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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Nature of Order: Unfolding a Sustainable World

Published at P2P-Foundation on 17th December 2014.

Stuart Cowan is the co-author of Ecological Design and participates in the rich culture of sustainability emerging in Portland, Oregon.

His review of The Nature of Order, was first published in Resurgence, 2004.

THE UNIVERSE IS abundantly filled with living structure at every level of scale. Energy, matter, and information cascade from vast sheets of galaxies through to our own solar system, to the earth, to the oak glistening in the glade, to its microbial symbionts, on to their proteins, and ultimately to the Planck scale at which spacetime becomes discrete.

When we are most alive, we experience the universe in its wholeness. We experience our connection to a thirteen-billion year old unfolding story that links every living cell, every particle, every star. Why then are we surrounded with buildings, landscapes, and artefacts that engender fragmentation?

Christopher Alexander, an architect, builder and mathematician, has spent forty years attempting to discern the living structure inherent in the universe and harvest this structure for use in practical processes that repair damaged places and create harmonious new ones. In his extraordinary four-volume summation of a fruitful life’s work, The Nature of Order, Alexander proposes both a new science and a new approach to buildings and places unified by a profound notion of wholeness as the governing field.

Wholeness is understood as a richly nonlinear field of interactions among salient entities – or centres – with surprising, yet empirically verifiable properties. Centres support larger centres, and in turn are recursively formed from smaller centres. As we know from experience, subtle changes may greatly affect the field of wholeness. The field has a number of postulated mathematical properties, but currently resists even approximate calculation.

Fortunately, we can access the field of wholeness through personal observation. We need merely ask, “To what degree each of two things we are trying to judge is, or is not, a picture of the self – and by this I mean your and my wholesome self, perhaps even our eternal self”. This mirror of the self test asks us to awaken to our deepest feelings in the presence of a farmhouse, a chair, a painting, and to see whether we are made more or less alive. Remarkably, extensive experiments have demonstrated that subjects cross-culturally will reach extremely high levels of agreement after honest engagement with the task of evaluating wholeness.

Based on intensive examination of thousand of examples, Alexander posits fifteen fundamental properties that generate life and wholeness from a system of centres. These properties include levels of scale, strong centres, boundaries, alternating repetition, positive space, good shape, local symmetries, deep interlock and ambiguity, contrast, gradients, roughness, echoes, the void, simplicity, inner calm and not-separateness. This list, while provisional, hints at something of profound importance; a comprehensive taxonomy of transformations that generate orderly, larger and larger wholes with living structure.

These fifteen properties are so powerful precisely because they generate structure-preserving transformations (1). They extend the existing structure of wholeness, enhancing existing centres through well-defined processes. Alexander proposes that this set of structure-preserving transformations, together with an understanding of the overall field of wholeness, provides the foundation for a new kind of science based on wholeness rather than fragmentation.
Christopher Alexander, an architect, builder and mathematician, has spent forty years attempting to discern the living structure inherent in the universe and harvest this structure for use in practical processes that repair damaged places and create harmonious new ones. In his extraordinary four-volume summation of a fruitful life’s work, The Nature of Order, Alexander proposes both a new science and a new approach to buildings and places unified by a profound notion of wholeness as the governing field.
This science would of course be consistent with existing physics, chemistry and biology, yet proceed from a completely different epistemological base. It would be able to treat complex, self-organising processes as core rather than peripheral phenomena. Such a science would restore meaning, context and story both to the human and the more-than-human realms. Most significantly, “We shall have a vision of the world in which the world itself – all of it – animals, plants, mountains, rivers, buildings, roads, terraces, rooms and windows – is a part of a single system and a single way of understanding”.

The Nature of Order holds out the magnificent prospect that there are processes that ordinary people can use, in small groups or vast collaborations, to create living structure, whether at the scale of a single hand-painted tile, a city or a continent. These processes use precisely the same kinds of transformations spontaneously employed by breaking waves, developing frog embryos, spiral galaxies or nonlinear chemical reactions. In vernacular form, these processes have been harnessed and turned into shared practices by traditional cultures for millennia.

Living structure, while ubiquitous in the universe, represents a minute portion of the space of available configurations for a house, garden or public plaza. Processes for generating living structure are essential if we are to heal our wounded cities, towns and countryside. Such processes can be learned fairly readily. Proficiency is built up through disciplined application. At every step, each process ultimately relies on the mirror of the self test. Is this step creating more or less life? How is it supporting the whole? How is it being supported by existing centers?

Remarkably, these questions can be constructively discussed. Time and again, I have seen groups of students, architects, or citizens undertake the fundamental differentiating process of creating wholeness. Individuals are able to effectively communicate the structure of wholeness, as they perceive it, and demonstrate to the others why a given step has certain positive or negative effects. The group is then able to verify the observation and respond with additional tests. Gradually, haltingly, greater and greater differentiation and intensification of centers in support of an ever deepening structure of wholeness emerges. The end result is likely to have a fundamental life and coherence that is largely absent from design processes cut off from the wellspring of wholeness and the mirror of self.

There are many ways to enhance the process of creating living structure. One approach is to understand the patterns that help to generate wholeness within a given recurring context. For example, the pattern ‘Light on Two Sides of Every Room’ provides a generic rule for placing windows in such a way that they strengthen the existing centres in the room. Patterns, together with a grammar derived from their intrinsic spatial and conceptual relationships, can be combined into a kind of pattern language and systematically applied. Hundreds of patterns, ranging in scale from construction details to regions, have been documented by Christopher Alexander and his colleagues, most notably in A Pattern Language (Oxford, 1977).

A sequence of patterns carefully chosen to unfold wholeness can greatly accelerate the process of creating living structure and increase its chances of success. For instance, a traditional Japanese tea house may be generated through a well-defined sequence of twenty-four steps beginning with the placement of the tea house in a secluded garden, and ending with the construction of a small pillar in an alcove off the tea room (tokonoma). Efforts are underway to study these sequences in a wide variety of practical situations and make good sequences broadly available.

The Nature of Order begins with the structure of wholeness in the universe and derives adaptive processes that systematically generate living structure in the world around us. Ultimately, I believe it provides a new foundation for sustainability; one grounded in our deepest aspirations to act in ways conducive to all life, testable at every level of scale, and enabled by a powerful set of replicable processes and patterns that are already partially understood.

In order to test this notion, my research team at Ecotrust developed a pattern language for bioregional sustainability for the coastal temperate rainforest ecosystem hugging the west coast of North America, from northern California to Alaska. We generated a website documenting fifty-seven patterns ranging from “Civic Society” to “Sense of Place”. The site uses an open source model that allows site visitors, from all over the world, to test the patterns, adapt them for their own use, and suggest improvements.

Whilst still in an experimental stage, this bioregional pattern language confirms that processes working at the smallest scales – helping to give life to a garden, a storefront or a stretch of river – can be systematically linked to processes at larger scales, including those that ensure the connectivity and functionality of ecosystems at a continental scale and those that maintain compatibility with the cycling of nutrients and materials at a planetary scale. As Alexander states, “At every scale, every act of formation is both local and global, both creative/complete and accretive/incomplete.”

Sustainability emerges from a million individual acts of creative engagement; living processes that preserve the structure of wholeness, healing and repairing damaged sites along the way. These living processes, while self-organising, effectively co-ordinate across different levels of scale, ensuring that small acts sum to meet the preconditions of health for the biosphere. At the same time, these processes systematically translate large-scale sustainability conditions, like those provided by The Natural Step framework, into the joyful detail of millions of living centres. Living processes incrementally restore both the human spirit and its necessary correlate, the wholeness of the world and its diverse beings.

The Nature of Order provides the most powerful set of processes to date for unfolding a sustainable world. These processes affect the scale of activity, the flow of money, the sharing of understanding, and the way decisions are made. They demand of us a commitment to wholeness in ourselves and in each of our interactions with the world.

(1) WHOLENESS-EXTENDING-TRANSFORMATIONS: Discussion of these transformations can be found throughout The Nature of Order, where they are most often referred to by their older name, "structure-preserving transformations." This name has been given up because it does not correctly suggest the emergence of new structure from wholeness, and seems only to refer to structure that is already there in its entirety. The references in The Nature of Order use the term "structure-preserving" almost exclusively, and the references given below will most often show that term being used for consiatence with the book, even though w-e- transformation is now thought to be more accurate. (See here.)

It Will Probably be Deflation All the Way Now Until the System is Broken

Yes, the banksters will starve. And so will we. There is no happy ending to this. It will probably be deflation all the way now until the system is broken. Maybe the central banks can manage to turn it around to hyperinflation (why not try helicopter drops?), which will still produce the same result in the end, but I doubt it.

Notice that the powers that be don't even have a plan for degrowing the economy while preserving the most useful aspects of industrial civilization. They must have (correctly) concluded that it would be impossible, so they single-mindedly pursue growth at any cost until the whole system fails. - Eivind Berge
Eat well this Christmas. It might be your last Christmas on full stomach!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

FC Journal is online: And I'm invited to write for them!

I just got this encouraging message from my new friend John Jacobi:
Hey Øyvind, I just wanted to let you know that the FC Journal is online. We have published four articles, and some more are going to be published in the coming weeks. You can check it out at Feel free to submit any pieces of writing you think should be published (review the guidelines at first).
I hope you are doing well!
--- John F. Jacobi
In addition I see they offer help to edit material from foreigners. This is very kind.

To see this new Anti-Technology website is really encouraging, as technology soon has destroyed every single piece of our once beautiful and silent Earth.

Visit this brand new website now:

- FC Journal

The anti-technologist John Jacobi

Please read Jacobi's essay "The Technology Problem".
The biologist Jared Diamond published in 2005 the book Collapse: How societies choose to fail or survive. He summarizes how native populations and cultures that have ‘advanced’ in technology, have, without exception, expanded above carrying boundaries, destroying their own foundation for life. And then they collapsed. There are no historical examples of native populations who cared about anything else than short sighted gain. Human cultures have in the past only been restricted by technological limitations in using up resources, not by their nobility. There is a clear boundary between those cultures who remained at a hunter/gatherer level, in which some still exist, and cultures which developed technology or grew their populations to change the ecosystems they depended upon. All the latter-mentioned cultures are gone, except for the one we live in today. The world’s earlier cultures, like ours today, are a history of how people used all available means to fight for, exploit and deplete the ecosystems they lived in. Regardless of culture, people of all eras struggled and fought for food, place, benefits and values that are connected to the two powers of selection: To get what’s needed to secure nurturing for children and family (natural selection), and to become an attractive partner (sexual selection). — The Biological Human Being, by Terje Bongard and Eivin Røskaft, page 239

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Transition Technology: Three horse hitch winter logging in Swedish Lapland

This video gives an example of how we can transit to simpler technology as industrial civilization and energy production decline in the years ahead, combining new and old in an excellent way.

This graph shows the decline in energy production for the next 20 years, making it obvious we have to work in less energy consuming ways in the near future. Source: Tverberg

Tidløse broer

At noe er tidløst vil si at det er umoderne, med dette mener jeg anti-modernistisk. Ingenting som er skapt i en moderne ånd er tidløst, fordi modernismen fornekter universet, som er evolvert ut fra de 15 transformasjonene for helhet.

The Fifteen Geometric Properties of Wholeness

De følgende broene er skapt ut av naturen, de leder oss ikke kun over til den andre siden, men til evigheten. En absolutt nytelse, inkarnert visdom fra en tapt tid. Vil vi igjen noensinne krysse visdommens bro?

- 20+ Mystical Bridges That Will Take You To Another World

Låtefossen bro, en verdig norsk representant. Foto: Max Rive.

Vi ser i Låtefossen bro følgende transformasjoner:

- STRONG-CENTER (Broa er det sterkeste senteret i landskapet, samtidig som den styrker alle andre sentra i et stort enhetlig senter, eller "the I".)

- THICK-BOUNDARY (Både rekkverket og ikke minst buene over buegangene lager tykke omramminger.)

- LEVELS-OF-SCALE (Først og fremst i steinene mellom buene.)

- ALTERNATING-REPETITION (Buene, rommet mellom buene og vannet mellom dem veksler i en jevn rytme.)

- LOCAL-SYMMETRIES (Hver bue er bygd opp av to lokale symmetrier.)

- POSITIVE-SPACE (Rommet mellom buegangene er konvekst.)

- ROUGHNESS (En naturlig konsekvens av at man har benyttet naturstein.)

- DEEP-INTERLOCK AND AMBIGUITY (Broelementene har slått rot i elvebunnen, gråsteinene likesom stiger opp av elva.)

- ECHOES (De omkringliggende åsene reflekteres i brobuene.)

- INNER-CALM (Her er intet ego, intet ønske om å skape noe unikt, det eneste som gjelder er respekten for og samhørigheten med omgivelsene.)

- NOT-SEPARATENESS (Broa er en like naturlig del av naturen på stedet som elva, åsene og skyene er det, de er ett.)

Hvordan kunne en fattig snekker fra utkanten Galilea ende opp som en allegori for fremskrittsreligionen?

That’s the thing that drove the ferocious rejection of philosophy by the underclass of the age, the slaves and urban poor who made up the vast majority of the population throughout the Roman empire, and who received little if any benefit from the intellectual achievements of their society. To them, the subtleties of Neoplatonist thought were irrelevant to the increasingly difficult realities of life on the lower end of the social pyramid in a brutally hierarchical and increasingly dysfunctional world. That’s an important reason why so many of them turned for solace to a new religious movement from the eastern fringes of the empire, a despised sect that claimed that God had been born on earth as a mere carpenter’s son and communicated through his life and death a way of salvation that privileged the poor and downtrodden above the rich and well-educated. - John Michael Greer
Fremskrittsreligionen er tvers igjennom en allegori på kristendommen, som opprinnelig var troen og håpet for romerrikets utstøtte og fattige underklasse. Hvordan kunne dette skje?

Vi går nå inn i juletida, som ikke lenger er annet enn tomme gravsteinstradisjoner over en tapt kultur. Fremskrittsreligionen med sin kjøpefest og individualistiske atomisme er alt samtidskulturen består av. Den har intet av skjønnhet eller mening.

Underlig er det at vår fremskrittstro er et vrengebilde av kristendommen, en tro som opprinnelig var de utstøttes og de fattiges tro. Hvordan kunne dette skje? John Michael Greer har gitt mange av svarene i sin siste bok, som lanseres på nyåret.

Når jeg en gang får tid til å lese denne, og hvis jeg noensinne igjen får mulighet til å samle tankene, håper jeg å skrive essayet "Fra kristendom til fremskrittstro" for Kulturverk.

I mellomtiden er mange av mine tanker om temaet å finne i denne diskusjonstråden hos Kulturverk.

Alvebrød er ikke hverdagskost

Da er det en større utfordring at verken journalist eller de som intervjues synes kjent med bakteppet for Ringenes Herre. Få verker er mer gjennomsyret av kristen tro, symbolikk og typologier.  

Selv om de ikke er analogier, respresenterer Frodo, Aragorn og Gandalf ulike aspekter av Kristus. Gollum trekker tankene i retning av Judas. Galadriel har en posisjon som minner om Maria.

Og alvebrød - Lembas - som Frodo og Sam får med seg på veien mot Mordor er på én gang stridsrasjon og åndelig føde. Den styrker kroppen og sjelen. Den er gitt dem av Galadriel som representerer det opphøyde, det hellige, den som formidler det åndelige lys i mørket.

Det er ikke slik at en norsk prest nærmest etter innfallsmetoden har latt seg inspirere av Tolkiens alvebrød til å popularisere nattverden. Det var Tolkien som lot seg inspirere av nattverden til å skrive om alvebrød.

Skal vi først snakke om synkretisme, er det Tolkien som er ansvarlig. Det var han som flyttet nattverdsbrødet inn i hverdagen. Eller i det minste inn i den fantasyfortellingen som har vært mest tilstede i hverdagen hos flest - uten dermed å være hverdagslig.

At det også er en bok som egner seg mer enn de fleste i kirkerommet, er ingen tilfeldighet.

Selv om den ikke inneholder mange klønete formuleringer. Les mer...

Saturday, December 13, 2014

A Poetic Pattern Language

By Christopher Alexander. Original text here.

WHAT DOES WRITING POETRY GET YOU? Some people are reluctant to try writing poetry. If you feel that way, please be reassured that there is a good reason for such an attempt. We are looking for word “pictures” that have feelings in them – that describe reality in ways beyond analytical and technical ways of thinking. Writing poetry gives you permission to talk about things freely, in this feeling way, when otherwise it may not be so accessible.
Use the following sequence as a model for making your own first rudimentary pattern language for the neighborhood — just to get started. Although the following may seem “far out”, it is intended to encourage you to allow free reign to your imagination at this earliest stage.
This example originally written for Samarkand city center, Uzbekistan, 1994
1. It is a sequence of public squares, gardens, and buildings, which will form the new center of the city of Samarkand, uniting historic and traditional buildings and quarters.
2. There is a new dimension here, a center of spiri­tual life. It is not a commercial center, not a cultural center, not a religious center in the old idea. It is not a convention center. Somehow, this new center of the city of Samarkand, unites old and new, weaves to­gether the thread of the silk road, the tomb of Timur the Great, with the modern world, and a vision of the world in which comfortable human concern, and a spiritual awareness of the importance of life, is vis­ible, felt, and active.
3. It is an inspiring place to go. A place of pilgrimage, which will receive visitors from the five continents, in increasing thousands.
4. A network of beautiful paths, formed by columns, colonnades, brick walls, buildings, gardens. This network of paths, which passes across the whole area, is formed by the building masses which arise out of it, and by formal gardens.
5. Do the paths open into courtyards, ponds, gardens, hidden places? Are they formed only by mysterious buildings, rising in color, tile, and marble? Are there figures, statues, animals, Gods, people, statues stand­ing at the places where the paths cross?
6. Are the animals themselves covered with mysteri­ous animals?
7. Is there any reference to voyages?
8. The main thing one is aware of is a network of green and beautiful jewel-like streets. Each has lush trees, seats, platforms, streams.
9. These green streets, made by their trees, benches, sitting platforms, and edges, form a lacework of places to walk. They are like parks, long and nar­row, you can explore for many hours, walking around these streets.
10. Each one of the streets arrives on some new trea­sure. Each building is like a treasure, arrived at by the green streets.
11. Samarkand, historically, and in the time of Ulugh Beg, was a crossroads of the world. In the Tang dynasty period, every conceivable exotic sub­stance, or idea, or artifact, or art on earth, came through Samarkand. No matter where it went, or where it came from, it went through Samarkand.
12. Somehow, then, one may imagine these green heavenly paths, as a network—almost a mythical bazaar in which reference to these many exotic sub­stances exists.
13. The blue tile work of the Timurids, the hand-painted blue tiles, with small black, yellow, and white detail, on mud brick—these tiles, and the yel­low bricks are in evidence on walls, domes, court­yards throughout the center. It is a thread which connects.
14. The whole network of paths is almost like a forbidden city. A place which is walled, punctured at very occasional places which allow one to enter, a special area that contains its own magic.


  • Write a poem like the one for Samarkand, for your own new, imagined neighborhood. Allow yourself free reign, free imagination, and make it poetically whole. Capture the spirit of the very best, and most serious that this new neighborhood could be.
  • If possible, pin up the poem you have written, on the wall where people can see it, and listen to what they say.
  • Put a copy in your workbook!


By Christopher Alexander. Original text here.
One of the best ways to see clearly, or to find out what your vision is, is to close your eyes, and imagine that you have just arrived in the place. What do you see? What is most wonderful about the place you see?


It is also very possible to do the closed-eyes process with your friends. Just sit around, all close your eyes together, and talk about what you see.
Write down what you see, in your workbook. It is sometimes elusive, and if you don’t write it down the memory can fade.


What we mean by “partners” are any of the people who are likely to do this project together. They may be lay people, neighbors, professionals, city people, and anyone who has an important part to play, to get the project done. It will take a while to identify these people as a group. Allowing it to form gradually will help the process.
Sometimes you just do not know the people who are likely to live and work in a new neighborhood, because it is too early, or too hard, to identify them. Even in this case, it is helpful — almost necessary — to involve people who are living and working nearby, and treat them as a source of information, and inspiration, so that what you are doing becomes as real as possible, even in the temporary absence of some of your future occupants.


Two different scenarios:
(a) A piece of land is already identified. People have a piece of land and have an idea of what they want to do there. Walk the land together. Spend time on the land where you imagine this project can be done. Visit the place fairly often. Involve your partners in continuing conversation about the place and its value. Make sure that you gradually achieve cohesion as a group by being on the land together, and continuing to talk.
(b) A piece of land is not yet identified. People have an idea of what they want to do but haven’t yet found a piece of land where they feel it’s appropriate to do what they have in mind. Even then you can begin thinking about the ingredients of the community, and what will be unique to this place.


Given the piece of land, what are some of the ingredients you are thinking about putting there?
Is it a conventional group of houses?
Can it contain businesses and workplaces?
How much park and green space would you like to see?
How much in the way of gardens?
Would you like something communal — church, town hall, association? This last is very important — but it needs an inventive attitude and time to think of a communal building that will really work.
The overall mix of things should be inventive, and particular to you. How they fit together may not be immediately obvious and may be hard to talk about, but it is important to do so. How will it work economically? How will it work socially? Given your choices of the above ingredients, you also need to answer the key question How much of each is going to be happening there?
Later these ingredients, may be refined to become patterns, and then steps of the generative code.


The list in the last paragraph may seem a bit bureaucratic or unexciting. That’s because it isn’t yet your list, it is ours. Do you and your friends see a more vivid picture, one with very particular emotional colors, activities, buildings, and businesses? If this vividness is real — then give that reality voice. Your neighborhood will be a more lively place, in the long run people are likely to love it more. And there is probably more chance of it helping to make the world a better place.
If you have an idea for this that you would like to sketch, or if you want to make sketches of some of the elements of your vision, that’s a very good idea. Keep your sketches in your workbook and share them with others.


  • Write down a description of the vision you have gained.
  • Share it with your colleagues, and edit it until it is more or less shared among all of you.
  • It should be written in as much detail as you feel you know, and kept in your workbook.
  • It’s to be hoped that this vision is largely shared, but if there are points of disagreement or opinion, not settled yet, then write those down as well.


By Christopher Alexander. Original text here.

Published at P2P-Foundation on 13th December 2014.
  • The wholeness exists to begin with as a structure in the land and in the surrounding built environment
  • The act which is taken must try to extend and enhance that wholeness
  • There is then a new wholeness in that place
  • The next act must then do its best to extend that second wholeness
  • This is true for a neighborhood
  • It is true for an extension to an existing neighborhood
  • And it is true for every individual building, window, door, and garden, within that neighborhood
  • For life to occur, EVERYTHING is governed by the wholeness from which it came
At any given moment, in any part of the world, there is a deep wholeness that exists there. This is the structure of the whole: the largest and deepest physical configuration that is present there. It can be felt and seen.
The most fundamental way to treat the land – whether it is an open field, an existing village, or a street in town – is to respect what is there, protect it, continue it, and make it better. Heal it. Make it more whole. The great towns and villages have always been built this way, and it is this process which gave them beauty. The deep seeds of structure run through the place in its geometry, its colors, its smells and its sounds. It takes skill to preserve and extend these. It requires loving attention to what is there.
It means that the new should always grow out of respect for what is there now, and what was there before.
The most fundamental rule, to be followed always, is that we must do our best to leave this structure intact. This does not mean we must do nothing there. It means that we should honor and respect the structure that exists, and try to preserve this deep physical configuration in whatever new things we do. The new should always grow out of respect for what is there now, and what was there before. We must act out of the knowledge that if we violate the deep structure, we will not only violate the place. We will, at a profound level, also damage our own feelings and our own sensibilities.
It is this wholeness – the basic structure of the place – that matters most. In the monastery of Thyangboche, on the lower slopes of Everest, (shown above) the angles are chosen to reflect the angles of the mountains; the overhanging roofs enter into the wholeness which is there; the blood red walls, for some reason that is not entirely clear, support the wholeness; the walls are made of rocks which come from that place. The white stripe on the building wall reflects the snow; the snow lying on the shallow roofs stays there, and makes a blanket just as the snow does on the mountain’s hanging slopes. That monastery became part of Everest, and it continues the wholeness and the structure of the mountains which surround it.
Equally, in a village, a corner store with two tables on the sidewalk, the whole of which forms the corner, also, in turn, forms a larger center in the neighborhood. Both small and large details about the place make it so. This is an example of what must be preserved, protected, and extended. You cannot extend it simply by making it larger – only by honoring it and respecting what is there. This means making sure that the larger structure that ripples out from the two tables on the sidewalk is extended and strengthened by whatever other things are built in the nearby areas.
The unfoldings on this website guide you in the process of envisioning, diagnosing, planning and building on your physical site, always with the purpose of extending wholeness — the basis of a living neighborhood.

These practices are essential to creating a living neighborhood:

  • As far as possible, try to become aware, intuitively, of the deep structure on your site.
  • Act in sympathy for your own instinct about the deep structure that you can sense is there.
  • Do not play with words when it comes to judging this. Be true to the feelings you carry inside of you, and do your best to protect the earth.
  • Try your best to make a new thing which, as far as possible, reflects, respects, and honors what is there already.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Sigmund Kvaløy Setreng: En naturfilosofisk høvding med røtter fra Øverskreien

Forrige uke ble jeg stoppet i Gjøvik av en øverskreiing som hadde fulgt meg på Permaliv over lengre tid. Jeg hadde aldri snakket med han før, men kunne erindre å ha truffet ham. Han kunne fortelle at han satte stor pris på mitt engasjement, og at han hadde fattet interesse for InnGruppe-Demokratiet til Terje Bongard, som jeg er proponent for. Faktisk hadde han bestilt Bongards bok Det biologiske mennesket, som han hadde mottatt i postkassa kun noen dager forut.

Selv hadde han fått interesse for økofilosofien på 1990-tallet, etter å ha sett et TV-program om Sigmund Kvaløy Setreng. Hans far hadde hatt Sigmunds far som lærer på Stange skole, og jeg forstod det slik at hans far også hadde vært barndomskamerater med Sigmund. Han hadde nå lest alle bøkene til Setreng, og sa at jeg bare kunne stikke innom for å låne dem.

Det er hyggelig å oppleve at ens arbeid blir satt pris på. Selv ble jeg først kjent med Setreng i forbindelse med hans død og en nekrolog i Harvest, som kan leses her.

Men jeg visste ikke om hans tilknytning til Øvre Skreien eller Øverskreien, hvor jeg selv har vokst opp. I etterkant kom jeg til å huske at min far også hadde hatt en Kvaløy som lærer på barneskolen, og det viste seg at dette var Sigmunds far. Jeg husker min far har nevnt ham flere ganger som en streng men god lærer. F.eks. husker jeg min far fortalte at Kvaløy hadde forklart at i framtida kom man kun til å ha en varmeovn på veggen med en bit radioaktivt uran i, som ville gi nok varme for hele livet. Dette hørtes nok fantastisk ut i en tid hvor hugging av vinterveden var et stort arbeid.

Selv flytter jeg snart tilbake til Øverskreien for en periode med min familie, før vi flytter inn i et natursamfunn. Jeg har laget et lite forslag for hvordan vi kan bli boende, men regner ikke med at dette får gjennomslag. Allikevel, å møte en forhenværende øverskreiing som uttrykker så sterk sympati med mitt arbeid, og kunnskapen om Sigmund Setreng, gjør så jeg gleder meg til å flytte tilbake for en tid.

Skulle det skje at jeg blir møtt med forståelse for mitt behov for å være omgitt av harmoni og helhet, eller hva Christopher Alexander kaller "A QUALITY WITHOUT A NAME", kommer nok Permaliv i framtida til å få et atskillig mer lokalt preg og fokus. Kanskje kan jeg til og med innlede et samarbeid med Totens Blad?

Utsyn opp mot Totenåsen. Øvre Skreien ligger til høyre for skaret som leder inn mot Torsetra. Sigmunds far bodde så vidt jeg har forstått ikke langt fra Nordås.

Jeg regner med at min familie blir boende noen år i Øverskreien, før det bærer videre til øya Sekken, hvor det ser ut til at Norges første natursamfunn kommer.

Foto: Naviana

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Positive Space

By Christopher Alexander. Original article here.

Published at P2P-Foundation on 11th December 2014.
Space, especially outdoor space, is positive when you experience its embrace. You feel its inside, and its outside, you experience its boundary, you can feel its center.
It has definite shape, it has a character that arises only from the land itself and what is there, it is a comfortable place to be, it is in some respects “convex”.
What matters most, is that you feel the place has a heart, you want to be there, something is going on — it makes you feel a world of some kind, with its life, is happening there.
You can make space positive, one step at a time, by making corrections. This works very well, you can feel your way into it, and you can watch the effects of what you are doing.
Step by step, you make every piece of every part of outdoor space turn into something well-shaped and positive.

  • Walk the site alone.
  • Notice all the places and features which give it its character, and its uniqueness, its center, and its boundary.
  • Are you clear in your mind where the boundary of this particular space ought to be?
  • If the boundary needs emphasizing, try putting an additional bit of “something” to increase the enclosure of the place.
  • A big piece of cardboard, a chair, a couple of chairs, a log, a couple of concrete blocks — any of these can be used, to help you to “see” whether a slight increase in enclosure will make it feel better to be there.
  • In the same way, see if the space needs a center to embellish the feeling of being there. This center does not need to be in the middle. It could be a stone, a tree, a seat, a flowering bush, a place with a view, a place where the sunshine falls. If it needs it, you might try to embellish it, very subtly, by making something that makes the center feel more solid, something you can connect yourself to, when you are there.
  • Above all, work to make sure that whatever you do there leaves the beauty of what is there now, intact.
  • When you are done thinking about it, and testing it, take one small step which is a permanent or semi-permanent thing, which will affect the place in this way you have discovered, to make it more positive.

Here is a second view of the Mhlongo farm. Now we see several positive spaces, not just the one we saw before. They are distinct, but overlapping. The positive spaces are made positive by a variety of elements, including fence, bushes, tree, woodpile — all useful, and all accumulated over time.
The Mhlongo family is a traditional Zulu family that lives on a small farm located midway between the townships of Esikhawini and Port Dunford near Richard’s Bay, South Africa. Their home is located about one kilometer off the paved road. Access is via a sandy pot holed road that winds out through a grove of eucalyptus trees across a pasture and then through a sugar cane field. 

Benard (pronounced ben-urd not “ben-ard”), the father, works as a gardener for a housing complex in Richards Bay where he earns 605 Rand ($81) per month after transport costs. Since he doesn’t have a car he takes a bus to work and back. He also grows a hectare(abt 2.5 acres) of sugarcane to supplement his income. They raise chickens, grow bananas, mangos, papayas, and tangerines, and have a small garden. Poor as they are in dollars, they are rich in beauty — and they have time, the will, and the intelligence, to make every space positive.
And the very same process can equally well be used for a great and magnificent place. Just as it can be informal, the process of creating positive space can also be formal and grand. Let us consider St Mark’s Square in Venice. It was made in about ten steps, over a period of a thousand years, each one roughly occuring every hundred years. The Square has a kind of L shape or hammerhead shape, and is composed of three main “containers.” Yet we also experience it as one container. How then, does this manage to be positive? It is, I think, because of the Campanile, built before the main space was shaped, and shown as a small black square in the right-hand plan below.
The campanile forms a virtual center at the corner which has the effect of generating three independent spaces, each with good shape (shown gray in the right-hand plan below), rather than being a single space with bad shape.
Click here, to watch a interactive movie showing the spaces and volumes of St. Mark’s Square unfolding over the period from 560 AD to about 1600 AD.
St Mark’s Square seen from the water

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


By Christopher Alexander. Original article here.

Published at P2P-Foundation on 9th December 2014.


There are so many different kinds of neighborhoods. A neighborhood may be small or large. It may be dense and urban, it may be village-like, it may be on the prairie or the tundra. It may be rural in spirit, or based on heavy manufacturing; it may be more oriented toward old people, or it may be filled with children; it may be a cultural enclave, or it may be rich in the variety of people and cultures who live there. So there is immense variety among neighborhoods in different parts of the world.
However, at the same time, there are central structural features which appear to greater or lesser degree in any lively and coherent, living neighborhood. In spite of the variation, there is a core which remains constant.


  • The core of the neighborhood is a beautiful place which has been chosen for its inspiring character when you stand there.
  • The heart of the neighborhood and 2/3 of its land surface, is a pedestrian world.
  • Traffic interacts and comes in, only to the degree absolutely necessary: cars are not much in evidence.
  • Density is sometimes as high as can be reached by high-rise apartments, but all buildings are two and three stories high.
  • There are gardens everywhere — the space of the neighborhood is made of positively shaped gardens, public and private.
  • Buildings are rather simple, but always personal, with aspects that identify them by the people who made them.
  • Work is intermixed with living quarters: this applies both to small workshops and to larger offices or studio space.
  • Roads for cars are narrow and discourage speed.
  • Towards the outside of the neighborhood, there may be roads which carry faster traffic around town.
  • Windows are beautiful and large.
  • Houses are long and narrow, so that every room has good light.
  • All entrances to apartments come direct to the ground, never to shared corridors.
  • Some outdoor areas are furnished — seats, low walls, tables — and partly enclosed. There are cafes, shops and other amenities nearby.


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.
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.

This brilliant illustration shows how much public space we’ve surrendered to cars. To minimize the influence of cars is a key factor for a successful neighborhood. Image: Karl Jilg/Swedish Road Administration.

Snøfri førjulsstemning 2014

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

What You Can Do to Prepare for a De-Industrialized World

Published at P2P-Foundation on 8th December 2014.

"Prepper" is a negatively loaded word, raising images of funny people storing canned food and ammo. This is how a declining civilization likes to dismiss everyone questioning its fall.

Real preppers, on the other hand, are those who identify technological suits fit for a de-industrialized world, working for the installation of these and the knowledge needed to run them.
All this has immediate practical importance for those who happen to live in a civilization that’s skidding down the curve of its decline and fall—ours, for example. In such a time, as noted above, one critical task is to identify the technological suites that will still be viable in the aftermath of the decline, and shift as much vital infrastructure as possible over to depend on those suites rather than on those that won’t survive the decline. In terms of the charts above, that involves identifying those technological suites that will still be in category A when the lines stop shifting up and to the left, figuring out how to work around any bottleneck technologies that might otherwise cripple them, and get the necessary knowledge into circulation among those who might be able to use it, so that access to information doesn’t become a bottleneck of its own.

That sort of analysis, triage, and salvage is among the most necessary tasks of our time, especially for those who want to see viable technologies survive the end of our civilization. - John Michael Greer
So if you want to make something useful of your life, get up and identify post-industrial technological suits. Maybe you won't be able to implement much of them in the real world, as this is partially illegal and will be opposed by governments and believers in progress. But to identify these suits and to spread knowledge about these technologies is an important first step. As the decline of industrial civilisation gather speed, the existence of this knowledge will be crucial, and they can be installed when it's obvious to everyone that there are no alternatives.

If you are lucky you might be able to install some of these technologies yourself, or even better, making a demonstration lot for future appropriate technologies.

A are useful and affordable technologies. B are affordable but useless technologies. C are useful but unaffordable technologies. D are both useless and unaffordable technologies.
Currently a huge amount of technologies belong to category A

In the future only a few technologies will be found useful and affordable, diminishing sector A radically from the current state. Your mission, if you want to make a point of your life and not waste your life as a player for the current system, is to identify the technologies, and most of all the technological suits these technologies are part of, so that they can be installed for a post-industrial society.

Please read the whole essay by John Michael Greer:

Now, reading this, get out and get to work! The survival of your children depends on your actions now! For every useful technology you identify, and the steps you take to preserve the knowledge and skills for these technologies, and hopefully installing some of them, is of enormous importance.

A low tech washing machine that might become useful again in the near future