The Quality Without A Name

Written by Piers Cawley on

The Quality Without A Name is a phrase coined by Christopher Alexander in The Timeless Way of Building to describe the feeling of satisfaction and contentment engendered by good building. He later went on to call it ‘life’, but a friend of mine described it as ‘The Tao of Building’, which seems rather appropriate too. The Timeless Way of Building is a fantastic, if somewhat overwritten book, introducing Alexander’s themes and ideas about how modern architects and builders can recapture the qualities inherent in great (usually old) buildings.

Alexander later went on to crystallize his ideas about how to lay out cities, towns, neighbourhoods, houses, rooms, windows, etc in his massively influential book, A Pattern Language, in which Alexander and his co-authors attempted to set down a ‘language’ that would enable anyone to design and build somewhere that possessed the Quality Without a Name for themselves. Sadly, as they admit later, they failed in this attempt; efforts to use this pattern language by laymen resulted in interesting, but flawed buildings. Despite the failure (in Alexander’s terms) it’s a great book; the prose can be a little annoying at times, but the analysis is deep, and mind-changing. Here’s an extract from one of the patterns:

208. Gradual Stiffening