on 28 July 1999
If, after reading Christopher Alexander's earlier books, you were wondering if he ever actually built a house in the real world, here's your answer. Yes, he did. Yes, the people owning the houses love the results. Yes, they feel the special connection with their homes that is the hallmark of Alexander's ideas. No, the powers that be, who agreed to temporarily suspend building codes for his project, were not happy with the results. Why? Because they look funny, and because he built five homes instead of five hundred. Well, if they'd read his other books, they would not have been surprised. Our intrepid hero is quite unsparing of himself - you can see his delight as his ideas work, and his horror when they don't.
I believe that Christopher Alexander is dead on in saying that the system he created is a better way to build homes, indeed a far superior way to do so. However, I can't say the official reaction to this project is encouraging. After the first five homes were built, the bureaucrats came in, stopped the project and sent our intrepid hero packing. You can tell from the ending of the book that this reaction spooked Alexander, and I can't blame him. A revolutionary system of construction, he says, antagonizes pretty much everyone. But it will triumph, he proclaims!
It looks like it didn't, but I see increasing awareness of his ideas in more recent architectural books, so hopefully all is not lost. Despite the ultimate outcome, this is a brilliant book from an inspired thinker. You probably want to start with The Timeless Way of Building and A Pattern Language before tackling this one, but if you liked his earlier works, this is an excellent, real-world counterpoint.