Monday 11 July 2022


It has been noted previously how the experience of playing puzzles can be likened to the experience in architecture and design – see: It is always helpful to try to capture some sense of things subtle by analogy, as poetic matters appear to be destroyed by scrutiny. The situation involves something like Oscar Wilde’s Yet each man kills the thing he loves. The Buddhists talk about a similar situation it another way: If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him. This is why one is concerned with Christopher Alexander’s strategy of ‘seeking God’ – see:  The richness of things complexly subtle can really only be hinted at if their value and meaning are to be retained. This is why allusions are useful by way of analogies; they define matters from a distance.

Christopher Alexander

While playing Triominoes, the idea arose that the concept of the method of the traditional craftsman - Having concentrated, he set to work - could be something like the experience of looking at the numbered triangular tiles one has been given, perusing those arranged on the table, and then discovering a fit. Once having realised the match, visualised it, all one has to do is to re-enact the act as envisaged – pick up the tile, rotate it to the orientation imagined, and then place it in position to confirm the original perception. The satisfaction in the act is felt explicitly.

Tradition says exactly this of the craftsman who, once having seen the whole, then only has  the mechanical task of the making, the forming of the thing envisaged, whatever it might be.

Alexander’s process of identifying patterns, seeking out and sensing possibilities to find good fits, likewise only leaves the doing to be completed once the right approach has been realised. Alexander sees this process not as some grand ‘master mind’ discovery, revelation, or realisation of a project, but as something that occurs at every step in a scheme. He talks about the continued personal involvement of the interrogator in the process of making as being critical, because his strategy is invoked on a micro scale, at every stage involved in the designing and making, as well as in the macro scale. There is a necessary continuity and coherence in thinking and feeling that relates to the outcome. Alexander speaks of the millions of decisions that have to be made in the forming of a small portion of a city. It is this integral relationship that makes Alexander critical of the traditional method of project management, where drawings are prepared and handed over to others to build.

This circumstance might sound different to that of the traditional craftsman where the method is described grandly in six words. The proposition that has to be considered is that the process is identical to that which Alexander has described, because, at every stage, and with every action, the craftsman is asking and assessing, thinking and feeling, to ensure that the fit is right in every way, sufficient to achieve the envisaged whole. Alexander notes how the craftsman of old managed each step with love and care because the work was being done for God.

While words might struggle to achieve clarity and accuracy, and distract with the distractions and distortions of reasoned, rational thought, the experience can be sensed in the game, in the involvement with the puzzle where one can feel the right fit of a piece of a jigsaw, see the word’s spelling appear in a jumble of juxtaposed letters and assembled words in Upwords, and gauge the maze of directional matches of the numbers in Triominoes. The words Having concentrated, he set to work perfectly describes the method involved in puzzling, embodying all of its subtle complexity. It is an experience that can help us understand both things in traditional method, and in Alexander’s method too, in flesh and blood, and give us some confidence in our understanding and managing matters vague and elusive – those issues that Alexander has constantly grappled with.#

We need to return to his publications and again ponder the implications in our actions and processes in both design and building, and ask if we are achieving the right fit; and if not, what we must do.


Alexander's published works include:

  • Community and Privacy, with Serge Chermayeff (1963)

  • Notes on the Synthesis of Form (1964)

  • A City is Not a Tree (1965)[53]

  • The Atoms of Environmental Structure (1967)

  • A Pattern Language which Generates Multi-service Centers, with Ishikawa and Silverstein (1968)

  • Houses Generated by Patterns (1969)

  • The Grass Roots Housing Process (1973)

  • The Center for Environmental Structure Series, made up of:

    • The Oregon Experiment (1975)

    • A Pattern Language, with Ishikawa and Silverstein (1977)

    • The Timeless Way of Building (1979)

    • The Linz Cafe (1981)

    • The Production of Houses, with Davis, Martinez, and Corner (1985)

    • A New Theory of Urban Design, with Neis, Anninou, and King (1987)

    • Foreshadowing of 21st Century Art: The Color and Geometry of Very Early Turkish Carpets (1993)

    • The Mary Rose Museum, with Black and Tsutsui (1995)

  • The Nature of Order Book 1: The Phenomenon of Life (2002)

  • The Nature of Order Book 2: The Process of Creating Life (2002)

  • The Nature of Order Book 3: A Vision of a Living World (2005)

  • The Nature of Order Book 4: The Luminous Ground (2004)

  • The Battle for the Life and Beauty of the Earth: A Struggle between Two World-Systems, with Hans Joachim Neis and Maggie More Alexander (2012)


  • Sustainability and Morphogenesis (working title)


25 JUNE 22


The advertisement for architectural positions highlights the problem of specialisation that Alexander faced: see – These design-role vacancies name the particular fields of specialisation required: Senior Design Architect, Architects, Interior Designer, Technical Architect, Visualization Specialist, Lab Planner, Project Architect/Technical Architect, Intermediate Interior Designer, Designers and Junior Designers. It is the fragmentation of the work that shatters the coherence, the wholeness that Alexander aims for in architecture. It is not just the structure of the office that is the concern, it is the further break, the fracture in feeling that occurs when the drawings are handed over to other to build and supervise.


What is it about artists that make them want to boast that they never use a ruler? - see: Bacon spoke boldly of never sketching, or planning a painting; but there is a T-square in his studio – see:; and the gallery was selling postcards that showed construction lines to order a sketched composition. One assumes that the T-square was not in his studio for decoration, given the ‘creative’ shambles that it was – now ‘is,’ having been relocated to the Dublin City Gallery.

Piet Mondrian

Now we read that Mondrian, of all artists, never used a ruler. Did he use a set square instead? It is truly difficult to believe that the precision achieved in his later paintings was the outcome of the eye and the hand alone. Is the reference to his earlier works?

As an exercise, we have scaled up some of Mondrian’s later ‘primary colour and grid’ paintings to make patchwork cushions. It seemed to be not too much of an insult given the classic Yves Saint Laurent dress that has been so influential in using and promoting this style. During this replication process that one wants to get as accurate as possible, one is always astonished by the subtlety of the measurement and the variations that fit easily into Imperial patchwork measurements. Might all of this really have been achieved freehand? If not a ruler, then what? Masking tape! A straight edge? Is the report being just too pedantic?

Why is it so important? Are artists trying to match the skill of Giotto and his ‘O’ – Oh!? One could ask: does it matter? Does knowing this statement about the skill of the eye and hand of the artist make any difference to the work other than offer a talking-point diversion - an irrelevance that can become an intellectual matter for discussion by way of a deviation from the sense of the work itself?

Francis Bacon

What might Mondrian say? Bacon is on record as saying that he never planned or sketched, but . . . ! Do all artists create their own mystique? Here one thinks of Lucien Freud and his sexual entanglements. Are we becoming too involved in personalities instead of concentrating only on the work. One will soon be asking whether an artist is left-handed or right-handed; short or tall; blue-eyed or brown? etc.

It seems to be a problem with today’s cult of the individual, that one has to be involved with personalities before making judgements, turning art into true ‘self-expression’ where the weird outcomes need supporting, unique lifestyles with quirky habits just to prove the point.