In true poetical fashion, the best and most optimal way to commence a review of The Timeless Way of Building would be by utilizing the note of dedication within the book by the master himself: “To you, mind of no mind, in whom the timeless way was born”.
Penned in 1979 by Christopher Alexander, widely renowned as the father of the pattern language movement, The Timeless Way of Building was conceived as a part of a trilogy—The Oregon Experiment (1975) and The Pattern Language (1977). Though released as the final installment, The Timeless Way of Building is, in fact, an introductory piece to both of its precursors.
This book is a unique specimen that has enticed both the fields of architecture and software design. It is a sought-after read in the libraries of architectural institutions around the globe. With its unique prose and captivating photography interleaved throughout the book, The Timeless Way of Building by Christopher Alexander is truly a captivating read. Let’s discuss why!
Why read The Timeless Way of Building?
Written in an elegantly simple manner, Christopher Alexander’s The Timeless Way of Building is penned to strike a chord with anyone; even the most impatient of readers. With his unique gesture of providing the reader with a capsuled summary interlaced throughout the book, Christopher Alexander vouches that you can have a grasp of the entire content in under an hour.
The sheer simplicity of the content is perfect for a new student of architecture who might be stumbling their way through a tough course, for a graduate who may have lost their foothold wondering why they chose this field to begin with or for a comforting read in the favourite nook of your room regardless of your age and stature in life.
The Timeless Way of Building rekindles one’s love for buildings, their hometown or their favourite city with a carefully curated sense of familiarity that one can’t help but resonate with.
What is The Timeless Way of Building?
Christopher Alexander describes the timeless way of building as the process that happens by itself, that brings order to ourselves. He describes it as the reason behind some spaces appearing quaint and ethereal, like the many tasteful traditional buildings of the past that seem anew despite being thousands of years old, being made by those who have attuned themselves to this way of building.
He believes that if such a method is to be understood, you will be capable enough to make any building a beautiful space to be in. To build as such is a process that is instilled from within, in tune with one’s surroundings and this leads us to—the quality without a name; a recurring theme throughout the book.
As indicative of the name, the quality without a name is an entity that Christopher Alexander suggests is not easily definable but rather something that we can all witness and feel in our day-to-day lives as we “watch the world go by”. The Timeless Way of Building manages to make the reader feel as though they quintessentially possess this unique quality by nature that makes them capable of creating a space that translates as timeless, beautiful and functional.
Rather than blatantly attach definitions and rules to these entities, Christopher Alexander leaves these ideas as open-ended, with the reader at liberty to create his or her understanding of the same under the well-guided examples set by the author. These qualities, as defined by Christopher Alexander, stem out from both life and nature and are thus shaped and given form and meaning to by the same.
The Patterns to Life
Christopher Alexander describes the quality without a name to be governed by the patterns generated by both events and space. Both events and space are triggered by life—the need to live and of taking hold of one’s own stories. A town or city or a building is defined by the happenstances that take place within it. An empty room on its own does not equate to anything but the events that take place within it and people that frequent the same provide meaning to it.
So, in a town or a city, the events taking place over time can be narrowed down to certain patterns. These patterns provide character to these spaces.
The pattern of events is interlocked with the pattern of spaces. Christopher Alexander states that over years a settlement develops a language as seen with the repetitive elements and unique building characteristics possessed by its many buildings. Alexander showcases a particular example of Southern Italian houses which are characterized by pitch roofs and stone and share a similar design language.
These patterns to human spaces and nature are intricately explored in the predecessor of The Timeless Way of Building, The Pattern Language.
Throughout the book, Christopher Alexander resorts to simple and straightforward examples that are close to home for any and every reader. He masterfully imparts the know-how of the timeless way of building and the quality without a name without ever truly pinning them to a word, definition or a label but rather gets the idea across through everyday happenstance and objects.
Upon completion of The Timeless Way of Building, the reader is not left with a whirlwind of complicated rules and ideas but rather a spiritual experience that reverberates closely with their being.