Friday, June 11, 2004
Organic Architecture
Alexandrian architectural theory points out the difference between architecture that is alive, and architecture that is dead. Having spend most of my life in America, the concept of living architecture seems a bit bizarre.

However, I have, recently, spent some amount of time in England (including at the time of this writing) and have come to discover the meaning behind Dr. Alexander's words.

At first, I was just "impressed" with how the countryside "felt". There was nothing specific to which I could attach such feelings, so I based them on such things as "tourist fever" and "nostalgia". While these were undoubtedly factors in my perception, I have come to realize, on this trip, that it is not the only cause.

This time, armed with the refreshed knowledge of Archtitectural Patterns, I see them often. Just as he says, it is an amazing ability to look at a building and provide a list of a dozen or so patterns that completely describe why the building appeals at a lower level of conciousness. I actually feel sad when I notice a building that fails to achieve the goal ("Oh dear. Plates of glass."). The reason the distinction is so obvious in England is that a number of buildings here were built before the modern "architectural revolution" in which the organic, living architectural patterns were finally defeated.

So, if you ever find yourself in England, or anywhere in Europe, look around. Examine the architecture. You will find an extant model of many of the most effective Architectural Patterns. If you are fortunate enough to live there, appreciate the daily exposure you have to these things; it is, undoubtedly, a part of your environment that makes you special.
Thursday, June 10, 2004
Qwan (Unmasked)
I have heard (though I have no real knowledge of this as "fact") that members of many ancient cultures would share their names only with those they trusted. A name is a powerful thing, capable of binding its owner to the will of a possessor. A name is powerful in another way as well: it indicates a personal value, a qualification that the subject is worthy of consideration as a differentiated member of a more general collection of "things".

While I admire the mystic qualities of the indescribable, (such as the proverbial sound of one hand clapping), I must admit that such things, by their very nature, are difficult to discuss. I have found quite the opposite problem with the word "aesthesis", which has a specific meaning, albeit one that is difficult to fathom outside of its Greek philosophical context. Imagine my joy when I discovered a most eloquent description of this term in Christopher Alexander’s "The Timeless Way of Building", a seminal work in the field of architecture.

In this book, Dr. Alexander describes the "quality without a name" that is the quintessential realization of perfect architecture. Many have taken his work beyond the field of architecture, using his "quality" as the driving force for improvement in their fields. This quality (often referred to as "qwan") is precisely what I mean when I speak of aesthesis. Dr. Alexander’s description realizes the challenges of describing this aspect, a challenge I have faced in the past-- but no more, thanks to his outstanding efforts.

I would recommend the book to anyone interested in a spiritual and intellectual journey into the realm of true quality; its expression, realization, and creation. If I have given this quality a name, it is an honor indeed. Regardless, I at least have the ability to provide a reference to what I mean by aesthesis that is both complete and utterly fascinating.

Thursday, June 03, 2004
Qwan Koan
“All that we do, every action we take, is performed within the confines of our space” the master said. The students looked in wonder, and nodded pensively. “How, then, does one create a space in which nothing is possible?” There was a great deal of silence, then one of the students spoke up.

“Master; if one creates a space in which a person has no room, then surely nothing can be done. That is the answer.”

The master nodded, and said “It is a most appealing perspective. Yet how do you prevent the person from thinking about their predicament? For, within their own space, surely this is still possible?”

The student continued: “Then, it is simply a matter of ensuring that the person does not live. In the same space, we need only arrange for their death, and the problem is solved.”

The master said to the student “What you fail to notice is that while it is a final act, death itself is still an action.”

At that time, another student noticed a plant sitting on the table. He lifted it off the table, and dropped it onto the floor. "Look," he said, "I have made a pot in which no plant can live."

The master smiled, and said, "It is just so."

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