Has anyone read Christopher Alexander’s The Timele...
# thinking-together
Has anyone read Christopher Alexander’s The Timeless Way of Building in light of future of code? He’s the literal architect whose concept of patterns inspired the software patterns movement. In practice, Java enterprise software patterns are a lot of the past-of-code that we want to get away from. I’ve read that Alexander thought that community missed the point, and from Timeless Way I believe it. From the first chapter he gets into the concept that people should be able to build their own buildings, that it doesn’t take extensive planning, and that it resonates with something very natural within us and within the world. I don’t want to say more as I really think you need to read it in context for it to sink in; but I’d recommend picking up a copy.
I love that book. I have read it vaguely in the light of future of code. I think it's unclear whether he's right about us being able to tap into something within us to design our own buildings. It's an unfalsifiable claim because whenever someone can't design well, you can say they aren't tapping into it. However, I do feel a lovely feeling swimming around when I read the book. I turn to it when I need to get out of the engineer's mindset and into a more holistic/intuitive sense of the world. I think we all have that sense, but it doesn't always express itself as architecture. I would love to see someone like Alexander in our community, someone who can defy convention and build beautiful things by seeking the life and humanity in the thing. And don't get me started about the patterns movement. Alexander says it was a failed experiment even in architecture, let alone in software engineering.
I actually haven’t gotten around to read the timeless way of building. But for anyone who like me has a bad association with patterns, I highly recommend Richard Gabriel’s exposition of them in the beginning sections of this book. He give Christopher Alexander and the idea of patterns life that I never felt in the Java community. https://www.dreamsongs.com/Files/PatternsOfSoftware.pdf
If you haven't read it, you might enjoy his forward to Patterns of Software.
Also, this talk he gave at OOPSLA in 1996:


Dorian Taylor has written quite a lot about how Alexander’s later work applies to code in his series The Nature of Software. This was a follow-up to his earlier piece about him which also mentions that OOPSLA talk:
The thing people who just look at patterns miss, is that Alexander himself renounced them. He said so plainly in 1996, at a keynote address to a room full of software developers; you can watch it yourself.
It’s helpful to realize that Alexander went through three distinct periods in his life: 1. Notes on the Synthesis of Form and A City is Not a Tree we’re starting out extremely mathematically, although he quickly picked up that something didn’t quite work. 2. A Timeless Way of Building and A Pattern Language explore the other extreme and look for practical ways to bring about the quality without a name through process and focus on the human side of building. 3. But even the patterns didn’t ultimately help people create what Alexander had in mind and so he tries to synthesize both extremes in his magnum opus The Nature of Order. Alexander went through these three distinct periods in which he changed his thinking considerably. Unfortunately, his most well-known books are from the earlier periods. Many ideas in them Alexander himself has deemed obsolete, and he has improved on them in more recent but less familiar works, like The Nature of Order. If you want to read a little more about these periods, I recommend this article: https://patterns.architexturez.net/doc/az-cf-218793 And as this turns into a “best of” I’d also add Ryan Singer’s primer: https://vimeo.com/491222729
My summary notes (Kinopio) for reading on a rainy day https://kinopio.club/fzRyaURd_-AoBBi2ZwEK8
I would also recommend reading The Battle for the Life and Beauty of the Earth: A Struggle Between Two World-Systems. It discusses one of his firm’s bigger projects and the roadblocks that they ran into and I think there are many parallels to software projects in there.
For those of you interested in the work of Christopher Alexander, I'll be presenting in the Building Beauty Nature of Order webinar about some concepts from cognitive science I found useful to make sense of Alexander's magnum opus The Nature of Order. In the forum this is taking place, I can luckily assume that the audience is already familiar with The Nature of Order, but even if you aren't, you get some ideas of what he's talking about in there, and perhaps my CogSci framing helps discovering it in a different way. There'll be almost no talk about architecture, and a lot about design theory and philosophy. If that sounds interesting to you, you can sign up here (it's free, I just needed a vehicle to distribute the Zoom link later, which I don't have yet): https://lu.ma/6x2tmli3 (Also posting to the channel, as the thread has cooled down a while ago; hope that’s ok.)