The Timeless Way of Building
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The Timeless Way of Building

4.28 of 5 stars 4.28  ·  rating details  ·  860 ratings  ·  67 reviews
The theory of architecture implicit in our world today, Christopher Alexander believes, is bankrupt. More and more people are aware that something is deeply wrong. Yet the power of present-day ideas is so great that many feel uncomfortable, even afraid, to say openly that they dislike what is happening, because they are afraid to seem foolish, afraid perhaps that they will...more
Hardcover, 552 pages
Published August 23rd 1979 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published December 12th 1978)
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I found this book both wonderful and a bit frightening. The book is not a literary masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but the images it paints in the mind are quite beautiful in its discussion of what we use to be and what we've lost. As a designer, I find Alexander's proposed solution a bit scary as it reject contemporary architecture practices almost completely, even after 40 years of publication. But the ideas behind that rejection, about architecture being a common language and d...more
Owen Brush
If I were to summarize this book in a single sentence, I would say that it applies taoist philosophy to architecture. However, that is not giving either this book or taoism the the attention they deserve.

The Timeless Way of Building describes a natural way of building. However, when I say this, I do not mean natural in terms of materials or aesthetics, or even neccisarily the methods of construction. But rather, in an aproach to design and building that creates living environments. The Timeless...more
Perhaps it should have been called 'Zen and the Art of Building'.... I hadn't come across this book before, although I think it may be required reading for architecture students. Having come from a design background myself I found it interesting.

It's long winded and often waxes lyrical, but the basic premise states that buildings are not for enhancing the egos of architects, but instead, they are for the people who use and live in them. So far, so good. Alexander also reveals how the patterns of...more
Howard Mansfield
May 26, 2013 Howard Mansfield rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Howard by:
The architect Christopher Alexander says that we can immediately feel when a place makes us feel more alive. “We become happy in the presence of deep wholeness,” he says. “When a building works, when the world enters the blissful state which makes us fully comfortable, the space itself awakens. We awaken. The garden awakens. The windows awaken. We and our plants and animals and fellow creatures and the walls and light together wake.”
In his masterful, poetic book, The Timeless Way of Building,...more
One of my all-time favorite philosophy books. It has lots and lots of picturs and the unusual feature of a fast-track design that allows people to skim the book in a day. I read the whole book and it made me cry and changed the way I look at everything.
Jay McNair
The pictures in this book, the prose style, everything works together to contribute a sense toward the timelessness that he talks about, the "quality without a name"... it's a very Zen book, or perhaps Daoist actually, and in many ways it comes across as a philosophy of life, not just a philosophy of building. Which I like--connections between things.

The companion volume is A Pattern Language, which has all the juicy details of how to build things better.

I took almost a hundred pictures with my...more
Alexander's books are as much about community--what it is, what it might be in other times and places, what it could be--as they are about architecture. Here's one of my favorite passages from The Timeless Way of Building:

"There is a central quality which is the root criterion of life and spirit of [a person:], a town, a building, or a wilderness. This quality is objective and precise, but it cannot be named.

The search which we make for this quality, in our own lives, is the central search of a...more
I would give this book 6 stars if possible. Christopher Alexander's approach to architecture is so natural and comforting. I don't doubt that the world would be very different if everyone fully embraced his approach, especially since, as he argues, it's the same approach that had been used for thousands of years until the past few decades. But the thing that I liked so much about this book is that his approach is broad enough to apply to other areas of life instead of just architecture. He is co...more
Ash Moran
This book is essential reading for anyone involved in making things for use by other human beings. Part Taoist philosophy of architecture, part systems thinking for the way people and the spaces they inhabit interact, it explains why some places are vibrant and alive, others decaying and dying. It's impossible to look at buildings and towns the same way after reading this.

Alexander's Design Patterns give a way to capture the knowledge about how parts of a system (building, town) take their place...more
Howard Freeman
This book and its companion volumes changed the way my wife went about design and architecture. For as long as I have known her (17 years), she has created spaces that make you "feel" a certain way when you're in them. This way you feel can be elicited only when the spaces created have the "quality without a name." This quality is achieved only when the designer is egoless.

Some practical people who disdain thinking too long about any one thing might find this book frustrating. Yet, as Alexander...more
Stephan Renkens
The Timeless Way of Building got a recommendation in an IT book. In Head First Design Patterns the Freemans tell that the concept of Design Patterns was not coming from the Gang of Four or even the IT world. It stemmed from architecture. This rose my interest. To be honest, in the book of Christopher Alexander I found only weak links between the design patterns of city building and architecture on the on hand, and the concept with the same name from the IT world. Both can be seen as building blo...more
Scott Ford
This is a very important book for me. I read it regularly. Design and structure, and the development of systems that are alive. Great stuff!
Matt Staff
an inspiring book, honestly though. And i hate using the word inspiring to describe a book because oftentimes everyone is so full of such different opinions its hard to apply such a vague word to a book that will surely resonate differently with such different people; BUT this book is different than a standard book. It's obviously meant for those people with an interest in architecture, myself personally I study political science and can say I've never even thought twice about pursuing a career...more
After seeing this book in Charette's windows and carried by architecture students in the 70s, I always assumed this and v.2 "Pattern Language" were classics. "Most important book on architectural design...this century" says the back cover.. However, what a shock to find after 450 pages that Berkeley Professor Emeritus, Christopher Alexander’s “timeless way” was to put sticks (and later pillars) in the ground to mark out the building, and then pour concrete between pillars to make a wall. No cons...more
Amabel D'avignon
I am delighted by this book and will seek out the others in the series - as much psychology and philosophy as architecture, and the most sensible look at human factors in design I've read in years. I especially liked the way he quietly took on the idea that designers and architects always know more than you do about layout and comfort, color and size. He explains why some rooms feel good even though they're messy, and others don't even though they are "picture perfect."
Nov 17, 2007 Mary rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: People dissatisfied with what architects do to us now
I've revered this book for several years and swooned over the photographs.
yet could never read very far into it before I gave up. But I finally gave it a
serious try, skipped over the awkward terminology, said "OK, lead on," and the
author did. The photos he chose do tell the story, but not the whole story as
you can get it all by slowing to his pace, listening, and pausing often for your
own side-trips. To the vacant lot where at 6 or 7 you outlined rooms with rocks.
To the tent made by throwing a...more
If you want inspiration, want guidance on how to move from a nihilist perspective on life into a place of positive statements, this book may lead you there. -- I know, I know it's about architecture and building, but really, if you just let go of those hard boundaries you have set up in your head, you may find that this book gives you spiritual guidance on how to live and be, how to make life and become more yourself. You may find that as you read this you discover energy to make a meal, sew a q...more
Max Galkin
Awesome. Thought-provoking. Timeless.

I got interested in this book after attending a software development patterns training, which refered to it as a source of the concept of design patterns. Though the book itself has nothing to do with software development it goes so deep into architectural patterns analysis and pattern language for architects that it can be applied universally across many disciplines.

But even usefulness of patterns aside, Christopher Alexander's vision of the future buildings...more
This is definitely a weird book, especially coming to it as a software engineer. This book was the inspiration for the software engineering classic "Design Patterns", and it's interesting considering Alexander's points in light of what it means for building software. Some analogies just break down completely, some fit quite nicely, and some fall somewhere in between and are intriguing to contemplate. The book itself is much more hand-wavy than I expected, but still written as if the ideas expoun...more
Elizabeth  Fuller
This is a wonderful book on architecture which doesn't concentrate on technical details or specific styles, but instead on a more organic, holistic approach to building - not in the currently popular "green" sense, but in the sense that buildings are best when they grow from the way people use them. The basic philosophy is based on patterns of use, and patterns that define parts of buildings, as the basic elements of architecture. It also talks about how patterns, once identified, can form a who...more
Goldie Katsu
The book that came before "A Pattern Language", which inspired design patterns within computer science. It is a brilliantly written book - you can read it two ways. Also very thought provoking about patterns in nature and how they reinforce or push away activities, life, and vibrancy. (Also got here from the Book of Lenses).

The discussion of space patterns and how the design of a space influences what occurs in that space is fascinating, and if you plan to create a world based game there are cer...more
A step-by-step look at how we can create buildings, spaces and towns that are more alive. My favorite sections were at the beginning of the book where Alexander was more philosophical: his definition of the "aliveness" of a space and of what characteristics of buildings engender that feeling. The philosophical asides throughout the book were great and applicable to much more than just building. The least interesting parts were where he got very concrete - I wonder if that means I won't enjoy the...more
ranjit mathoda
This book could be made far more concise. It lays out an argument similar to that posed in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, that quality (in this case in architecture) is recognized when seen. It argues there are patterns that provide quality. While this book lays out some ideas as to what these patterns may be, they are apparently described in greater detail in a second larger volume. Therefore it's hard to evaluate this book without reading the other.
Scott Stirling
Light on science. High on observation and systematizing a philosophy and hypothesis about deriving patterns from nature and imagination to solve recurring problems, documenting the patterns and their uses, etc with examples. Verging on poetic or mystical at times. Not what I expected coming at this architecture book based on its reputation as influence for the famous Gang of Four patterns book that everyone knows in the programming world.
Oct 01, 2007 Robert rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone
Poetic from beginning to end, this book was and remains a challenging, brave volume of architecture theory. If you are interested in a more rigorous treatment of this revolutionary architectural thought, The Nature of Order is Alexander's follow-up treatise after 30 years of work and study -- a nonconventional but ultimately scientific investigation of how matter comes together in our universe.
This book is an amazing, Tao of Building. The beginning was a little esoteric, but sticking with it helped his later explanations of the pattern language. His amazing ability to observe patterns over many situations opened up a whole new way for me to look at places. His sense of how a place can develop organically is one I hope to incorporate into my house as we transform it.
Aug 30, 2007 Andy rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone.
Shelves: patterns
While it is steeped in a bit of 70s mysticism, the core of the book which describes how building can be broken down into patterns and that the best patterns take into account the behavioral patterns that take place in a space is fascinating. This book has improved my own thinking about spacial relationships and given me a new method for examining structures from window places to cities.
This book is really a combination of philosophy and aphorisms put together.

Each of the bites can be interesting and thought provoking, but the style is disjointed which made the reading a bit more difficult for me.

While I am not an architect I have a background in design (theatrical and gaming) and will be curious how this may effect me as I go on.
Michael Weaver
This book describes all the elements and intricacies and pattern languages of structures, neighborhoods, cities, etc. Alexander does a great job showing the synchronization and balance between complexity theory, architectural and city-planning theory, and spiritual harmony by bringing existing conflicting forces into a peaceful equilibrium.
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