THE JULIAN STREET INN, SHELTER FOR THE HOMELESS, SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA, (with Gary Black, Eleni Coromvli), Concrete columns, open lacework trusses, hand made column capitals, hand painted tile exterior, tiles fountain with lions head, dormitories with individual sleeping alcoves, tile roofs, gardens and courtyards.

by Christopher Alexander (1990)

Beauty is a light-hearted, easy thing, that sits on cobwebs, a cushion on a chair, a single camellia blossom hanging in the mouth of a jam jar. A man sitting relaxed, hands on his knees. A fence running across a hilly terrain, moving and waving with the up slopes and down slopes. Beauty is this quality, multiplied, simplified, at rest. Beauty is rare, precious.

Real beauty comes from layered and overlapping wholes and living centers. Above all, it comes from the multiplication of these living centers. It is soft, gentle, something that quietly celebrates life, without showing off, supports being more than doing, gives more often than it takes. It is marked by gracefulness of essence, not by gracefulness of its exterior. The multiplication which occurs in beauty, is a multiplication of possibility. It is not a shell which keeps you distant, but something which pulls you in, and makes you free -- encourages and allows you to be yourself, and to be free.

That multiplication, when it occurs, supports other forms of life, supports our lives, and appears, physically, in its gentleness.

We can repair the beauty structure on our Earth, only if we understand it.

The beauty structure is inherent in geometry. But once again, the "geometry" is not what it seems. When people speak about geometry, today, they are referring, most of the time, to very simple structures: rectangles, circles, straight lines, simple curves. These elementary forms, learned by every school boy and girl in elementary mathematics classes. Most of the buildings, roads, and neighborhood layouts of the 20th century era, were based on this sort of geometry.

Beauty structure is not likely to appear in a world of these kinds of forms. The geometry of nature, the geometry of complex adaptive systems, and the geometry which must inevitably be present, in any part of living Earth, is an adaptive structure of wholes and centers, being gently fitted to one another.

Even fractal geometry, sometimes put forward as an antidote to rigid geometry, is not the geometry of living structure. It does slightly resemble living structure, because of the multiplicity of scales that are inherent in it. But a fractal design, is made by following a rule endlessly. Living structure comes about by a process which is adapting constantly; each part is different, not because of the rule that forms it, but because the surroundings of each act, each whole, each center, is different every time. The living structure plays with this variation, and, by adapting to it, makes something perfect, even while in another sense, it is imperfect, and filled with imperfections.

Christopher Alexander, 2008, unpublished


Dan Klyn