samskivert: The Timeless Way of Building (3)

30 January 2007

This is an exceptional book, made all the more so by the fact that it calls out the last hundred years of work in architecture (and by analogy numerous other disciplines) as a stark naked Emperor. Architecture has gone particularly far astray and is especially amenable to his central thesis, which is that there is a timeless way of building in which all decisions stem from human nature and the natural interplay of existing forces in the environment, and that one must particularly strive to leave their ego — and its desire to express itself in any act of creation — firmly out of the process.

At times I felt that what he was saying was so obvious that he had failed to capture anything insightful at all but was rather describing the way a human brain goes about the task of building and how it represents and shares the knowledge necessary to undertake that task. By the end, I realized that his brilliance was in fact to recognize the fundamental importance of that very process and to point out how far we have strayed from it in our pursuit of economies of scale and so called artistic expression. We have done so to the detriment of our basic human happiness and to the fullness of the lives we lead in these unnatural, inharmonious rooms, houses, neighborhoods, towns and cities.

I’m still contemplating how I can incorporate these ideas into my own information constructions (and how to look at the patterns and processes I’ve used with an egoless eye in hopes of weeding out those that fail to create the quality that cannot be named from those that help). I find it fascinating that the software engineering community has embraced the notion of patterns largely based on the popularity of Alexander’s other work, A Pattern Language. I wonder how many of those pattern enthusiasts have read The Timeless Way of Building, which actually explains the theory and philosophy behind those patterns.

©1999–2015 Michael Bayne