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24 Search Results for "alexander"

Systems Changes: Learning from the Christopher Alexander Legacy (ST-ON, 2019/02/11)

One of the aims of the Systems Changes research program is to build on the pattern language approach.  This body of work stretches back into the 1960s, and has been cross-appropriated from built environments to software development (e.g. agile methods) and organizational change.  The February 2019 meeting of Systems Thinking Ontario was an opportunity to bring some people not familiar with the territory up to speed.

Here is the abstract for the talk:

The 1977 book, A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction is prominent in public library collections around the world. It represents, however, only one stage of the many works by Christopher Alexander, from his first book published in 1964, to his final book released in 2012. In addition multiple international conferences continue his legacy, in architecture and urban design (PUARL, for 10 years), in software development (PLoP, for 25 years), and in social change (PURPLSOC, for 5 years). Alexander was a builder of environment structure — an architect — and other communities have aspired to adopt the approach that he championed.

This Systems Thinking Ontario session will review pattern languages in three parts:

  1. The Eishin School project (1985, published as a book in 2012);
  2. Multi-Service Centers (1968); and
  3. Beyond Built Environments, cross-appropriating the approach from architecture to other domains.

The pursuit of “systems generating systems” at the foundation of Christopher Alexander’s pattern language has generally not been appreciated, and deserves a deeper inquiry.

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Christopher Alexander, Horst Rittel, C. West Churchman

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.

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Systems generating systems — architectural design theory by Christopher Alexander (1968)

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.

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Pattern language, form language, general systems theory, R-theory

One of the challenges with the development of pattern languages is the cross-appropriation of approaches of techniques from one domain (i.e. built physical environments) into others (e.g. software development, social change).

The distinction between pattern language and form language is made by Nikos Salingaros.

Design in architecture and urbanism is guided by two distinct complementary languages: a pattern language, and a form language.

The pattern language contains rules for how human beings interact with built forms — a pattern language codifies practical solutions developed over millennia, which are appropriate to local customs, society, and climate.

A form language, on the other hand, consists of geometrical rules for putting matter together. It is visual and tectonic, traditionally arising from available materials and their human uses rather than from images. Different form languages correspond to different architectural traditions, or styles. The problem is that not all form languages are adaptive to human sensibilities. Those that are not adaptive can never connect to a pattern language. Every adaptive design method combines a pattern language with a viable form language, otherwise it inevitably creates alien environments.  [Salingaros, 2014]

The focus on form is apparent in the title of Notes on the Synthesis of Form [Alexander, 1964].  Form has geometry, that brings up the idea of “life” in The Nature of Order.

Chapter Five:  Fifteen Fundamental Properties

I have introduced the idea of life as something which may occur in any spatial system, and suggested that a degree of life which appears in a thing depends on the life its component centers and their density. 

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Ecology and Economy: Systems Changes Ahead?

Following the workshop at 2019 CANSEE Conference, cohosted with David L. Hawk, we were invited to contribute an article to a special issue of WEI Magazine.  Here’s the abstract for the workshop in May:

Systems Changes, Environmental Deterioration

This dialogue-oriented workshop will be framed by two short position papers (< 30 minutes each) towards energizing a discussion on the prospects for systems thinking and ecological economics.

(1) Systems Changes research program

Shifting the emphasis from stable states to a fluid world, what patterns describe shifts due to (i) human will, and (ii) nature? The Systems Changes program aims to extend research from the 1970s (e.g. West Churchman systems approach; Horst Rittel wicked problems; Christopher Alexander pattern language; Eric Trist and Cal Pava action learning) with 21st century advances (e.g. holons and hierarchy theory; resilience science; ecological anthropology; open sourcing).

(2) Environmental Deterioration: What have we learned about systems change(s) over the past 50 years?

Since the 1960s, nations have enacted regulations towards environment issues, sustainability of resources and stewardship of the environment: USA EPA (1969); Canadian EPA (1988/1999); EU Treaty of Maastricht (1993). Yet in 2009, the Stockholm Resilience Centre declared that human activity has exceeded two thresholds of nine planetary boundaries. Is it too late for the human race to act, or even to try? The 1979 Ph.D. dissertation on “Regulation of Environmental Deterioration” from the University of Pennsylvania will be considered retrospectively.

(3) Dialectic: Group Discussion

In an open group discussion, in what ways might a shift from “systems thinking” towards “systems changes” make a difference (or not)?

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Services methods in a process framework

From the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s, methods for organizing for service engagements at scale were developed at IBM. Although this investment in knowledge management was huge, changes in the organization by the late-2000s saw this rich body of intellectual capital practically disappear.  Appreciation for the framework remains in the memories of practitioners in the IBM Global Services organization — particularly the methodologists — immersed during that period. Some foundational historical artifacts can be rediscovered on the open Internet:

  • 1. Configurable Development Processes (2002)
  • 2. Method Adoption Workshops (2000)
  • 3. Eclipse Process Framework Composer (2007)

The resemblance to pattern language, as prescribed by Christoper Alexander, is not accidental. Excerpts from these three sources are provided here, to entice readers who might seek out the full articles.

1. Configurable Development Processes (2002)

The Work Product based methods started in IBM at the rise of object-oriented methods. With OO as a new paradigm, incompatibilities across the variety of approaches frustrated clients trying to get work done.  The end results seemed pretty much the same. The resolution for IBM came through centering on ends (work products) first, and means (techniques) second. The methods originating in software development became cross-appropriated into services engagement for other domain offerings (e.g. business strategy, organizational change).

Here’s an excerpt that shows the centrality of Work Product Descriptions (WPDs) from:

Work products cover the full range of project work including project management, business process design, organizational change, requirements, usability, architecture, design, construction, and testing.

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