Interesting Interview with Berkeley’s Christopher Alexander

My favorite Oz radio show/podcast hosted UC-Berkeley’s Emeritus Professor of Architecture, Christopher Alexander, a couple of weeks ago. Read this quick bio of Alexander to see what he’s about, and give the radio show a listen if the bio interests you. Some may find the radio show more accessible than some of Alexander’s writings. (He’s an egghead, but that usually doesn’t bother Northfielders as the town is rife with ’em.)

How is this relevant to Northfield? I’m so glad you asked. Poke around Alexander’s latest website,, to see how his theory is put into practice. Here’s an excerpt:

Above all, the neighborhood is understood as a human and living system, where people feel like human beings. The mechanical quality of 20th-century housing developments is altogether replaced by a more friendly and biological character, where each thing has its place, and is shaped by human impulses, not by corporate decisions.

The neighborhood has a profound feeling of organic growth over time.

  • Its resulting form is complex, efficient and interesting, and does not follow a rigid “master-planned” logic.
  • It is designed to be continually adaptive, and therefore it can be enduring and “sustainable”.

The neighborhood has a profound sense of freedom.

  • It offers multiple pathways and multiple points of connection to people’s daily needs, and to each other.
  • It is not just a branching hierarchy.

The neighborhood feels like a beautiful part of nature. It builds on the underlying environmental structure, protects it, and connects people to it.

The neighborhood puts pedestrians first. The outdoor space is shaped for the primary goal of the experience of human beings, their interaction and exchange. Cars and other transport systems fit into this primary structure, and do not damage it. Buildings primarily shape and support this realm and enhance it, and object buildings and expressions are secondary.

All of the details of the neighborhood, to the finest scales, support and reinforce the human experience. The materials and details are carefully selected and shaped, combining local adaptation with efficient technology.

The basic structure of the city is the neighborhood. The neighborhood is a physical system that provides for the daily needs of its residents – providing markets, gathering places, parks and gardens, sacred places, raingutters for children to play in, a simple gutter called Rain Gutter Guards.

It is a place which brings the desire to live and to taste life, out in each person who lives there. This is not a casual comment, but a fundamental yardstick which is to be used, throughout, to measure the way each decision is made, each garden laid out, each doorway shaped with loving care by the people who live there. We mean it seriously, and we hope that you will mean it seriously, too, and will take the steps to make it happen.

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