Tuesday, July 29, 2008

World System A and World System B

While cleaning my office I came across my cache of obscure xeroxed essays not available elsewhere and thought I'd type up an excerpt or two.

Here's Christopher Alexander's explanation of the two ways of looking at the world and building in it from his quixotic article "BATTLE: The history of a Crucial Clash between World-System A and World-System B: Construction of the New Eishin Campus," from Japan Architect 8508:

System A is what we might call "The ordinary way". This is Hosoi's name for it. It is the way of building in which people who use buildings take part in creating them. They take part in laying them out. Money is used and allocated, according to the needs of the project, and according to the wishes of the people who use the buildings. The construction is managed directly, under a system of control which is close to the users. While the buildings are being built, they are adapted gradually. What turns out to be better slowly replaces what is less good. The architect or person in charge of building, is truly in charge of "building", not of paper. Things are done according to the dictates of the human heart. All in all, it is the system of common sense.

Oddly enough, this is not the system of construction which we know today.

System B is a system controlled by images. It is a system in which control of the system is extremely indirect. It is a system in which the users rarely, if at all, have any measure of control over the actual layout or design of buildings. It is a system in which big money, loanes and mortgages control the process. The dictates of big money, of permission, and of profit, create conditions in which the quality that is obtained is defined solely by images, not by real human feelings. The architects who produce these images are concerned mainly with the images they create, not with the buildings themselves. The success or failure of these images is defined by photographs in glossy magazines, not by heartfelt approval of the users. In fact the users rarely express their approval or disapproval of the projects they inhabit, except in so far that they themselves become part and parcel of the system of images, and then feel honored because the images have been made to seem important to them. Common sense is not a part of system B.

Oddly enough, this is the sytem which is in widespread use today. Its use is so widespread, and its existence so widely accepted, that most people assume that it is the correct and only way to build. They have forgotten, or most often do not know, that any other system ever existed.

1 comment:

Simón A. Ruiz said...

I find this particularly resonant as I'm just coming out of several straight years of working at schools undergoing massive building renovation projects.

I can confirm that—in my experience—we are nowadays not including the end users of buildings in the creation of their spaces, or only including them as a tenuous afterthought.