Ryan Singer Felt Presence LLC Product Strategy & Tooling

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Christopher Alexander: A Primer

By Ryan Singer •

Christopher Alexander’s work is hard to get into. He’s written over 15 books, and there isn't one that serves as a general intro or overview for the rest.

In this livestream, I gave an informal introduction to what I think are the most important ideas in his body of work. (Outline with timestamps below the video.)

0:00:00 Background and motivation

0:06:48 Plan of the talk

0:10:32 Form, Context, and Fit

0:16:40 Beyond Fitness: Life and a Better World

  • 0:18:29 Example: Soviet style building vs a living courtyard
  • 0:22:46 Example: Redesigning a tree planter in a plaza

0:27:43 Introducing centers and generative process

0:30:08 Centers — Coherent regions in spatial structure

  • 0:32:50 Example: Human face, well adapted centers
  • 0:34:31 Example: Entrance of a building
  • 0:35:58 Strong centers and weak centers

0:37:22 Process — Step by step adaptation

  • 0:37:22 Example: Nolli plan of Rome
  • 0:39:41 Sequence and path-dependence
  • 0:40:41 A pattern as a form/context pair and a generic set of centers
  • 0:41:54 Example: 6-Foot Balcony
  • 0:44:17 Knitting patterns together into a language
  • 0:44:33 Example: Farmhouse kitchen
  • 0:45:25 Sequence of the kitchen layout
  • 0:47:31 Example: Sequencing a house and a garden

0:49:02 Project-Specific Pattern Languages

  • 0:52:32 How pattern languages give freedom to unify design and construction
  • 0:54:06 Example: Generating two kinds of classroom buildings
  • 0:54:55 How different languages generate different designs
  • 0:56:26 Example: Changing the position of a fireplace during construction
  • 0:57:33 Example: Large scale patterns for the Eishen school
  • 1:00:40 Centers: 15 properties as transformations
  • 1:01:52 Example: Redesigning the people screen in Basecamp and creating a pattern language for the project

1:08:21 Summary
1:11:27 Q&A

Books mentioned:

  • Notes on the Synthesis of Form
  • The Nature of Order, Book 1
  • The Nature of Order, Book 2
  • The Battle for the Life and Beauty of the Earth
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