The Timeless Way of Building

I’m reading The Timeless Way of Building by Christopher Alexander. It’s excellent.

It’s a book about life and nature, disguised as a book about architecture and design. At times, it reads like poetry or religious scripture.

As I was reading the book, I realized that masters of their craft work with less information, not more. 

  • Painters focus on the essence of an object.

  • Investors focus on needle-moving variables.

Experts always surprise me. They consistently focus on 2-3 variables. But within those variables, they see layers of nuance and shades of complexity. They find the difference that makes the difference.

When you first study a subject, there are so many paths to explore. The possibilities seem infinite. But in the experts mind, there are a few variables, and each one is critical. 

Simple rules inspire excellence. For example, Turkish prayer rug designers say that wherever there are two areas of color, side by side, you should add a third color between them. When you do, you get a dance of color.

Likewise, in architecture, a big room should have daylight from at least two sides. 

If a room follows this rule, it will be pleasant to be in. That is why bay windows make a room so pleasant. 

When designing a home, make sure the south side faces outdoors.

The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. So naturally, in the Northern hemisphere, the north side is dark and dusky, while the south side is bright and luminous. The sun should make the south side welcoming and enjoyable.


Above all else, Alexander has a knack for explaining things you’ve always known but never had the words to describe.