Sunday, April 10, 2011

Making the World a Better Place: Architecture, Math, and Science Fiction

A conversation with my daughter inspired today's post about Christropher Alexander and the mash-up between Pattern Language, architecture, QWAN, math, computer programming, urban planning, California, theoretical physics, religion, and science fiction including Star Wars and the wisdom of Yoda.

  • Joseph Campbell, b. 1904, d. 1987 (24 yrs ago @ 83). American scholar of mythology and religion best known for the mantra, "Follow your bliss." Many creative people have studied Campbell's writings about mythology to understand how people make sense of their world and put meaning on events and places in their lives. More: 
  • Christopher Alexander, b. 1936 (74). British mathematician, architect, philosopher. Born in Vienna, Bachelor's of Architecture and Master's of Math at Cambridge, first ever Harvard PhD in Architecture, professor of Architecture in 1963 at UC Berkely near San Francisco. Now semi-retired and living in England. His so-called Quality Without A Name (QWAN) has been applied to architecture, urban planning, anything designed for people to use (computer programs) and even religion, especially mystical religions where pattern-making and mythology are important. More:
  • George Lucas, b. 1944 (almost 67). American filmmaker, writer, director, and producer. Now lives in Marin County near San Francisco. Raised a Methodist, he became interested in Eastern religions including Buddhism. He publicly credited Joseph Campbell as a religious influence. More
  • Ward Cunningham, b. 1949 (almost 62), is an American computer programmer who developed the Graphical User Interface (GUI) and pioneered the wiki program that runs Wikipedia. He cites Alexander's influence on computer programmers. More:
  • Richard Feynman, b. 1918, d. 1988 (23 yrs ago @ 69). Professor of theoretical physics at Caltech in Pasadena near LA. Like Alexander, he was a firebrand. Alexander has warned that Architects are not properly educated and may do more harm than good. Similarly, Feynman was a very unconventional physicist who warned that people should be wary of physicists who attempt to intimidate rather than serve.  More:
  • Peter Eisenman, b. 1932 (78). American architect. He is world famous--every architecture student in the past 30 years has studied him, yet many have never heard of Christopher Alexander. Why? Alexander believes that people already know how to design things: good design is in human DNA. We don't need architects to tell us what is good design. "The Force" (QWAN) is already in us. Meanwhile, architects, architecture schools, and the profession of architecture benefit from people like Eisenman who turn this pattern-making into a highly codified professional language. More:

The desire to make the world a better place for ourselves and our progeny seems an innately human desire. There are so many fascinating, often competing ways to realize this desire. The many paths illustrate the complexity of humanity. Yet when one pulls together a few seemingly unrelated people and events, one can often find correlations that underly the commonality of purpose that unites all of us around this most basic human goal.