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The Oregon Experiment (Center for Environmental Structure) 1st Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195018240
ISBN-10: 0195018249
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Editorial Reviews


"The Oregon Experiment is perhaps this decade's best candidate for a permanently important book."--Rory Campbell, The Boston Globe

About the Author

Christopher Alexander is a builder, craftsman, general contractor, architect, painter, and teacher. He taught from 1963 to 2002 as Professor of Architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, and is now Professor Emeritus. He has spent his life running construction projects, experimenting with new building methods and materials, and crafting carefully articulated buildings--all to advance the idea that people can build environments in which they will thrive.

Acting on his deeply-held conviction that, as a society, we must recover the means by which we can build and maintain healthy living environments, he has lived and worked in many cultures, and built buildings all over the world.

Making neighborhoods, building-complexes, building, balustrades, columns, ceilings, windows, tiles, ornaments, models and mockups, paintings, furniture, castings and carvings--all this has been his passion, and is the cornerstone from which his paradigm-changing principles have been derived.

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Product Details

  • Series: Center for Environmental Structure (Book 3)
  • Hardcover: 202 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (December 11, 1975)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195018249
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195018240
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 0.6 x 5.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #354,820 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By R. J. O'Hara on May 10, 2001
Format: Hardcover
The Oregon Experiment is one of a series of influential volumes on architecture and social design published by Christopher Alexander and his colleagues in the 1970s. While the most well-known volume in the series, A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, and Construction, develops general principles for the design of social spaces at all scales, The Oregon Experiment applies those principles to a specific case: the campus of the University of Oregon.
If you are looking for an example of a specific campus plan, however, you will not find it here. Central to Alexander's approach is the notion that communities should not create fixed master plans, but rather should develop a common pattern language, and then apply it organically, in a piecemeal fashion, as needs arise. The book talks as much about this process of planning as it does about individual construction projects. Whenever a need arises (expansion of a building, addition of a door, creation of a green) people consult their pattern language and build something to suit the space and satisfy the need. Because everyone follows the agreed-upon language, the new parts harmonize with those that already exist (or replace earlier, poorly-designed structures).
If you have enjoyed studying Alexander's patterns in A Pattern Language, you will find here a collection of new ones that are specific to a university setting, including "University Population," "University Shape and Diameter," "Departments of 400," "Local Administration," "Classroom Distribution," and about a dozen more.
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Format: Hardcover
As a software designer and as somebody who lives and works in buildings in cities, I find the ideas in some of Alexander's other books on architecture and design - The Timeless Way of Building and A Pattern Language - very interesting and appealing. They are a brave attempt to point to a more human, community-oriented way of doing things.
I had high hopes that The Oregon Experiment would describe a concrete example of whether these ideas worked when they were put into practice. It does nothing of the kind. It describes an interesting thought experiment in participatory design and tries to present this as a vindication of the Pattern Language concepts. But nowhere does it even mention whether the design it describes was ever actually implemented, much less whether it worked from the inhabitants' point of view.
It is very easy for a design team to get carried away with what a great design they have on paper. I've done it loads of times. That enthusiasm tells us nothing about whether a design is actually going to be a success.
I know Alexander later moved from academia and started trying to put his ideas into practice on actual building projects. A book on his real experiences and how well the original ideas stood up to the cold light of reality would be fascinating and important. The Oregon Experiment isn't that book.
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Format: Hardcover
The good news is that this book is a short summary of what most people

will find important when they apply patterns either in the field of architecture

or in their own field of design. It provides insight into Alexander's theory

of economics--a stance which caused him to be unfavorably labeled as a

socialist when these ideas were taking form.

Patterns, in this book, are almost a footnote to the broader ideas of

design, of economics, and of socially coordinated construction that

form the core of Alexander's exposition here. The economics form a

compelling argument for a process of piecemeal growth. Alexander gives

practical advice on how to administer the social process, including the

creation of a community pattern board that oversees the introduction of

new patterns into the community language, and the retirement of old

ones. By putting the pattern mantra aside, this book helps the reader

get beyond the point where they are looking for patterns in their own right

to provide the answer to every design question, and pushes the reader

to think at the level of the foundations.

The bad news is that the book takes the reader into a couple of miscues.

Alexander would later bitterly recant the role this book accords to the

architect. Architects should be master builders rather than the font of

design ideas. The architecture role emerged in the Oregon Experiment

to lend the project an air of conventionality and credibility, a compromise

that kept the project from achieving its goals.
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