Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Easily detroyed

Christopher Alexander spent decades exploring our relationship to reality, in the hope of  finding a description -- comprehensible and effective -- of a process that would let people improve their built environment for themselves.

The Nature of Order is the final expression of his exploration, and he offers this essential, boiled-down advice -- to make something alive, use your feeling.

This advice works well for those already sensitive to such things, who are practiced at using feeling in creative work. It requires more, of course. You need control of your projects -- perhaps an architect/builder/developer could be considered sufficiently empowered, and sufficiently free, to use feeling. Christopher Alexander, who always uses feeling on his projects, struggles mightily to find an environment where it can unfold. In the modern world, his simple advice is easily dismissed, and so the possibility of creating a place that is alive is just as easily destroyed. Protecting places with a living quality is just as difficult. It doesn't matter how much one likes Alexander's other ideas. Computer engineers, who eagerly read Alexander's books for inspiration, have ignored this advice, or decided not to pursue it. Feeling, although it clearly exists, is strangely considered something you shouldn't talk about in the context of building something.

Despite this, feeling is a tool used in many indigenous cultures, to this day ... and their living environments are being destroyed to this day, by the march of technocracy. Feeling is the tool used to build those beautiful, special places, centuries ago, which tug at our hearts when we see them today. They are rare, along with the cultures sufficiently in harmony with their surroundings to grow them.

Our modern social organization has separated our modes-of-action so completely from the richness of our surrounding reality, that feeling alone is no longer potent. Stand in front of a City Council anywhere in the US, and describe a process that makes use of feeling, in order to build something necessarily rich and comforting and community-based. Some heads will nod. But the buttons that destroy neighborhoods and replace them with parking structures, will still be pushed.

Before the natural tools of humanity are available to us again, we must enable people to unite, to come together again, in coalition, so they have the power and freedom to use such tools. This is the primary work ahead, for students of Alexander's research on the timeless way of building.

Postscript: along with feeling, and cooperation, one important tool is the ballot initiative.

Postscript two: 'feeling' is innate, in every person, but it takes training these days to make use of it.