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It is better
to not be on
the web than
to be on and
not know why

John Sumser

is more
it seems.
John Gall


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Weekend Reading

(July 23, 2004)
The Timeless Way Of Building

Christopher Alexander
Oxford Books, 1979
ISBN 0-19-502402-9

Often called "the most important book on Architecture in the 20th Century," The Timeless Way of Building may be better known as the source of the idea of patterns in software development. That a single work could have such profound influence in diverse settings is a solid component of our motives in presenting it as a book club selection. Alexander suggests and illuminates the idea that management is too divorced from the processes it oversees. He clearly articulates a rich perspective on quality and the requirement for "dirt under the fingernails" as a component of service and product delivery.

Designed for increasingly deep study, The Timeless Way can be absorbed in a couple of hours (by reading the headlines in each chapter) or perused slowly for a more profound experience. In other words, Alexander demonstrates his commitment to the ideas he espouses by delivering a book that is designed to "grow on you." Put it on your nightstand for the next month or so and savor it.

The most important element of the work is idea of the quality without a name. The phrase evokes a sense of spiritual reverence?something deep within the core of one's being, which just feels right. The pages of the book are imbued with it?the crisp, thin leaves and the choice of type-face somehow express it?they were, in fact, deliberately chosen. Alexander does his best to describe this quality in many ways, but without pinning it down. He uses words such as alive, whole, comfortable, free, exact, egoless, eternal yet is all and none of those. Alexander describes the relationship of this Quality to the process of designing places and buildings that we can be really comfortable using. Modern architectural and managerial styles take no account of many of our basic human needs.

Astonishingly, this 30-year old treatise on Architecture suggests a better treatment for building and the development of buildings into towns than we currently offer employees and the development of employees that composes our organizations.

No building is ever perfect. Each Building, when it is first built, is an attempt to make a self-maintaining whole configuration. But our predictions are invariably wrong. People use buildings differently from the way they thought they would. And, the larger the pieces become, the more serious this is. The process of design, in the mind's eye or on the site, is an attempt to simulate in advance, the feeling and events which will emerge in the real building, and to create a configuration which is in repose to these events. But, the prediction is all guesswork; the real events that happen there are always at least slightly different; and the larger the building is, the more likely the guesses are to be inaccurate.

Deliciously packed with useful metaphors for planning, strategy, business development, and the shared communications processes on which businesses are built, The Timeless Way should provide you a large supply of insight and inspiration. We are certain it will earn a place of respect in your library.

- John Sumser, © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.

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Materials written by John Sumser © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.
Mill Valley, CA 94941

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