The Nature of Order

Summary of Book Two:


Scientifically, this is perhaps the most exciting of the four books. How do beautiful creations come into being? Nature can make an infinite number of human faces, each one unique, each one beautiful. The same is true for daffodils, streams, and stars. But man-made creations - especially the towns and buildings of the 20th century - have only occasionally been really good, and more often mediocre. In the last 50 years they have most often been deadly.

What is the reason for the difference? It hinges on the deep nature of the processes we use.

Merely understanding the geometry of beautiful and living form (the topic of Book 1) is not enough to help us create such a living geometry. In the 20th century, our society was locked into deadly processes which created our current built environment -- processes that most people were not really aware of and did not question. Despite their best efforts and intentions, architects and planners working within these processes, could not achieve a living built environment.

Life and beauty in the built world arise only from processes which allow living structure to unfold. The secret lies in knowing, as nature does, what must happen in what order: what sequence of events allows a living form to unfold successfully.

Here, in Book 2, Alexander puts forward a fully developed theory of living process. He defines conditions for a process to be living: that is, capable of generating living structure. He shows how such processes work, and how they may be created. At the core of the new theory is the theory of structure-preserving transformations. This concept, new in scientific thinking, is based on the concept of wholeness defined in Book 1: A structure-preserving transformation is one which preserves, extends, and enhances the wholeness of a system.

Structure-preserving transformations provide the means for any step-by-step process - social, biological, architectural, or technical - to reach configurations which are most profound, most capable of supporting life. The process of creation - whether in the formation of a single object, or in the piecemeal aggregation of a town - requires this sort of generative process, a careful and deliberate sequence of steps in which each step creates the context for the next one, and each next wholeness is derived from the previous wholeness.

Making changes in society, so that streets, buildings, rooms, gardens, towns may be generated by hundreds of such sequences, requires massive transformations. This book is the first blueprint of those transformations.


"His work has been fundamental—primal; it has turned conventional assumptions about architecture and its making on their head; and it has caused people to challenge not only their views about buildings, but also the ways they live and work in the world."
       Howard Davis, Ph.D., Prof. of Architecture, University of Oregon


Book 1:
The Phenomenon of Life

Book 3:
A Vision of a Living World

Book 2:
The Process of Creating Life

Book 4:
The Luminous Ground

About Christopher Alexander

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