Notes on the Synthesis of Form

by Christopher Alexander

Hardcover, 1968





Harvard University Press, 1968.


"These notes are about the process of design: the process of inventing things which display new physical order, organization, form, in response to function." This book, opening with these words, presents an entirely new theory of the process of design. In the first part of the book, Christopher Alexander discusses the process by which a form is adapted to the context of human needs and demands that has called it into being. He shows that such an adaptive process will be successful only if it proceeds piecemeal instead of all at once. It is for this reason that forms from traditional un-self-conscious cultures, molded not by designers but by the slow pattern of changes within tradition, are so beautifully organized and adapted. When the designer, in our own self-conscious culture, is called on to create a form that is adapted to its context he is unsuccessful, because the preconceived categories out of which he builds his picture of the problem do not correspond to the inherent components of the problem, and therefore lead only to the arbitrariness, willfulness, and lack of understanding which plague the design of modern buildings and modern cities. In the second part, Mr. Alexander presents a method by which the designer may bring his full creative imagination into play, and yet avoid the traps of irrelevant preconception. He shows that, whenever a problem is stated, it is possible to ignore existing concepts and to create new concepts, out of the structure of the problem itself, which do correspond correctly to what he calls the subsystems of the adaptive process. By treating each of these subsystems as a separate subproblem, the designer can translate the new concepts into form. The form, because of the process, will be well-adapted to its context, non-arbitrary, and correct. The mathematics underlying this method, based mainly on set theory, is fully developed in a long appendix. Another appendix demonstrates the application of the method to the design of an Indian village.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member ghd-read
I was recommended this book as a way of understanding where the idea of Design Patterns came from in software engineering and I have to admit that I was very sceptical that it would be any use, however this a book I would recommend to anyone, whatever their discipline who has any interest in what makes good design.

This is a fascinating book - which combines philosophy, psychology and architecture into one overall coherent view of what design is. The Amazon description makes it sound very highbrow and inaccessible, but Christopher Alexander writes so clearly, eloquently and with such passion for his subject that it is a very easy book to read.… (more)
LibraryThing member millsge
One of the rarest of books. Alexander's ideas transcend architecture and are applicable to almost any human endeavor - his concept of 'fit' and the mathematics behind it should be introduced during primary school and form an integral part of all curricula all the way up to the PhD level.


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