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The Timeless Way of Building

4.33  ·  Rating details ·  1,741 ratings  ·  121 reviews
In The Timeless Way of Building Christopher Alexander presents a new theory of architecture, building, and planning which has at its core that age-old process by which the people of a society have always pulled the order of their world from their own being.

He writes, “There is one timeless way of building. It is thousands of years old, and the same today as it has alwa
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Hardcover, 552 pages
Published August 23rd 1979 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published December 12th 1978)
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Robert
Nov 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: architecture
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
Eric
Apr 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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.
David Schaafsma
Aug 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
My friend and poet Jen urged me to read this, telling me it is one of her favorite and most influential books. It was written over fourteen years in the sixties and seventies, published in 1979, and has the feel of a "back to the garden" romanticism. That sounds like I am dismissive of it, which isn't true. It just feels like what he said then is almost hopelessly truer today. Other books like it include Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig, or Seeing Like a State by James ...more
Liz
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
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عهد Aahd
Nov 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
WARNING- short excerpt will follow.
Why is it that a book about building makes me cry every time I re-read it? This isn't a book about building. It's an ode to beauty and humility that speaks to the soul rather than the mind, and those two combined are just the healing my heart needs and forgets to get in the midst of the rational technicality of architectural and planning thought. I'm immensely grateful I studied architecture because I met pr. Alexander's books, and this one in particular.
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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
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Alex Lee
May 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015, philosophy
In this thoughtful book, Chris Alexander takes an approach to architecture that understands it through the filter of human (and non-human) agency. He understands that the most useful buildings are ones that are created by the maximization of agency of the people involved, with the utilization of language based patterns that we inhabit to organize our behavior. He writes this book almost as if talking in a dream. Reading this book is a visceral experience of stepping into the a shower.

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Stephan Renkens
Jan 12, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: reviewed
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 blocs, if you look at it from a stat ...more
Greenmtngirl
Aug 26, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
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Owen Brush
Dec 21, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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. T
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Howard Mansfield
May 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Howard by: howard@howardmansfield.com
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,
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Eric
Dec 29, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: best-evers
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
Matt
Mar 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Austrian-British architect Christopher Alexander wrote The Timeless Way of Building nearly forty years ago, but in some ways it seems as timeless as the buildings it describes and illustrates. It reads as an extended meditation on the proper purposes and methods of architecture, but Alexander would likely baulk at such an explanation. What he purports to give us is a ‘way’, a ‘gate’ – a ‘language’ of architectural patterns that can be used by anyone to re-enrich our lived spaces; and this ‘way’ works by ...more
Talbot Hook
Oct 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
The Timeless Way of Building is a challenging book on many levels. It is intellectually challenging, as it is bound not by strict logic, but also by intuition and observation; it is personally challenging, as it encourages us to shrug off our methodologies and systems in favor of a quality of architecture and design that is ultimately unnameable; it is economically challenging, because it calls into question the very existence of specialist jobs in urban planning and city design; and it is socially chal ...more
Jay McNair
Sep 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: great-nonfiction
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 h
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Kathryn
Sep 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorite-books
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
Howard Freeman
Jul 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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, a
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Scott Ford
Jan 31, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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!
David Jacobson
Mar 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Why does a modern office building or tract house feel dead and sterile, while an old, decrepit barn feels viscerally alive? This is the question the author answers in this book, in the course of laying out a process—the “timeless way of building"—for making living structures. It is one of the most thought-provoking books I have ever read.

The author makes two central points about architecture. The first is that there is a "quality without a name” that describes whether a building or t
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Brandon Dang
May 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
Like I said, read A Pattern Language at the same time as or before this book. Overall Alexander’s ideas strike the right balance between generalizable and realized through specific examples.

I think he criticizes what he considers modernism too much (and actually name attacks my favorite, Alvar Aalto), but he simply chose that group to pit his ideas against, which helps make his narrative clearer. But I think architecture, like art, is subjective, and in my opinion, Alexander’s vision of human s
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Marvin Mcconoughey
Oct 19, 2019 rated it liked it
I was instantly enamoured by this book when I bought it many years ago. We, my wife and I, seemed the perfect persons to apply the many concepts provided. We were building a new house, we were doing it ourselves, and we had no commitment to conventional design. Alas, the book proved of little value. It was not for lack of ideas. There are many, and eloquently presented. Rather, it was that they did not all, or even most, mesh well in a modern house, however open to innovation. Our house does inc ...more
Mash
Feb 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a great book and enjoyed it immensely. The writing is not tight but almost poetic. It talks about the art of building as a language of patterns that “feel” right once we let go of our ego and look at building purely from the point of view of the needs that it’s trying to address and forces it is trying to resolve. I liked the idea of living and dead building because the later fail to resolve these conflicting forces. That truly alive buildings are generated through the patterns language ...more
Matt
Aug 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book could just as easily make its way into a philosophy class as an architecture class.

I think part of his theory on building is impractical with - especially for people with limited funds - but his overall message is great: stop relying on “experts” to tell you how to do everything. You know what looks and feels good on a building. Simply take the time to notice what it is that gives creates that quality of goodness and then give it a name.

This is what he calls a pattern lang
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Jindřich Mynarz
May 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
Don't be put off by your alarm for esoterica. It will be buzzing you a lot from the beginning. The language of the book is abstract at times, but systematic as a whole. Things start to make more sense as you progress.

I chose to read the book because it is revered in some software engineering circles. While the book contains no mention of programming, many of its lessons can be transposed into the practices of building software. I think its central lesson is in building your language
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Derrick Connell
Dec 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
this is a fascinating book. I love it. I thought it would be a book that describes how to make buildings, but in reality it is a book that describes a thesis on how to make beautiful things that are natural and reflect the people who use them. I recommend this book as it presents a novel viewpoint which can be applied to the work we do here on building services. We need natural and appealing services that work for people. Learning in this area is always valuable. Would love to hear what others t ...more
Howard
Mar 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book, from 1979, is an absolute gem that I found accidentally, following a trail from a podcast interview about I-forget-what, looking for I-don't-remember. If you, like me, are enamored of knowing how things work, this will light you up. Architecture as philosophy? Maybe. Architecture as cultural evolution? Definitely. Almost Zen in its approach, the Timeless Way is parallel to paths we never see, but perceive as we move through cities, farms, towns. You can also infer why suburbia feels s ...more
Rex Bradshaw
I am not a builder, nor am I likely to be in a position to build anything in the foreseeable future. But I found this book exciting and deeply rewarding. It is simple and practical despite its length and lyricism; the core of the book is conveyed as much by its form as its content. Occasionally Alexander makes an amusingly grandiose claim about his art, but he is earnest, and it does no harm. This is one of those books that has the potential to change a life.
Ricky
Jan 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I first wrote this off as way too wishy-washy, but when I began designing my house I'm glad I gave it another go. It's an architecture book that doesn't provide any strict rules or guidelines, nor does it even describe any styles. It teaches you how to think about designing around patterns in life - how to recognize them and how to capture them in designs so everything just feels right. But it's also one of those books that goes well beyond its main subject and makes you think about life.
David Hariri
May 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Alexander makes great points, but the takeaways for a designer (rather than an architect) could have been condensed to a few pages. In other words, I would read a summary or coles notes on this book rather than the whole thing if I could do it again. Alexander's writing is particularly verbose (although he does encourage skimming in a novel structural style).
Bren
Aug 12, 2019 rated it did not like it
Recommended to Bren by: Eleanor Saitta
Shelves: book, nonfiction
I give up. The last time I touched this book was October 23, 2017, when I was on page 100 and wrote:

I know it was very influential in architecture, but it is steeped in racism & colonialism, and woo woo to boot. I am having trouble getting through it.

It is now August 12, 2019, and I'm clearly not going to finish it, so I may as well rate it & be done with it.
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“Within this process, every individual act of building is a process in which space gets differentiated. It is not a process of addition, in which preformed parts are combined to create a whole, but a process of unfolding, like the evolution of an embryo, in which the whole precedes the parts, and actually gives birth to them, by splitting.” 8 likes
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