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The purpose of all architecture, writes Christopher Alexander, is to encourage and support life-giving activity, dreams, and playfulness. But in recent decades, while our buildings are technically better--more sturdy, more waterproof, more energy efficient-- they have also became progressively more sterile, rarely providing the kind of environment in which people are emoti The purpose of all architecture, writes Christopher Alexander, is to encourage and support life-giving activity, dreams, and playfulness. But in recent decades, while our buildings are technically better--more sturdy, more waterproof, more energy efficient-- they have also became progressively more sterile, rarely providing the kind of environment in which people are emotionally nourished, genuinely happy, and deeply contented. Using the example of his building of the Eishin Campus in Japan, Christopher Alexander and his collaborators reveal an ongoing dispute between two fundamentally different ways of shaping our world. One system places emphasis on subtleties, on finesse, on the structure of adaptation that makes each tiny part fit into the larger context. The other system is concerned with efficiency, with money, power and control, stressing the more gross aspects of size, speed, and profit. This second, "business-as-usual" system, Alexander argues, is incapable of creating the kind of environment that is able to genuinely support the emotional, whole-making side of human life. To confront this sterile system, the book presents a new architecture that we--both as a world-wide civilization, and as individual people and cultures--can create, using new processes that allow us to build places of human energy and beauty. The book outlines nine ways of working, each one fully dedicated to wholeness, and able to support day-to-day activities that will make planning, design and construction possible in an entirely new way, and in more humane ways. An innovative thinker about building techniques and planning, Christopher Alexander has attracted a devoted following. Here he introduces a way of building that includes the best current practices, enriched by a range of new processes that support the houses, communities, and health of all who inhabit the Earth.


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The purpose of all architecture, writes Christopher Alexander, is to encourage and support life-giving activity, dreams, and playfulness. But in recent decades, while our buildings are technically better--more sturdy, more waterproof, more energy efficient-- they have also became progressively more sterile, rarely providing the kind of environment in which people are emoti The purpose of all architecture, writes Christopher Alexander, is to encourage and support life-giving activity, dreams, and playfulness. But in recent decades, while our buildings are technically better--more sturdy, more waterproof, more energy efficient-- they have also became progressively more sterile, rarely providing the kind of environment in which people are emotionally nourished, genuinely happy, and deeply contented. Using the example of his building of the Eishin Campus in Japan, Christopher Alexander and his collaborators reveal an ongoing dispute between two fundamentally different ways of shaping our world. One system places emphasis on subtleties, on finesse, on the structure of adaptation that makes each tiny part fit into the larger context. The other system is concerned with efficiency, with money, power and control, stressing the more gross aspects of size, speed, and profit. This second, "business-as-usual" system, Alexander argues, is incapable of creating the kind of environment that is able to genuinely support the emotional, whole-making side of human life. To confront this sterile system, the book presents a new architecture that we--both as a world-wide civilization, and as individual people and cultures--can create, using new processes that allow us to build places of human energy and beauty. The book outlines nine ways of working, each one fully dedicated to wholeness, and able to support day-to-day activities that will make planning, design and construction possible in an entirely new way, and in more humane ways. An innovative thinker about building techniques and planning, Christopher Alexander has attracted a devoted following. Here he introduces a way of building that includes the best current practices, enriched by a range of new processes that support the houses, communities, and health of all who inhabit the Earth.

30 review for The Battle for the Life and Beauty of the Earth: A Struggle Between Two World-Systems

  1. 4 out of 5

    Bill

    Why am I reading about architecture? I guess I might do anything, so you might not question that I've read this book. I'm not generally much on architecture, though. Christopher Alexander is something else. (Allow me to interject some context here: _The Battle_ is about Alexander's architecture firm's construction of the Eishin Campus, a hybrid high school-college in Japan. Okay, now to move on. We'll get back to that later.) Alexander makes buildings, but his intellectual thrust is broader than t Why am I reading about architecture? I guess I might do anything, so you might not question that I've read this book. I'm not generally much on architecture, though. Christopher Alexander is something else. (Allow me to interject some context here: _The Battle_ is about Alexander's architecture firm's construction of the Eishin Campus, a hybrid high school-college in Japan. Okay, now to move on. We'll get back to that later.) Alexander makes buildings, but his intellectual thrust is broader than that. He's an essentialist, a primitivist in some ways. Alexander believes that the way we have been making buildings for this past century has been mired in what he calls System-B. System-B is the system of designing buildings in CAD, of creating blueprints and handing them off to a general contractor, of creating buildings so that they might appear beautiful in the pages of an architecture magazine. It is a conceptual, intellectual way of conceiving beauty and a human experience, a way of viewing architecture that does not find itself improved significantly by its context or by life lived within it. Alexander calls his strategy of building "System-A". And what is System-A? Here are a few adjectives I picked out that he consistently uses for System-A: "Ordinary"; "Loving"; "Feeling"; "Reality". System-A attempts to root the process of building in real day-to-day use, in the feeling of the land, and in the reality of construction and life. If System-B fetishizes the picture, the image of a building, System-A fetishizes the thing itself, in its wholeness. It is impossible for me not to draw comparisons to the left and right hemispheres as described by The Master and His Emissary. In the style of writing, in the processes described, System-A is a revolutionary right brain attitude towards the process of creating an environment. So what is the book like? I said that it is about the building of the Eishin Campus, and about System-A versus System-B. Fundamentally, the book is about a war between the two systems. To a skeptic, this "war" seems a bit paranoid in the beginning. The events played out in the book do seem to bear out Alexander's description of a war, though. Clients are beaten up by Yakuza, extortive contracts are signed to prevent Alexander's company from completing their work. This is, of course, just one side of the story - and from a party clearly radicalized and dogmatized by the experience, at that. Still, the story is emotionally moving and impressive. One cannot help but envy the deep vision Alexander must have been driven by to achieve what he did. And why should it take so much vision? The ideas seem so simple and natural, and I can't imagine that anyone is as consciously invested in System-B as Alexander is in his System-A. And yet....

  2. 5 out of 5

    Dave

    Before reading this book, or this review, you really need to have read A Pattern Language or The Oregon Experiment, as a minimum. They are both worthwhile earlier works by Christopher Alexander and his collaborators. This, however, was a disappointment. Reading Christopher Alexander is an activity subject to the law of diminishing returns. The later books build upon the earlier ones, but they don’t have much to add and Alexander’s proselytising tone regarding the importance of his own work become Before reading this book, or this review, you really need to have read A Pattern Language or The Oregon Experiment, as a minimum. They are both worthwhile earlier works by Christopher Alexander and his collaborators. This, however, was a disappointment. Reading Christopher Alexander is an activity subject to the law of diminishing returns. The later books build upon the earlier ones, but they don’t have much to add and Alexander’s proselytising tone regarding the importance of his own work becomes rather tiring. In this latest book he has also taken to creating a sense of his own frustration and urgency by putting pieces of the text in italics, or bold, and even adding a printed margin note that says “this paragraph is very important”. This gives some pages the appearance of Penny Rimbaud poetry and creates the tone of an un-self-aware and patronising autodidact. It feels as though the writer will not allow you to make your own reading of the book and find interest where your own history takes you: It is to be accepted whole and on its own terms. Slightly poorly produced for an architecture book, the photos are of low resolution, the colour rendering looks a bit off in some of them too and a few even have motion blur. The paper is very thin and shiny like magazine paper. The photographs are amateurish, but interesting for their ordinariness, inclement weather, overcast skies, and for the presence of people. Alexander’s intent is very different from the architectural profession as a whole, but it can be difficult to dial in to that. He is presenting something real that is designed for the everyday, not an idealised version or something from which to create an image for a magazine. I suspect that I have found the behaviour in Alexander’s book that concerns me about these hippy techniques. It is a vague language of which its originator alone can claim mastery. It is opaque, and creates for him the means to re-state every dispute into right and wrong within his system, always with himself as right. The chapter on the judo hall p252-254 indicates that Alexander has insisted on delivering a type of building that nobody wanted, whilst denouncing the client for being unreasonable. ‘The spiritual dimension’ is here used to represent ‘what Alexander wants’. It makes confrontation of any assertions very difficult. The Golden Glow is a concept that ties Alexander’s view to that of E.F. Martel; that ideas come from some force outside of their creator, mindspace/ ideaspace, god, etc. on page 452 Alexander uses the idea of ropes hanging from heaven to guide us to the future. It also strikes me that on this same page he asserts that the compliance of a specific implementation with the values of his system can be tested ‘in laboratory conditions’. This seems highly unlikely and it occurs to me that one characteristic of the religious quality of the idea is that where others fail to apply it with successful outcomes they can be disowned as not having done so correctly, with the burden of a mystical proof placed upon them. This seems like the technique used by faith healers; if it didn't work, they say, you didn't believe enough. The costing approach would require the building operator to sacrifice lifetime yield by shrinking the project programme rather than penny-pinching on finishes and space standards. Of course this would be good for quality but it doesn't reflect how capital is raised, this is weltschmirz. The pattern created for the Eishin school does not seem very objective- like raising all the buildings on plinths to make them seem more stately. This design seems a little historicist, Alexander has perhaps changed his view over time toward a kind of mediaevalism, the mediaeval castle references are very obvious in this project. In the earlier books he denied looking backward and I found that claim convincing, because the forms he uses are better structures, and forms of 20th century buildings are mostly arrived at by cost, programme and simplistic organising. There are some nice bits of building, but I am not convinced by the outdoor spaces or the hall. Buildings of the Eishin campus are claimed to have equal weight with outdoor spaces in a figure-ground plan. This doesn’t look like it is the case in pictures chosen to demonstrate the same. One problem with the thesis is the claim that beauty is an objective standard. Another is the ugliness of some of the buildings. Alexander observes history correctly but applies its lessons poorly because a ‘modern’ budget will simply not create an ‘ancient’ building. The budget allocated for a commercially motivated building venture today simply will not create a building with the intricate complexity and permanence of an ancient religious edifice. This intersects the heirloom issue- in times of slower technological progress it made sense to apply the technology of the day to make the best version of something since it would last a long time, in the case of buildings, it would last centuries. Now we think in terms of 60 years for design-life warranties, and 10 years for commercial returns.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Peter Morville

    I read and enjoyed The Timeless Way of Building and A Pattern Language a long time ago. This book is different. It tells the story of one real-world project. After reading it, I'm amazed by Christopher Alexander's passion and persistence. It's also interesting to learn about all the prototyping methods he used for designing and building a school. I read and enjoyed The Timeless Way of Building and A Pattern Language a long time ago. This book is different. It tells the story of one real-world project. After reading it, I'm amazed by Christopher Alexander's passion and persistence. It's also interesting to learn about all the prototyping methods he used for designing and building a school.

  4. 5 out of 5

    James

    Alexander designed the Eishin campus in Saitama Prefecture, Japan back in the mid-80's and has finally told the story of its construction. Considering the line up of villains includes the construction industry and possibly yakuza, I can see why. The sides are, System A, Alexander as master builder being paid time and materials versus System B, fixed price contracts, profits based on cutting corners and rigid specifications. Eishin's Hosoi wanted a new type of school, and he knew that a brutal co Alexander designed the Eishin campus in Saitama Prefecture, Japan back in the mid-80's and has finally told the story of its construction. Considering the line up of villains includes the construction industry and possibly yakuza, I can see why. The sides are, System A, Alexander as master builder being paid time and materials versus System B, fixed price contracts, profits based on cutting corners and rigid specifications. Eishin's Hosoi wanted a new type of school, and he knew that a brutal concrete box wasn't going to work. None of the big 5 contractors wanted to work under Alexander as architect and insisted on their nasty modern designs with their big profits. Hosoi and Alexander decided the only way it could get built was to make Alexander the builder as well as architect. This did no go over well, the industry tried bribing Hosoi, he was also beaten up and threatened along with his family. There was also a nasty political battle that forced the school to contract with Fujita and the fights between Alexander and Fujita were constant. There were some bright spots in this, the individual craftsmen that Alexander contracted with were outstanding for the most part and in some cases Fujita's expertise lead to a better, lower cost design and the school was opened on time and is still in use. A fascinating account of a complex implementation using techniques from his A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction and other works. The only slight downsides to this book is that Alexander lapses into purple prose when describing architecture and if you are not familiar with pattern languages you may feel confused as to why such an emphasis on its practice.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Peter Auwera

    This is a fantastic book. It's the story of the building of a new campus in Japan, but all the lessons learned as so applicable to the building of any system, organisation, culture. System-B is the system we (at least myself ;-) all hate: focused on efficiency, profit, scale. System-A is the system we all aim for: an environment that makes human being truly alive. It's one of those books that has nested itself deeply in my DNA. This is a fantastic book. It's the story of the building of a new campus in Japan, but all the lessons learned as so applicable to the building of any system, organisation, culture. System-B is the system we (at least myself ;-) all hate: focused on efficiency, profit, scale. System-A is the system we all aim for: an environment that makes human being truly alive. It's one of those books that has nested itself deeply in my DNA.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jan

    The Battle for the Life and Beauty of the Earth: A Struggle Between Two World-Systems by Christopher Alexander with HansJoachim Neis and Maggie Moore Alexander describes the building of the Eishin Gauken Campus in Japan. One of the “main purposes” of the book is “to demonstrate that the physical-ecological and the mental-emotional-social cannot be separated” (p.86). If the "purpose of … architecture … is to provide opportunities and contexts which … support and enhance life-giving human situatio The Battle for the Life and Beauty of the Earth: A Struggle Between Two World-Systems by Christopher Alexander with HansJoachim Neis and Maggie Moore Alexander describes the building of the Eishin Gauken Campus in Japan. One of the “main purposes” of the book is “to demonstrate that the physical-ecological and the mental-emotional-social cannot be separated” (p.86). If the "purpose of … architecture … is to provide opportunities and contexts which … support and enhance life-giving human situations, then it must be based on a new set of operating principles" (p.7). The battle The battle which gives the book its name is the battle which introduces these principles. It's a battle against "the present-day mechanical viewpoint that dominate today's society" (p.9). It's a battle for "a worldview … which has life, well-being, beauty, and care for the whole, as its primary concepts" (p.9). Achieving this will "require so many changes in our idea of the world … that we must … adjust our idea of reality" (p.10). The foundation of these ideas were "set forth in the four volumes of The Nature of Order" (p.16). Adaptations binding things together For Christopher Alexander, the "essence of all profound techniques of architecture" is to make a world "which binds things together well" (p.16). An "environment or community" will only come to life if each part is "a result of a careful and piecemeal processes of adaptation" (p.19). "An environment can only be made healthy, and good for human life, if the process mobilizes vital adaptations at many scales" (p.24). Adaptations "create freshness and uniqueness wherever they appear" (p.41). That is a "huge step beyond the rigidity of mechanistic components" (p.41). Adaptations "forge a solid, powerful unity" that "draws the whole place together, just as a living organism" (p.42). And you "cannot create real adaptation, unless there is a process at work which permits, and encourages" it (p.48). System-A vs. System-B There are "two archetypal systems of production" (p.49). In system-A, "creation and production are organic … and are governed by human judgments that emanate from the underlying wholeness" (p.49). "The quality of wholeness … defines what is to be done" and "comes into play at every moment" (p.49). In system-B, "what matters are "regulations, procedures, … efficiency, and profit: … as if society itself was working as a great machine" (p.49). Wholeness, if considered, is "left far behind … mechanical considerations that are regarded as primary" (p.49). The two categories, A and B, "serve to identify a dimension of great importance" (p.49). "A" is used to refer to "more life-giving systems" (p.49). "B" is used to refer to "less life-giving systems" (pp.49-50). Furthermore, the difference between "more life-giving and less life-giving environments can be measured by a range of indicators" (p.50). These indicators correlate with physical, mental, and ecological health, and "the way people are treated socially" (p.50). Certain "forms of social interactions" and certain "kinds of positive emotional states in people" have direct "healing impact on human well-being" (p.51). Enabling life to flourish Christopher Alexander states directly that "we will not be able to make a living world,, unless we put in place entirely new kinds of human organization and new operational assumptions, which … encourage beauty, health, and genuine humanity to be achieved" (p.57). The cardinal rule of A, is to "Always try, at each moment, … to do that thing or take that action which … increases the life in the place, in the people, and in their environment" (p.59). Alexander thinks it is reasonable to say that "any useful change in society must show us how to generate life, how to provide the foundational conditions which will enable life to flourish" (p.59). "If the making process is dead … the resulting product … will inevitably be dead" (p.60). "If the process of making … is living … the generated forms and places … will … have a very good chance of being alive" (p.60). Two different worldviews The clash between A and B is a "clash between two competing systems of thought, human organization, and social activity" (p.60). "The two worldviews differ about the ways human society should be organized, about questions of ultimate value" (p.60). "The effects of the clash between A and B can be found in each one of us" (p.63). A "comes from inside, from the human psyche … and from human culture" (p.69). B "comes from the laws, the institutions of society and … mass production" (pp.69--70). "The use of money to make money," did "produce great wealth for a few," but "not for most people" (p.76). Step-by-step whole-making Years ago, Christopher Alexander introduced the phrase, “the quality without a name” (p.86). It was “very helpful and inspiring” but “it evaporates too easily … to guide practical effort” (p.86). We have all a “tacit obligation to enhance the life in our communities” but it is “difficult to bring it off” (p.91). “The largest driving force in the whole-making and wholeness-enhancing … is the step-by-step process which demands that at each step the configuration be made more coherent” (p.94). It is the “coherence of feeling and function that holds everything together” (p.95). “Creating wholeness is a practical matter” (p.96). Activating and intensifying life itself The “need for courage is a real requirement” (p.100). Courage “is absolutely necessary as a practical matter in the world we live today” (p.100), since it is a “battle between two utterly different views of the world, and between two utterly irreconcilable attitudes towards society” (p.109). Christopher Alexander is not interested in “making an image of life” (p.116). He is only interested in “creating conditions that will activate and intensify life itself” (p.116). This requires trying “to help each person reach the deepest place in their own hearts and to help them bring this material out into the open” (p.117). “We tend to overlook the violation of people’s feelings because it happens every day, and we have become accustomed to it” (p.119). Abstractions vs. reality “The essence of system-B is that it works with abstractions” (p.185). Plans, money, processes, and the “reality itself is abstract” (p.185). “There are no feelings, no truly human events, only calculations, ink, and paper” (p.185). “The essence of system-A“, on the other hand, is that it is “real“” (p.185). It deals with real people, feeling, and “the three-dimensional reality of buildings” (p.185). “In fact, the very life and wholeness which is aimed at by … system-A are achieved by a … relaxed state of mind,” but it is “not sloppy” (p.195). Money and efficiency “The exaggerated precision typical of system-B” is “often done at inappropriate times” (p.195). Furthermore, and perhaps surprisingly, “system-A produces better quality … at a cheaper price" (p.266). Money and efficiency “drive out almost every possible way of allowing human spirit to exist” and, specifically, “drive out … local adaptation” (p.267). “To increase profit there is substantial incentive … to cut corners” (p.270). “Working in a “speed is money” approach, subtleties are not possible” (p.307). Enhancing wholeness, recognizing destructive actions “[I]t is the creative force we, as human beings collectively possess, that is the most powerful well-spring for the improvement of society” (p.382). “This requires cultivation of a new attitude that both seeks out wholeness-enhancing transformations and recognizes destructive actions” (p.443). “Even when we cannot perfectly define the wholeness, we can distinguish those continuation which are most apt, and most true” (p.452). “Simple beauty and wholeness … heals, supports, and engages life” (p.453). Profound integration “Every living entity … has, as its most basic quality, the fact that it is somehow “glued together”” (p.421). When “one part of the system is in trouble, or is damage, other parts which depend on that part themselves become vulnerable” (p.421). What we “see and experience as beauty is a quality in which the world … is profoundly integrated, deeply interwoven” (p.455). A “living environment is at once physical and social in its beauty” (p.458). Courage and love It is “within our power to recover the deeper aspects of human nature and work our way toward a compassionate and ethical civilization” (p.475). “It is possible to recover ourselves, our world, and a future for our children and their children — one that is rooted in profound and lasting values” (p.475). “We can begin now” (p.475). And if “we have sufficient courage, we can make a difference in our lifetimes” (p.475). “Any one of us can do it because of love” (p.487). “Not love for this or that person — but love for a small spider …, love for the field …, and the individual grasses that sway as the breeze comes gently across” (p.487). “The most tender wakefulness lies in your heart” (p.488). “At every moment, remain wakeful and aware of your love” (p.488). “It does not need effort. It is already there, in your heart” (p.488). Conclusions This is a beautiful book, full of life, which touches me — deeply. I could comment on the book, intellectually, but somehow it doesn't feel appropriate. I just want to contemplate Christopher Alexander's message. Yes, the battle for life is a struggle between worldviews. And yes, ultimately, it is a question of love — for the Earth, for our fellow-beings on the Earth, and for ourselves.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Roslyn

    Alexander adds to what I have found as well about the two different world systems. He calls them A and B; I call them the worlds of freedom and control. He writes about architecture and building; I write about children. Yet we say very similar things. Which makes his work really fun for me to read. It's nice to have someone in a different field confirm notice the same trends and explain them through the eyes of their field--awesome to hear about the battle between the world of freedom and contro Alexander adds to what I have found as well about the two different world systems. He calls them A and B; I call them the worlds of freedom and control. He writes about architecture and building; I write about children. Yet we say very similar things. Which makes his work really fun for me to read. It's nice to have someone in a different field confirm notice the same trends and explain them through the eyes of their field--awesome to hear about the battle between the world of freedom and control and how it plays out in architecture. I took off a star because Alexander is aware that the two worlds extend beyond architecture but his arguments in the last few chapters were just fuzzy, unclear. He hasn't done enough research into the two worlds to really understand what he is feeling. It's true that our external world changes our internal one but the opposite is also true: change the people and the way they build will change. Enjoyed his analysis of what makes our external world life-giving or not. Loved it that we are on the same side of the philosophical debate on whether beauty is subjective or objective. Just very reaffirming. Nice to read a book by someone who totally agrees with me! Enjoyed his description of the process of creation in System A. Makes perfect sense. Insane how immeshed we are in the control world we can't even see it anymore.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Murray Dovey

  9. 4 out of 5

    Brian

  10. 4 out of 5

    Kirill Ilnitski

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jan Nunley

  12. 5 out of 5

    Marroc

  13. 4 out of 5

    Helmut Leitner

  14. 4 out of 5

    Will

  15. 5 out of 5

    Richard Kerver

  16. 5 out of 5

    Cindy Mizes

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kirianne

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

  19. 5 out of 5

    Dan Becker

  20. 4 out of 5

    Keith Ammann

  21. 5 out of 5

    Biggles

  22. 4 out of 5

    Christopher Burbridge

  23. 4 out of 5

    Carter

  24. 5 out of 5

    kurt koehler

  25. 4 out of 5

    Aikoch

  26. 5 out of 5

    John.Kiehlsoundtrackny.Com

  27. 5 out of 5

    Alana Roberts

  28. 5 out of 5

    Paul Cloutier

  29. 4 out of 5

    Juan

  30. 5 out of 5

    Johan Linde

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