A professor at the University of California, Berkeley and licensed contractor as well as architect, Christopher Alexander is famous mostly for his populism, and his theoretical contributions. With Sarah Ishikawa and Murray Silverstein, he produced and validated an archtectural system, a pattern language designed to empower any human being to design and build quite well at any scale. He began the project because he believes that users know more about the buildings they need than any architect could.
The Timeless Way of Building Described the perfection of use to which buildings could aspire.
A Pattern Language : Towns, Buildings, Construction described the architectural system in a form that theoretical mathematician or computer scientist might call a generative grammar. It provides rules and forms, and leaves decisions to be taken from the precise environment of the project. This book's method was adopted by the University of Oregon, as described in The Oregon Experiment, with only indifferent success, although it remains the official building method.
The idea of a pattern language appears to apply to any complex engineering task, and has been applied to some of them. It has been especially influential in software engineering where patterns have been used to document collective knowledge in the field.
The Nature of Order: An Essay on the Art of Building and the Nature of the Universe is his latest and major work. It will consist of four volumes, the first two of which have been published at the time of this writing (Nov.2003). In it, he puts forwards a new theory about the nature of space around us and describes how this theory influences thinking about architecture, building, etcetera. The mostly static patterns from A Pattern Language have been amended by more dynamic Sequences, which describe how to work towards patterns (which can roughly been seen as the end result of sequences). Sequences, like patterns, promise to be tools of wider scope than building (just as his theory of space goes beyond architecture).
He also wrote Linz Cafe.
Alexander was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1936, and grew up in England. He attended Cambridge University, where he earned a Bachelor's degree in Architecture and a Master's degree in Mathematics. He earned a Ph.D in Architecture from Harvard University, and moved to Berkeley in 1963.