Founding Building Beauty Principles

This program explores the principles expressed in Christopher Alexander’s The Nature of Order through an integrated approach to hands-on making, appropriate technology construction and self-aware design (at the individual and community levels). The program, housed at the Sant’Anna Institute in Sorrento, Italy, offers a one-year life-changing intensive experience in one of the world’s most remarkable environments, where the natural and the man-made have historically evolved into an integrated whole of astounding beauty.

Together, we will learn how to generate beauty that makes a difference in the real world. The program is structured by the following Principles: 

1. Beauty

There exists in the natural, cultural and physical world, a class of phenomena that are beautiful, the beauty of which has essentially to do with our everyday material and spiritual life. We want to understand what characterizes such phenomena, how they occur and change, and how, as makers, we can help in the process.

2. Cosmology

The context in which we approach problems to develop solutions acknowledges and embraces the complexity, uncertainty and change that are ever more prevalent in our world. We explore a non-conventional agenda in education and research for making, which poses beauty and its generative process centre stage.

3. Day-To-Day, Minute Functionalism

We acknowledge that life takes place by continuously adapting the surrounding environment in an uninterrupted everyday process of adapting by making. We intend making as an adaptive process of change that predominantly occurs in the dimension of the ordinary.

4. Objective Nature of Beauty

Beautiful ordinary spaces have a quality whose value, once explored at the appropriate level, belongs to all human beings, and is good for everyone. Because that quality exists, makers can, at each step in the process of change, add to and expand—rather than detract from and reduce—the original quality. We define and measure the objective quality of space that emerges at the level where human beings share a common canon of values.

5. Holistic Nature of Space

Space is essentially grounded on our individual and collective self, where functionality, ornament and beauty are just different names for the same thing. We explore our individual and collective self in space as a fundamental way to understanding how to make things.

6. Quality of Space Comes Prior to Function

Beauty emerges, in the physical world, as an inner order that is spatial. Good functionality, and the sense of belonging and wellness are by-products of that. We focus on the order of space that recurs in phenomena of beauty: what it is made of, and how we can help it to emerge and expand over time.

7. Testing The Quality

The quality of space can be tested through understanding the authentic feelings that connect us to the place and others in a profound way. We pursue the ability to recognize, trust and develop our own feelings as a reliable ground for testing the quality of space.

8. Making With Exquisite Care

The quality of spaces does not come by design: it can only emerge during the process of making. We experience beauty in space when we see that everything around has arisen by careful choice and restless consideration of both the place and our own self.We are interested in the process of fine-tuning that creates a place: in a short-term “project” scenario, and in the longer-term, and truly “evolutionary.”

9. The “Unfolding” Nature of Beauty Generation

Essentially a process of adaptive transformation, making beauty happens in steps whereby each step expands the pre-existent beauty and, in itself, is complete and makes full sense.We test and explore the unfolding nature of beauty generation both in the process of making and in that of teaching how to make.

10. The Healing Nature of Making

Reunifying what was previously separated is central to the process—in space, in communities, and in ourselves as makers and citizens. Conventional separations (between actors, places and times of decision) are overcome and reunified at each step in a fully integrated healed/whole. We explore how to reunify self, community, design and construction at each step of the process of making.

11. The Reality of The Land and That In Ourselves

Making has to do with understanding the order of the space (existent in the land) and that of what we want to make (existent in ourselves), and then with reunifying the two in a coherent whole. We investigate all means to make such two orders explicit, and then reinforce each other.

12. Mocking Up

In a conventional building process, the means of most separations is the drawing. People make decisions, separately, by looking at drawings. We use drawings as an integral part of making: a physical, on-site, trial-and-error process based on the use of full-scale physical mock-ups. We practice full-scale mocking-up as the core system of decision-making in the building process.

13. Construction

Direct hands-on construction is essential to making. That is where and when everything happens; the building yard and the actual act of construction are the place and moment where the healing reunification occurs. We practice direct construction as the all-encompassing environment of making.