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December 09, 2002

Nikos Salingaros, Christopher Alexander

Friedrich --

In my usual wooly-headedness, I overlooked a note left for us a couple of weeks back by Nikos Salingaros, the University of Texas physicist who has been doing such fascinating work on cities, buildings, beauty, and ratios, sometimes in collaboration with Christopher ("A Pattern Language") Alexander.

Here's what he wrote:

Distinguished colleagues,

I read some of the comments about Christopher Alexander, and also on my paper with Bruce West. I'm very pleased to see an interest in these topics. As to Christopher's work, let me give a link to one of my papers on Pattern Languages:

It is important to let your group of readers know that a significant convergence is now taking place in our view of the world. Christopher's new book "The Nature of Order" will soon be out (check with, which will set the tone for an overhaul of current thinking about art, architecture, urbanism, aesthetics, and many other human endeavors.

I am pleased to be a part in all of this, having prepared the way with some publications linking human creations to scientific laws. Some of my papers are mentioned occasionally on this site.

Let me also mention the forthcoming issue of the webzine Katarxis, which will be released in January (, and of which I happen to be co-editor.

Best wishes to all,
Nikos Salingaros

I second, and very loudly, Salingaros' enthusiasm for the webzine Katarxis (readable here), and for Alexander's A Pattern Language (buyable here), which thousands of people have found is capable of blowing open their aesthetic thinking; just as great, it seems to me, is Alexander's The Timeless Way of Building. Alexander is a gigantic, almost mythical figure -- I've had architects tell me they didn't really get architecture until they read his work. And his thinking resonates in many directions. As Michael Snider pointed out in a comment, there are software developers who are devoted to, and making use of, Alexander's concept of patterns.

But I also urge any and all readers interested in such questions as patterns, genetics, beauty, the relationships between chaos theory and art, pleasure, evolved systems, etc, to take a look around Prof. Salingaros' own website, here. His pathbreaking research and thinking will give anyone's brain a firm, enlightening and pleasurable rattle.

As for Christopher Alexander's The Nature of Order, I got a look at a bootleg copy some years ago -- Alexander has been said to be on the verge of publishing the book for a quite a while now, and copies have been circulating. The version I saw was about 1000 pages long. It struck me as very brilliant, quite mad, and possibly a classic -- in its all-encompassing, visionary-oracle, responding-to-everything, once-and-for-all fervor, it put me in mind of Hegel, or of "The City of God." I can't wait to see the version he decides to publish.

An interview by Wendy Kohn with Alexander about "The Nature of Order" can be read here.

Sample passage:

Wendy Kohn: You know, we didnít used to be able to talk about beauty.
Christopher Alexander: Thatís right, it was absolutely forbidden.
WK: Why do you think that is?
CA: It wasnít because the word was forbidden. It was because the thing was forbidden.
WK: What was so big and bad about beauty? Why, particularly for architects?
CA: Because architects were living in a constructed mental world for most of the twentieth century. It really began after WWII, but it kind of began before that. And it went on and on. It was a fabricated psychosis ...

I watched for decades at the University of California architecture faculty meetings, with people saying, ďwe must get together to talk about architecture.Ē And then shying away from it like a horse at a jump. And of course it was never acknowledged why, but Iím telling you why, I believe: because they knew that almost any discussion about those kind of matters would ultimately expose the falseness of what was going on ...

I donít think that anybody set out to be false. But there were notions perpetrated. Students were coerced by cynical laughter, by mental suasion, into playing these games that professors dug for themselves into deeper and deeper holes in terms of how silly these games were. Why was this kind of thing going on? Well, the content is indefensible, so when it has to be defended, strange and violent means start showing up. I think this psychosis is actually the least documented phenomenon of this century. Itís very unusual for an entire profession to go bonkers.

Many thanks to Prof. Salingaros for passing along his observations, information and links. We're honored and pleased that he stopped by.



posted by Michael at December 9, 2002


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