Christopher Alexander’s Legacy at Building Beauty:
About the Podcast Show and Host:
In 2007 Mark R. LePage established the Entrepreneur website as a personal blog which transcended into a platform relaunched as EntreArchitect™ in 2012. The company’s objective to inspire, motivate and educate new and small firm architects to build better business strategies with weekly podcasts, reports, products, services, and private online memberships to give help, solutions to different dynamic issues of running a firm in challenging times. The vision also includes supporting and growing a diverse vibrant community of architects seeking to find business success and own the leadership. Mark runs the operations at Fivecat Studio Architecture in Westchester County, New York, specialized in residential architecture along with his partner architect Annmarie McCarthy since 1999.

Podcast for Architects: Christopher Alexander’s Legacy at Building Beauty
Ar. Mark R.LePage ©

About episode 342:

The podcast begins with the question Christopher Alexander tried to investigate: what makes each human being surrounding comfortable and homely? To bring out solutions for architects on producing works of beauty. The host, Mark LePage, invited three guests who found ways to plug-in with Alexander’s work and be part of “Building Beauty.” Susan Ingham, a licensed architect where she practices in Seattle, Washington in her firm, KASA Architecture since 2004 that focuses mainly on residential designs. She did her bachelor’s and master’s programmes in architecture at the University of California, Berkeley where she studied and worked with Christopher Alexander. Later joined as the faculty of the Building Beauty program in Senantro Italy based on the book Nature of Order. Here, the process of learning involved designing and producing them varying in scales from personal ceramic tile designs, garden products to houses, streets, neighborhoods, and cities. Christopher R Andrews, an architect licensed in the state of California, teaches at the faculty of architecture and Design Program at the University of San Francisco and he also chairs at Oakland’s Landmark Preservation Advisory Board. His 25 years of experience brings out the essence to merge the sustainable with cultural aspects into the environmental design from carpets and furniture to architecture and urban design scale. Maggie Moore Alexander, the co-founder of Building Beauty, edits and collaborates for Alexander’s books since 2002. She is the President of The Center for Environmental Structure (CES) founded in 1967 by Christopher Alexander to offer architects and engineers the chance to explore the vast research field concerning nature and project out elements into architecture to manifest actual buildings design and built globally. 

Mark comments that ‘A pattern language’ book is a resource and reference that helps solve a problem or inspire architecture or design since his days from architecture school. Susan introduced Christopher Alexander to the listeners briefly about his journey from being trained in mathematics in Cambridge, United Kingdom to a person who always showed an interest in built environments. He questioned the quality of why traditional spaces felt better, warmer, comfortable in contrast to modern spatial design that felt cold, alienated, and uncomfortable? In the 1960’s he published a series of papers that answered what made any environment favorable? Leading to the creation of a pattern language book consisting of 253 patterns that tried to solve problems more functionally, for example, each room requires two sides with windows that help bring a feeling of comfort and avoid glare. 

They begin discussing a series of the book called Nature of Order comprising four parts- The Phenomenon of Life, The Process of Creating Life, A vision of A Living world, and The Luminous Ground. These books inform beyond the functional issues and solutions of the habitat and look closely into the geometry of nature being the shape and configuration that connects the idea of beauty. One innately feels much of Christopher Alexander’s documentations decode the complexities of nature and built environment and present in a way regular people can absorb and understand the essence of it. Maggie opens up about how this series inspired the Building Beauty program. Currently, the course offered for 2020 is online due to the pandemic challenging the curriculum in a way that it’s meeting its objective to bring diverse communities together globally to build projects with sensitivity for beauty.

Christopher Andrews recalls his days as a fresher in 1977 at the Rhodes Island School of Design (RISD) where he discovered a pattern language book that spoke to him much intensely. He clarified further the use of this book which does not solve an individual problem in design regarding the backyard or porch but underlines the combinations of patterns linked to each other in a specific geometry that fits into the entire environment from the door to the layout of the city. Mark also emphasized that the book began a movement during the first wiki technology and directly influenced the creation of it stated by Ward Cunningham. 

The group establishes the intention behind the book was for it to spread widely while the size opens to fit the xerox machine. This idea of not purchasing the book came around the 1960’s book called steal this book by Abbie Hoffman, reported stolen from many bookstores. However, a fascinating observation they made in a pattern language, the word “architect” never mentioned in any of the pages. They further praise the uniqueness in its proportion for being pocket-size of 4 inches thick. The podcast episode dives back to understanding the core subjects of the Building Beauty Program with the first project that began in the garden area with the intention to build focused concepts that make it stand out from typical design programmes where design and construction of it are integrated.

This insightful episode of the podcast ends on a note about how small-scale firms can better their practice today? Andrews highlights the idea of next right that requires reflecting; Maggie suggests that community support on macro and micro level especially in times like these. Susan quoted her personal favorite pattern 104 from the book, a pattern language where Christopher emphasizes that buildings must always be built on the worst part of the site to enhance and improve the best parts of the site.

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Subhay Baberwal, a practising architect at Taller-S and a visiting faculty at SJB School of architecture and planning, Bangalore. He is an art and culture enthusiast as well as a certified wildlife Eco-volunteer by the Karnataka Forest Department for activities regarding conservation, census, preservation. Furthermore, he is a poet and currently exploring his voice in architecture writing along with being a ghostwriter for mobile application, fashion collections and bloggers.