Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Christopher Alexander vs. Q.

or ...     The Star Trek episode that never was.
[Up, Down]
An IMPORTANT upcoming event in Toronto.
Click for details at EcoSanity: Climate Emergency Countdown, June 22, Toronto.
See also: Eco Sanity, GreenHeart Education, Compassionate Climate Action, & Bill McKibben.

Queensbrige Houses.
The first sentence in 'The Nature of Order' is: "The activity we call building creates the physical order of the world, constantly, unendingly, day after day."

Simply not true - not vaguely sensical. Nonsense! Despite a considerable up-front investment in all four volumes it stopped me for several months (like Oliver Sacks' catatonic old lady in 'Awakenings' - Frances D. was it? - at the edges of things) ... but eventually I read on.

A good lesson, to be constantly vigilant.

[It could almost be Subcomandante Marcos giving us a few bars of 'Don't follow leaders'.]
Christopher Alexander.Christopher Alexander.Christopher Alexander.Christopher Alexander.Christopher Alexander.Christopher Alexander.
Nothing I have read from him since goes much further than what I first found many years ago:

A building or a town will only be alive to the extent that it is governed by the timeless way.

1. It is a process which brings order out of nothing but ourselves; it cannot be attained, but it will happen of its own accord, if we will only let it.


To seek the timeless way we must first know the quality without a name.

2. There is a central quality which is the root criterion of life and spirit in a man, a town, a building, or a wilderness. This quality is objective and precise, but it cannot be named.

3. The search which we make for this quality, in our own lives, is the central search of any person, and the crux of any individual person's story. It is the search for those moments and situations when we are most alive.

4. In order to define this quality in buildings and in towns, we must begin by understanding that every place is given its character by certain patterns of events that keep on happening there.

5. These patterns of events are always interlocked with certain geometric patterns in the space. Indeed, as we shall see, each building and each town is ultimately made out of these patterns in the space, and out of nothing else: they are the atoms and the molecules from which a building or a town is made.

[From Chris Alexander, 'The Timeless Way of Building' 1979]
Like Charles Taylor (the philosopher, author of 'A Secular Age', not the Liberian warlord) Christopher Alexander is a Roman Catholic - a 'Papist'. Unlike Charles Taylor he almost manages to overcome it - at least he tries to, attempts to (see Vol.4 of 'The Nature of Order' - 'The Luminous Ground').

Northrop Frye & Marshal McLuhan faced comparable issues around their religions. Thorny issues one might hazard to guess.

Who's in charge? The metaph-or or the metaph-ee? Does the life in matter reveal itself as a candle burns I wonder? Largeish questions - I'll leave them with you (as I go watch a re-run of THX1138).
Queensbrige Houses.
So ... there I am, fossicking uselessly about on the planet's largest midden, and up pops notice of a relatively recent book by himself: 'The Battle for the Life and Beauty of the Earth: A Struggle between Two World-Systems'. The title exudes some kind of hopefulness for me, an aroma. I do not read a single review. I'm like an addict - completely neurotic reaction - "Gotta have it!" I go so far as to follow the direct link from his website to Amazon.com to get it; and more: I opt for one-day delivery. Ah, the wonders of comfort food and impulse buying!

The joke's on me though. One-day delivery means a courier, DHL, and the book arrives at my door a number of times but thanks to bureaucratic nonsense I don't receive it.

Eventually the Amazon order is cancelled and I order again from The Book Depository which ships by mail (after having tried the only bookshop in Toronto I think might possibly assist - Balfour's - who demur).

Then the Amazon copy arrives after all. Soon I will have two copies.

Some people never learn.

The notice on the monthly bill reads, "The estimated time to pay your new balance in full is 154 year(s) and 6 month(s)." The bracketed 's's there are important - they indicate that continued use of this thing has not been looked at by a human (which is, I assume, the only reason it still works).

[Could this be a repetition of the Zapatista clue? ...
Queensbrige Houses.
... Or ... is it possible that Christopher Alexander is that clever?]
The language isn't up to 'The Timeless Way of Building' but at least there's no rush, no hurry - and a certain willingness to reveal warts. There is a recent lecture on YouTube; he looks ill, weary. Maybe he's dying - we all do eventually.

But as I read - even with (frequent) quibbles over nonsense like "lose the drift of the gestalt" and "changing the way architecture should be done" - this feeling recedes (at moments) and is occasionally forgotten and I am enthralled and feel as if I am home: a knucklehead among knuckleheads.

[It's complicated. Sensibility enters into the fray. He takes it for granted that we've got hundreds of years to correct our mistakes ... and I don't think we do. It boils down to "I like him."]

View of Queensbridge Houses with Google Maps:
Queensbridge Houses with Google Maps.
Good from far but far from good.

Where shall we locate a monument to the Queensbridge Houses archtects? W.F.R Ballard, Henry S. Churchill, Frederick G. Frost, and Burnett Turner: I see them posed in bronze, full figures somewhat less than life-sized; flies unbuttoned, cod in hand while the other arm salutes; and a flotsam ocean of bureaucrats & politicians eddies 'round their ankles. I try to put this suggestion into Wikipedia but someone removes it.

Darkness falls on the Queensbridge Houses and lights begin to come on in the windows:
Queensbrige Houses.

Kara Walker - A Subtlety, The Marvelous Sugar Baby:
Kara Walker: A Subtlety, The Marvelous Sugar Baby.Kara Walker: A Subtlety, The Marvelous Sugar Baby.Kara Walker: A Subtlety, The Marvelous Sugar Baby.Kara Walker: A Subtlety, The Marvelous Sugar Baby.
Kara Walker's installation has no direct relevance (that I know of) to Queensbridge Houses, beyond the East River, being in the Domino Sugar compound in Williamsburg Brooklyn a few miles down the shore.

An extreme closeup of Sugar Baby's derrière (not shown, but undoubtedly snapped by someone replete with curiosity like myself) reveals a vulva but no anus. (?)

Cadê O Cidadão? / Where is Elmo?:
Ciça: Cadê O Cidadão?
Newton Silva: Carga tributária.Let's go Citizen! Celebrate!
The spectacle of growth has started already.

Pssst ... Where is the citizen?
Viva! Whoopee! Uh!Uh!Uh! Yahoo!

They're right there eh? Underneath that insupportable tax burden.

Tax Burden
HEXA (a reference to Brazil as six-time COPA champions)

Ballard Street: And here is where we lost Zogg.

I tell you what man: the business of getting out from under this insuportável carga tributária is somewhat more than a walk in the park.

Some days I have sympathy for the Libertarians.   :-)

I am so glad to have shared even a tiny part of it with this ... Chris Alexander guy.

Eishin Gakuen gate.Eishin Gakuen campus.
The single most important take-away point (in my view, and if there could be only one) is users: up front involvement & direction (by the users) and proper provision for feedback.

Upshot, a funny story:   Having two copies when I knew the library had none - it seemed the right thing to do to give one to them, so I offered it. The book would be accepted (grudgingly) but would not be entered into the catalogue (thus ensuring that no one would ever read it). That's what you get when you put union members in charge of libraries.

So I have it still. Anyone wanting it can ask.
[Up, Down]

No comments:

Post a Comment