Christopher Alexander (born October 4, 1936 in Vienna, Austria) is an architect noted for his theories about design, and for more than 200 building projects in California, Japan, Mexico and around the world. Reasoning that users know more about the buildings they need than any architect could, he produced and validated (in collaboration with Sarah Ishikawa and Murray Silverstein) a "pattern language" designed to empower any human being to design and build at any scale. Alexander was a licensed contractor and architect in England. In 1958 he moved to the United States, and has lived in Berkeley, California from 1963 until the present. He is professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley.
The Timeless Way of Building described the perfection of use to which buildings could aspire:
There is one timeless way of building. It is a thousand years old, and the same today as it has ever been. The great traditional buildings of the past, the villages and tents and temples in which man feels at home, have always been made by people who were very close to the center of this way. It is not possible to make great buildings, or great towns, beautiful places, places where you feel yourself, places where you feel alive, except by following this way. And, as you will see, this way will lead anyone who looks for it to buildings which are themselves as ancient in their form, as the trees and hills, and as our faces are.
A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction described a practical architectural system in a form that a theoretical mathematician or computer scientist might call a generative grammar.
The work originated from an observation that many medieval cities are attractive and harmonious. The authors said that this occurs because they were built to local regulations that required specific features, but freed the architect to adapt them to particular situations.
The book provides rules and pictures, and leaves decisions to be taken from the precise environment of the project. It describes exact methods for constructing practical, safe and attractive designs at every scale, from entire regions, through cities, neighborhoods, gardens, buildings, rooms, built-in furniture, and fixtures down to the level of doorknobs.
A notable value is that the architectural system consists only of classic patterns tested in the real world and reviewed by multiple architects for beauty and practicality.
The book includes all needed surveying and structural calculations, and a novel simplified building system that copes with regional shortages of wood and steel, uses easily-stored inexpensive materials, and produces long-lasting classic buildings with small amounts of materials, design and labor. It first has users prototype a structure on-site in temporary materials. Once accepted, these are finished by filling them with very-low-density concrete. It uses vaulted construction to build as high as three stories, permitting very high densities.
This book's method was adopted by the University of Oregon, as described in The Oregon Experiment, and remains the official planning instrument. It has also been adopted in part by some cities as a building code.
The idea of a pattern language appears to apply to any complex engineering task, and has been applied to some of them. It has been especially influential in software engineering where patterns have been used to document collective knowledge in the field.
The Nature of Order: An Essay on the Art of Building and the Nature of the Universe, which includes The Phenomenon of Life, The Process of Creating Life, A Vision of a Living World and The Luminous Ground, is Alexander's latest, and most comprehensive and elaborate work. In it, he puts forth a new theory about the nature of space and describes how this theory influences thinking about architecture, building, planning, and the way in which we view the world in general. The mostly static patterns from A Pattern Language have been amended by more dynamic sequences, which describe how to work towards patterns (which can roughly be seen as the end result of sequences). Sequences, like patterns, promise to be tools of wider scope than building (just as his theory of space goes beyond architecture).
Alexander's Notes on the Synthesis of Form was required reading for researchers in computer science throughout the 1960s. Marvin Minsky, founder of MIT's Artificial Intelligence Lab, recommended it to students and colleagues. It had an influence in the 1960s and 1970s on programming language design, modular programming, object-oriented programming, software engineering and other design methodologies. Alexander's mathematical concepts and orientation were similar to Edsger Dijkstra's influential A Discipline of Programming.
A Pattern Language‘s greatest influence in computer science is the design patterns movement. Alexander's philosophy of incremental, organic, coherent design influenced also the extreme programming movement. The Wiki was invented to allow the Hillside Group to work on design patterns.
The fourth volume of The Nature of Order approaches religious questions from a scientific rather than mystical direction. In it, Alexander describes deep ties between the nature of matter, human perception of the universe, and the geometries people construct in buildings, cities, and artifacts, and he suggests a crucial link between traditional beliefs and recent scientific advances.