As a student in the Building Beauty program and the Beautiful Software Initiative, I’m currently working my way through Christopher Alexander’s four-book magnum opus The Nature of Order. I’m more than half-way in, so I finished books 1 and 2 and have just started with book 3.
Many of you have heard of Alexander before. His name usually comes up in the context of software design patterns, which are an adaptation of his concept of pattern languages, which he invented for architecture and wrote about in his book A Pattern Language.
Turns out, what we value design patterns in software for (if we still do that…), was just a tiny part of Alexander’s work, and it has been misinterpreted in such a way that what most people think they are about isn’t really what they were invented for — sort of like what happened with Alan Kay’s object-oriented programming. Just like OOP is supposed to be about “objects”, but is really about messaging, many like to think design patterns are about reuse, while in fact they are about a generative language that allows us to describe problems in a specific enough way to describe their solutions, while leaving enough space for different implementations that can still fully adapt to the target environment.
But that’s not the point here…
The philosophy and design theory Alexander describes in The Nature of Order offers a new perspective on the art of building (not just buildings, but anything, really) and the nature of the universe (he’s not afraid to touch on mathematics and physics).
I do think there is a lot in there that is super useful for designing tools for thought. And I’d love to discuss that further. For instance, if you’re into the concept of digital gardens (see other threads in this forum), they work in a remarkably similar way to what Alexander describes as the process of generative unfolding.
The problem is: reading four books with ~2000 pages total to get up to speed on the theory is a huge barrier of entry for some who aren’t yet fully convinced that an architect would have anything useful to say about software.
That’s what I’m trying to change. I want to make his work more accessible to other domains, so that you can get a basic understanding with a much smaller time investment.
There’s no great master plan, just a few little ideas I’d like to develop further with those of you who are interested or intrigued, whether you are already familiar with Alexander or not.
It doesn’t feel right to spam this group with all the details as that’s arguably borderline off-topic, so I’ve been looking for a good way to have a discussion with those all-in on Alexander elsewhere. This will also enable me to bring people together across a few different communities.
Recently, I had a good experience with a pop-up Telegram chat group that was hosted temporarily after an online event for further discussion. This seems like a good light-weight format for the purpose I have in mind.
If you are interested in upcoming activities around Christopher Alexander, his magnum opus The Nature of Order, and how to apply his theories to other domains (software and technology in particular), I’d like to invite you to join me here: https://t.me/joinchat/RaDQv_BGCm7OcPaP
This is a low-volume announcement-ish channel if you just want to stay up to date on what’s happening. And there is a linked chat if you want to engage in a more active capacity — asking questions, discussing concepts, suggesting ideas, and more.
Looking forward to seeing you there!
I’m obviously also paying attention to what’s going on here, so please feel free to discuss this here as well, if you like. Can’t wait to hear your comments, questions, ideas, suggestions…