1st Meeting, Chris Alexander Reading Group

So Molly and I started a Christopher Alexander book club, and after our first meeting on Monday we’re up to four people- me, Molly, Harry, and Helki.

Christopher Alexander is an architect working on lived systems of design that are appropriate and engaging to their users. Instead of guidelines for form he stresses process and community involvement. Architects should facilitate users to take ownership of their space through a stewarded design process centered around analysis of space and flexible building practices. As Harry put it, the architect “lets choices bounce around in rubber rooms where no one can get hurt.”

Underlying this whole process is a critique of scale and theory of fit outlined in Notes on the Synthesis of Form. Alexander uses graph and set theory to bolster his claims, but his clear writing and frequent use of diagrams keep things lucid even for those unfamiliar with these subjects.

And while the diagrams look great and make you look smart while reading the05062009_notesonthesynth book, you need not even open the front page to look awesome carrying it around. The ambiguous name and high-contrast white on black cover makes an intriguing accessory on the street and in public transportation. I’ve been sporting it on and off for a few weeks and definitely get checked out more often, even without a matching black eye. So if you only have a dilettantish and superficial interest in design, you should join our group anyways to look good. We won’t call on you.

Molly, Harry, Helki and I all have somewhat deeper reasons for joining. Personally I want to adapt his Pattern Language processes to small-scale manufacturing and the design of objects in communities that blur producer-consumer dichotomies. Molly is most fascinated by Alexander’s thoughts on keeping groups action-oriented. She wants to integrate his theories into the manufacturing process at the factory where she works. Helki is interested in a direct application of Alexander’s ideas- socializing urban spaces and bringing urbanism to a human scale. Harry’s interest is, as always, the most abstract- the coherence and context of abstract generative systems.

But together we’ve hatched a group project well within our understanding- analyzing parties using Alexander’s fitness criteria (starting with a set of all misfit variables, like not being able to escape bad conversations), and creating a pattern language and generative guidelines for enjoyment maximization. We will identify when it is time to party and, given the context, how to party precisely hard enough. Maybe we can get Andrew W.K. to sit on our thesis committee.