- Series: Harvard Paperbacks
- Paperback: 224 pages
- Publisher: Harvard University Press; Underlining edition (October 24, 1964)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0674627512
- ISBN-13: 978-0674627512
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 15 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #393,976 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Notes on the Synthesis of Form (Harvard Paperbacks) Underlining Edition
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Christopher Alexander has outlined an ambitious proposal that could revolutionize the approach to architectural design...His method cannot help but become "a very powerful tool indeed" for those who would deal with projects of the complex present and the growing complexity of the future. (Progressive Architecture)
The success or failure of the designed environment will remain, as always, a human responsibility...Alexander's assertions are not only challenging and stimulating but informative. (American Institute of Architects Journal)
One of the most important contemporary books about the art of design, what it is, and how to go about it. (Industrial Design)
An important book for the urban designer and planner... stimulating and certainly controversial...It may one day prove to be a landmark in design methodology. (Journal of the American Institute of Planners)
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I've designed little tools, rooms, houses, musical instruments and gigantic computer networks. It's scary.
There are virtually no books on the joys and angst of the design thought process, so this book is priceless. Peripherally related are Malraux's "Voices of Silence" and Jacques Maritain's "Creative Intuition In Art And Poetry", both about thought processes/aesthetics across multiple disciplines.. Don Norman's "The psychology Of Everyday Things" is a wonderful exploration of the gut-level design disasters we all deal with all the time. Bottom line: IT'S NOT YOUR FAULT.
Part 2 (chapter 6, page 73) is a highly structured "program" for design. I found this section of the book much less compelling, and I'm not sure how it necessarily falls out from Part 1. For me, Alexander's biggest insight is that a good design process involves iterative periods of change and stasis - specifically, designing by modifying single (or small numbers of) factors individually and allowing the design to reach "equilibrium" before making additional changes. From this standpoint, designing a whole village at the beginning (as is started in appendix I) may not ever be a good design approach - even with Alexander's "program"
While many wring their hands about this, Alexander breaks the problem down, organizes it and then provides a framework for design that is relatively design neutral. That is a feat in deed.
By thinking about how one structures a problem space and the bias that creates -- Alexander give the practioner a powerful tool for setting up the design process and scope. He then goes on to discuss the design process and he makes important distinctions between concious and unconcious design.
Notes on Synthesis and Form are the foundation for Alexander's work on design patterns. This is the must read book before spending time on these other works.
For the practioner, this book provides a powerful and applicable framework for addressing problems in multiple disciplines.
First, before you begin this book you should understand that this was basically his graduate thesis. He entered the field if Architecture late in his education. Previously he his higher education was sciences and mathematics. He was trying to meld the somewhat disparate fields in his mind. Second, while his work on Pattern Language is exceptional, many of his other works are less so. In portions of Notes on the Synthesis of Form you can see the beginnings of his Pattern Language work. However, his approach at that time was still undeveloped.
I will slightly re-mold his thesis for Notes on the Synthesis of Form: Primitive people don't think much about their design and so their construction is true to nature and therefore good. Modern designers, including most notably architects, are several steps removed from the construction of their structures, depend on symbolic thinking to design, symbolic drawings explain their intent, and are therefore incompetent. Maybe patterns can be overlaid to offer a solution. To prove his thesis he states that "unselfconscious" (somewhat akin to aboriginal) designers succeed. The designs of "Self-conscious" (basically modern man) fail. He attempts to use set theory to offer a solution based loosely on patterns.
The modern architect designing a super high-rise or a biotech manufacturing facility is simply light-years beyond mud and stick huts. To say the design of one is more noble is pure muck. While I will admit that some of Alexander's thinking is useful and quite novel, I also realize that he considers himself on a plane above most in his chosen field of Architecture. He most often begins his books with the premise that architects are stupid and that he will tell them how to mend their ways. This incorrect and sullies the good portions of his thesis.
I recommend that you don't approach Alexander as any kind of god. Realize his is a man who puts his pants on like any of the rest of us. To be sure he is a smart fellow. However, some of his thinking is flawed. This is especially so in this early work.
I am a practicing Architect, but also quite programming savvy (yes, a strange combination). While the idea of Pattern Language as a philosophy for OOP is super cool. Alexander does not speak specifically to programmers in this or any of his early work. His intended audience is architects and builders as designers.
Most importantly, this book is not the Bible, Tao Te Ching, I Ching, or any of the like. It is not immeasurably inscrutable. It does not contain nuances in meaning that will carry you all through life.