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The Recovery of a Shareable Basis for Life

In such a discussion, it is never quite enough to critique the failings of the mainstream approach, even if it is catastrophic. One has an obligation to provide a working alternative, which illustrates a proposed path to addressing the challenge. Once we stop favoring the machine aesthetic that produces giant abstract sculptures in place of buildings, then we can turn to nature, science, and common human values for new design tools. This is what those of us who are harshly critical of the current “business as usual” — like the authors — must also surely do.

So we work on new pattern language tools, new kinds of wikis, new strategies for making more walkable neighborhoods, and new types of buildings and places that learn from the successes of old ones. We believe that the problems we humans face today are largely of our own creation, and can be resolved by us too — IF we understand the structural nature of these challenges. But we also believe that it is long past time to surrender the dogmatic claim to a failing ideology of design — one that belongs to the last century and its failing industrial approach, and not to the next century and its biological lessons.

In creating a shared language for architecture and urbanism, one that relies upon positive human emotional and physiological responses, we find universals that cross all cultures, periods, and locations. This appeal to a shareable language was a centerpiece of Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language, and is extended by Alexander’s The Nature of Order, the present authors’ own writings, and many others’ work. A commons-based shareable form of architecture supports life in all its complexity, all of its emotional and even hidden dimensions, through the geometry and multiple configurations. The experimental evidence has been mounting that, because of its self-imposed geometrical limits, Modernism and its variants simply cannot achieve this positive response.

We have pointed to humans’ innate biological need to create and enjoy ornament, as witnessed in all societies. Indeed, the cultural wealth of human civilization, in all its myriad expressions around the world, comes down to its ornament — its “illumination” of the most profound aspects of ordinary life. A healthy society must affirm and enable such an approach, and continue to develop tools to support it and make it feasible. This is as much an economic challenge as a social and environmental one.

Ironically, Loos was right, though in the opposite sense of what he intended: a crime had been committed, one that had inflicted “serious injury on people’s health, on the budget and hence on cultural evolution”. To that we can add injury to the planet’s ecosystems, and the life of cities around the globe. The crime was the adoption of a geometrical fallacy — geometrical fundamentalism — which is, quite simply, incompatible with a sustainable future. - Salingaros & Mehaffy

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