At U.C. Berkeley in the 1960s, Christopher Alexander, Horst Rittel and C. West Churchman could have had lunch together. While disciplinary thinking might lead novices to focus only on each of pattern language, wicked problems and the systems approach, there are ties (as well as domain-specific distinctions) between the schools.
West Churchman joined Berkeley in 1957, and initiated master’s and doctoral programs in operations research at the School of Business Administration. From 1964 to 1970, Churchman was associate director and research philosopher at UC Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory, directing its social sciences program. After his retirement in 1981, Churchman taught in the Peace and Conflict Studies program for 13 years.
Horst Rittel came to the Berkeley College of Environmental Design in 1963, the same year that dean William Wurster recruited Christopher Alexander. In 1973, Rittel split his time between Berkeley and the architecture faculty at the University of Stuttgart, where he founded the Institut für Grundlagen der Planung.
Christopher Alexander became a cofounder of the Center for Environmental Structure at Berkeley in 1967, gradually moving outside of the university by 2000.
The tie between Churchman and Rittel are well-documented, in a 1967 article in Management Science.
Professor Horst Rittel of the University of California Architecture Department has suggested in a recent seminar that the term “wicked problem” refer to that class of social system problems which are ill-formulated, where the information is confusing, where there are many clients and decision makers with conflicting values, and where the ramifications in the whole system are thoroughly confusing. The adjective “wicked” is supposed the describe the mischievous and even evil quality of these problems, where proposed “solutions” often turn out to be worse than the symptoms. [p. B-141]
daviding October 14th, 2017
At the PUARL Conference 2016, a proposal was made on adapting pattern language for service systems thinking. In 1967, Christopher Alexander published Pattern Manual at the founding of the Center for Environmental Structure, describing a pattern format for physical built environments. While we can learn a lot from the nearly 50 years work originating at the CES, service systems have features beyond physicality that suggest reconsidering some of the foundations of pattern language.
An article for discussion was accepted into the proceedings for the PUARL conference. The 20-minute presentation quickly covered the following topics:
Slides have been added over the audio recording to produce a video presentation.
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daviding November 17th, 2016
The pattern language community — followers of Christopher Alexander’s approach — is distributed globally. I participated in PLoP 2014 at Allerton Park, Illinois last September, and then attended AsianPLoP 2015 in Tokyo last March. I had been eyeing the PUARL (Portland Urban Architecture Research Laboratory) conference for fall 2015, but then heard that the event was being incorporated into Purplsoc for 2015. I originally couldn’t justify a trip to Europe for the Purplsoc (Pursuit of Pattern Language for Societal Change) 2015 conference, but then its timing turned out to be back-to-back with the ISIE conference. So, just 3 weeks before the conference, I booked a triangular routing to arrive just in time for the start on July 3, in Krems, Austria.
On the Friday, the program started with some plenary session keynotes:
Saturday morning started with a keynote.
The rest of Saturday morning had parallel streams. I was in the Pattern applications and practices session.
By Saturday afternoon, some of the parallel sessions were being juggled. I attended:
To close out Saturday, there was a plenary panel:
Sunday morning opened with a most impressive plenary keynote:
The Sunday parallel session on Pattern languages for societal change had one impromptu workshop set up, before the scheduled one.
daviding August 10th, 2015
Posted In: pattern language
Prior talks on Service Systems Thinking have focused on basics. For this year’s Symposium on Service Systems Science at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, I decided to step up the emphasis in a short presentation on some selected ideas:
From the 8 practices employed by Christopher Alexander on the 1985 Eishin project, I focused on one:
These ideas are at the core of how systems thinking is intertwined with service science, and pattern languages. Jim Kijima and Hiroshi Deguchi arranged for a videographer this year, so there’s a record of the presentation.
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The video is available on Youtube, or downloadable as audio or video.
daviding July 1st, 2015
The systems thinking roots from architect Christopher Alexander aren’t completely obvious in his work on pattern language. A republished version of an 1968 article resurfaces some clarification on a perspective on systems thinking originating from practices in architecture. This article introduced ways in which systems thinking could be most directly applied to built environments. The cross-appropriation of pattern languages across a variety of domain types — object-oriented programmers were the earliest motivating adopters — could be enlightened by revisiting the foundations. Alexander concisely presented 4 points, and then provided detailed reasoning for each:
1. There are two ideas hidden in the word system: the idea of a system as a whole and the idea of a generating system.
2. A system as a whole is not an object but a way of looking at an object. It focuses on some holistic property which can only be understood as a product of interaction among parts.
3. A generating system is not a view of a single thing. It is a kit of parts, with rules about the way these parts may be combined.
4. Almost every ‘system as a whole’ is generated by a ‘generating system’. If we wish to make things which function as ‘wholes’ we shall have to invent generating systems to create them. [Alexander 2011, p. 59; Alexander 1968, p. 605]
In a properly functioning building, the building and the people in it together form a whole: a social, human whole. The building systems which have so far been created do not in this sense generate wholes at all. [Alexander 2011, p. 58; Alexander 1968, p. 605]
Let’s leave analytical explications of the original 1968 text as secondary, to first appreciate the idea of “systems generating systems” through sensemaking done some decades after 1968, and in the broader context of Alexander’s other writings and interviews.
Molly Wright Steenson, as part of her 2014 dissertation, has a 66-page digest of Alexander’s work between 1962 and 1968. Her deep reading was reflected in a 2009 recorded presentation on “Loving and Hating Christopher Alexander“. Generally speaking, interaction designers love Christopher Alexander’s approach, while architects hate Christopher Alexander’s approach.
Amongst the lovers and haters of Christopher Alexander is a predisposition towards interaction compatible with systems thinking. For built environments, architecture can be described through a language of patterns, where those patterns may or may not be generative. In her 2014 dissertation, Steenson fleshes out Alexander’s 1968 “Systems Generating Systems” with the broader context of the 1979 The Timeless Way of Building, and 1983 publication by Stephen Grabow of interviews with Alexander.
Alexander describes pattern languages as “generative,” referring to the quality of multiplicity, of a system that operates both as a whole and as a set of rules. A system, like a language, works on multiple levels. The system presents itself on the surface, he writes, when “we are confronted with an object which displays some kind of behaviour which can only be understood as a product of interaction among parts within the object. We call this kind of behaviour, holistic behaviour.”262 It also incorporates the rule set for the manipulation of the elements that it composes. This dualistic system is analogous to the functions of the pattern language. Just as a generating system is a kit of parts, “Each pattern is a rule which describes what you have to do to generate the entity which it defines.”263 [Steenson 2014, pp. 90-91]
262Christopher Alexander, “Systems Generating Systems,” AD 38(1968): 606.
263Alexander, The Timeless Way of Building, 182.
daviding April 10th, 2014