christopher alexander templeton prize 2012 narrative

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clicked submit earlier today. the best of luck to all of us

i cannot believe i left out making wholeness heals the maker and i am going to get it down to two pages. felt like messing with the wikipedia entry and will definitely mess with the one that displays here

Scientific Proof That All Physical Matter Is Holy

Born in 1936 in Vienna, Austria, and raised near Chichester, England, Christopher Alexander was awarded the top open scholarship to Trinity College in chemistry and physics in 1954 and went on to read both architecture and mathematics at Cambridge.

Recognising the nonsensical nature of what passes for modern architectural theory, his doctorate, the first architecture Ph.D. ever awarded at Harvard, was an attempt to build a coherent foundation for the discipline from scratch. During this period he worked at MIT on transportation theory and computer science and at Harvard on cognitive studies of wholeness and value. His thesis “Notes on The Synthesis of Form” (1964) evidenced a rigorous mathematical approach to design theory and introduced the idea of the environment consisting of patterns embedded in the structure of a network. The celebrated essay “A City is not a Tree” (1964) warned that if we continued to disrupt this structure, instead of supporting our humanity our cities would cut our life within to pieces, and so it has come to pass.

Leading a massively collaborative effort whilst Professor at the University of California, Berkeley for 38 years from 1963 and now Emeritus, Alexander continues to produce a series of books for the Center for Environmental Structure documenting a deeply humanistic approach to architecture, building and planning, aimed at completely replacing current ideas and practices. “A Pattern Language” (1977) showed “that towns and buildings will not be able to come alive unless they are made by all the people in society and unless these people have a common pattern language within which to make the buildings and unless this common pattern language is itself alive.” This bible of the architecture of anarchy is not just concerned with the physical structure of buildings and towns but constitutes an extremely powerful moral, political and economic critique of society.

To Rene Descartes the “Method” (1638) was a convenient mental trick but its success has left us with a mindset that conceives of the universe as a machine without any intrinsic value: the realms of human experience and of feeling are simply absent from the Cartesian world. Whilst inspiring generations of architects and many others from all walks of life concerned with the fate of the earth, Alexander’s ultimately life changing work has understandably provoked powerful opposition from those invested within the establishment of the old paradigm. Social disorder, mental illness, ecological degradation, these and many other problems are due to a misunderstanding of the structure of matter and the nature of the universe and, until quite recently, there has been no coherent way of explaining the order that we respond to and love in nature.

Then, in the most beautiful book “A Foreshadowing Of 21st Century Art” (1993) studying the living structure embodied in early Islamic carpets, came the recognition of the wholeness of living centers and an entirely new empirical procedure “the mirror of the self” which asks a person to evaluate experimentally through subjective self examination the degree to which a system, thing, event or act enhances the observers own wholeness. It turns out that people are able to carry out this process consistently and that there is a very considerable degree of agreement between them which seems to contradict the accepted wisdom of cultural relativity and thus there may be a reliable and profound empirical method for reaching shared judgements about the degree of value inherent in complex systems. At its heart is a thread beginning with the search for the source of all beauty in life, a logical argument which establishes the necessity of a new conception of order, of living structure, its objective geometric properties and its resemblance to the “I” of the human self.

The delay of over twenty years in publishing the “The Nature of Order” (2002) reflects both Darwin’s recognition of the power of “On the Origin of Species” (1859) and his desire for the careful, almost forensic accumulation of evidence. Similarly, Alexander has strengthened his logic for the recognition of the phenomenon of life and the necessity of an extension of science as we have known it in the 20th century by conducting a long series of investigations seeking empirical verification making hundreds of buildings all over the world. Architecture is the only activity concerned with the creation of the details of fine tuned well adapted complex structure and consequently is the field in which it has been possible to develop a mathematical model identifying wholeness as a well defined recursive structure involving the awakening of space into life through the repeated action of some fifteen geometric wholeness extending transformations. It is the operation of natural selection mitigated by these wholeness extending transformations which generates discernible and coherent forms in the morphogenetic play of evolution. It has become possible to discriminate between cases where living structure exists in the world we build, and where it does not. This has all becomes visible and is impossible to escape.

Alexander has been inexorably led to the revolutionary necessity of revising our basic picture of the universe to include a conception of the personal nature of order and our belonging to the world in which the wholeness of space and the extent to which it is alive is perceived as rooted in the plenum behind the visible universe, “the luminous ground” that holds us all. This form of extended objective truth will ultimately resolve our Cartesian dilemma by teaching us a new view of order and a new cosmology in which objective reality “out there” and a personal reality “in here” are thoroughly connected and the bifurcation of nature healed. This is a world in which there is something to believe in, a vision of the unity behind all things, a conception of god as a fact of nature and its wholeness that would permit the realignment of our daily efforts with the well being of the whole, enabling us to unite the mental and emotional territory of what was traditionally called “God” in a way that provides the connectedness that people crave and allows them to feel humility and responsibility for the whole as part of the sum total of a mentality that once existed in other cultures and must exist again in our own highly modern civilisation if we are to stand any chance of healing the earth and ourselves.

He has demonstrated a vision of a living world made like nature in which we daily make nature and the work of adapting and deepening its living structure are a vital part of our lives, where acceptance of the whole and efforts to heal the whole will be seen as the most profound and important forms of prayer, a world in which people may feel themselves at home and in which to truly live as soulful human beings we will need to be guided by “the quality without a name” in weaving the fabric of our world using new processes of implementation that will alter the field of architecture, the sciences and all our large scale social and artistic endeavours beyond recognition, a built world that will support the people who live and work there to increase their own self esteem and that of others by honouring the wholeness of the Earth, a world where we will feel the traces of those who came before us and nourish the hopes of all those who will follow.

Recently he has spoken of identifying archetypal human configurations that guide and impel us to behave in ways that are helpful to the wholeness at hand. The pattern language meme continues to germinate everywhere and the Alexandrian cosmology will grow to aid our efforts in the coming global reset because it is based on common sense, because it makes moral sense to ordinary people everywhere, because it is practical and above all because it is good science. The award of the Templeton Prize 2012 to Christopher Alexander will acknowledge that his work has confirmed life’s spiritual dimension with enough scientific rigour to bring even the apostate to their senses and will also hasten the day when its grace has touched enough of us to change things forever.

The truth is a powerful thing.


Dedicated to our colleague Bankoku Sasagawa

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This page contains a single entry by sajjad published on October 3, 2011 9:53 AM.

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