A Tribute to Christopher Alexander

Manoj Parmar | 31st March 2022

Many critics have pointed to the failures of modern urban planning paradigms, especially at the obliteration of the vitality of the neighbourhoods, demarcated and sterile functionalism as well as the production of a public realm that alienates from its traditional qualities that addresses human form.

Having said that, it is also apparent that the focus on articulating or locating the discord within the modernist paradigm largely remains theoretically absent. The probable reason for such a situation lies in partly not being able to fully capture an embodied experience that manifests in an overwhelmingly visual spectacle of a utopian vision. The visual disposition of place is governed by the modern concept of abstract space. Hence utopianism and functional paradigms dominated the project of modernist planning. There have been several attempts to theorize the human aspect of urban form and primary literature by Christopher Alexander emphasized an approach that transitions from the elementary to comprehensive urban experience, mainly one that revolved around scientific logic, delight & aesthetics, phenomena and everyday life. The phenomenological critique is an open-ended discourse and can lead us to see precisely how earlier paradigms in urban design went amiss; it can also help lead us to blur the boundary of the dichotomy that perpetuated in several literatures alienating modernism vs orthodox traditionalism.

Once again, having said that, phenomenological research has a cultural connotation, while most of the literature that is produced lies in another part of the globe. The clarity of such a relation between phenomenology and cultural specificity or psycho-phenomenology is yet to be explored to be able to make any conclusive remark on any urban design guidelines.

Lastly, the question that is very important of all, 

Is urban design increasingly becoming subservient to urban science and engineering where spatial, experiential and visual qualities are almost suggested to be pushed to the margins?


In this reference, the work of Christopher Alexander remains critical, secular and timeless harbouring nature and existential embodiment that goes beyond architecture and urbanism.