career that has taken Alexander around the world.

The way we feel about a place cannot be separated from how the place works. A well-designed and built structure “works” because it enables people to do what they need to do — eat, sleep, work, read, talk, play, teach, create, love.

Architecture, ultimately, is a matter of freedom. Buildings and spaces that enhance freedom are good. Structures that impede freedom are bad.

“A healthy human being is able, essentially, to solve problems, to develop, to move toward objects of desire, to contribute to the well-being of others in society, to create value in the world, and to love, to be exhilarated, to enjoy,” Alexander says. “The capacity to do these many positive things, to do them well, and to do them freely, is natural.”

We all know examples of buildings that impede freedom: modernist structures with vast walls, no-man’s-land plazas, hidden entrances, confusing paths, blinding light or scary darkness, intimidating scale — uncomfortable places to work or play. Those buildings are designed not for the user’s ease or even for beauty, but for the architect’s sense of aesthetic and will to power.

Since the publication of “A Pattern Language” in 1977, Alexander has been something of a cult figure. That book lays out 253 distinct ways to make space, from regions to nooks in rooms. It’s a cookbook for every conceivable kind of structure. Alexander’s concept of patterns has been applied to software programming and the study of Oriental rugs.

Modern buildings fail, he says, because of complex and rigid zoning codes, standardized design forms, artistic pretensions, cold building materials and a mechanical construction process.

Alexander has also been attacked for his embrace of architecture’s traditional values — what the Roman architect Vitruvius called “firmness, utility and delight.” In one 1982 debate, Peter Eisenman told Alexander that architects should express the “alienation” of modern times. Fostering discomfort, in this view, is an essential part of challenging people not to be complacent.

In all of his work, Alexander rails against this modernist mind-set. Traditional structures work, he says, because they emerged from a living process. They were built to fit the land. An innate understanding of beauty informed their design. Natural building materials gave them character. Each piece was the result of time-honored techniques of craftsmanship. And they were allowed to evolve to fit the needs and desires of users.

Nowadays, we design every inch and every corner ahead of time, use artificial materials, mechanize the construction process, and fail to relate the building’s pieces to each other or their setting. Alexander counters that “all the well-ordered complex systems we know in the world … are generated structures, not fabricated structures.” Structures that evolve during their design and building benefit from testing and feedback. They grow into their places.

In “The Nature of Order,” Alexander explains 15 features that make a structure great — centers, different scales, strong boundaries, alternating repetition, good shape and symmetries, to name six.

All good spaces, he argues, are living things that establish spiritual connections with people. Good buildings — and furniture, gardens, art and artifacts — reflect the most basic elements of the human experience. They elevate people to higher places, where they can realize their abilities and, in some way, connect with all humanity.

Over the years, Alexander has directed an impressive range of projects. Each is original, distinct to its people and place, yet at the same time familiar.

The Eishin School in Tokyo is a classic example of this approach. Alexander engaged students, teachers and others in a process of imagining the ideal school. They wandered the land where the school was to be built, imagining a set of reinforcing centers. Then they began to design buildings and gates, pathways and lawns. Using mockups of key structures, the Eishin crew tested how the pieces looked and worked. And then they built the structures, adjusting the process countless times to respond to people’s reactions.

The result is a simple yet complex place that offers a human-scale, warm habitat for learning and growing. By all accounts, the Eishin School is a great campus that reflects the highest values and aspirations of the community.

Skeptics will always shadow Alexander’s work. For many, building is a simple matter of creating containers for human activity or for turning vast profits. For others, architecture offers an opportunity to make an ideological statement about alienation.

For the rest of us, Alexander offers a way to build real, human communities. Wherever Alexander’s principles go, hope goes along too.

Charles Euchner, the author of “The Last Nine Innings,” is writing a book about suicide at the Golden Gate Bridge. He can be reached at

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