Building the City Together: Chris Alexander's Theory and Method

With the democratization of social life there emerged a participatory approach to design, saving some control over design for those who would inhabit the structures. Christopher Alexander was one of the most important formulators of a people's architecture, but also one of contemporary architecture's most trenchant practical (as distinct from academic) theorists. In a series of both collaborative and solo works, culminating in his huge The Nature of Order, Chris handed over to the people a number of tools for conceiving and designing the built environment. Throughout his work the theme of wholeness has prevailed, in the end becoming an ontological theme.
It is this theme that we will trace from its origins in The Timeless Way of Building, through the instructions of A Pattern Language and A New Theory of Urban Design to the phenomenological, programmatic, and speculative The Nature of Order. We will examine the development of co-housing and ecovillages in light of Alexander's architectural philosophy. The point is to empower anyone who has interests in habitation and dwelling to make efforts to design the places of their living. DIY architecture and urban form.
We will also examine the way in which groups have drawn conceptual resources from Alexander: City Repair, Goddard College.
Potential projects: setting up an adventure playground with building materials and tools; designing a neighborhood; reparative intervention; guerrilla architecture or architectural street theater; consulting; City Repair-like project.
Salient themes: pattern, order, wholeness, center, structure-preserving transformation.
Schedule: 1-5 pm, Fridays
Location: Union Square, Somerville
Fees: Negotiable (including barter), but $12/hour of class meeting per student will be my opening proposal. Discounts for more than five students.
Teacher: Eric Buck


Alexander's works can be found used and new, since nearly everything is still in print. Alternatively, students can obtain access to the patterns of A Pattern Language and to the sequences of The Nature of Order from his website, The cost is $5 per month, and is much more affordable than buying the books new.

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