christopher alexander

The End of The Environment

The problem I generally have with A Pattern Language may have to do with my Taurean, literal nature and with my penchant for asking why.

It is not as if most of A Pattern Language isn’t vastly preferable to what we have, especially if we take in the entire world. But I also have a persistent image in my mind of a future that is very different from that premised by Christopher Alexander and his colleagues in A Pattern Language. And possibly that may stem from a philosophy that is a trifle less inclined to imagine eternal patterns and fixed archetypes.

Any way I feel I have a different image of, or idea about, the future.

My premises include:

Air will eventually become too noxious in heavily populated areas to make life itself endurable.

The costs of transportation, in the entirely unacceptable oil-automobile economy we now have, will become unbearable, presaging a shift as quick as our recent move from one to two-income families.

The most permanent tactile environment will more and more become “one’s own room” as opposed to one’s car or one’s office. Therefore the fittings and character of one’s own room will increase in importance as people are more and more confined and less and less auto-mobile, to parse a term.

The desire for urban, for too many reasons to mention, will not recede. We will have no move back to rural. Therefore people will accept proximity as they do now, living in apartments at close quarters. Only we will change the mode some.

The current infrastructure is simply too dispersed to operate without cars and other relatively useless forms of transportation. The new declension will not require the ownership and frequent use of automobiles or, indeed, commuting of any sort.

All this means reconfiguring the terms and structures of common life.

Two of the terms that come to mind as I attempt to envision what I semi-see are pueblos — to suggest smallish, interestingly stacked dwelling units — and arks.

Pueblos suggest to me the need for closeness without the horrendous uniformity of projects — of which Robert Taylor Homes in Chicago and some of the desperately impersonal banks of apartment buildings across the Potomac from Washington, DC are egregious examples. Arks suggest to me the gathering of many in a discreet, enclosed space which can float freely and even end up on land.

The scrambling of society that needs to be achieved to arrive at a truly workable solution is immense.

Let us suppose for example that between 5000 and 10,000 would inhabit an ark. I am of course premising something larger than Noah’s craft. We would need stacks of pueblos amounting to perhaps 10,000-20,000. I am assuming that these arks would be lego-like. That is to say their bare-bones units would be like the pieces in Lego and that various conformations — an infinite variety in fact — could emerge.



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