I Love Lists. Such as This List About What Gives Objects ‘Life.’
In The Phenomenon of Life, vol. 1: The Nature of Order, Christopher Alexander asks,
“Can we find any recurrent geometrical structural features whose presence in things correlates with their degree of life?”
He identifies fifteen features that appear again and again in things that have “life”—whether that thing is a sketch by an Impressionist, a wooden door, a Norwegian storehouse, a Japanese tea bowl, the Golden Gate Bridge or natural things, like a giraffe’s coat, palm fronds, a spider’s web, Himalayan foothills, muscle fiber.
- Levels of scale
- Strong centers
- Alternating repetition
- Positive space
- Good shape
- Local symmetries
- Deep interlock and ambiguity
- The void
- Simplicity and inner calm
It’s not always easy to understand, but just looking at all the illustrations is a wonderful exercise. I’m a word person, not a visual person, and this book really did a lot to help me understand how to look at objects.
I love schemes like this, that seek to identify the different elements of very complex wholes. I love taxonomy and dividing people into different categories and lists of all sorts.
For instance, just as I love Alexander’s approach, I love this scheme by John Ruskin in The Stones of Venice about the nature of the Gothic:
“I believe, then, that the characteristic or moral elements of Gothic are the following, placed in the order of their importance:
I don’t really know what Ruskin is talking about. But just this set of ideas, put together, makes my mind race.
How about you? Does Alexander’s scheme ring true for you? Do you have similar lists that you love?
Gretchen Rubin is the author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller The Happiness Project—an account of the year she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific studies, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier—and the recently released Happier at Home. On her popular blog, The Happiness Project, she reports on her daily adventures in the pursuit of happiness. For more doses of happiness and other happenings, follow Gretchen on Facebook and Twitter.
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