Archive for January, 2015

The Timeless Way of Building Products

Gordes is an ancient celtic fortified town built on the foothills of the Monts of Vauclusein, France. The narrow cobbled streets threading their way through tall houses and a castle firmly planted in it’s center, whisper the battles and sufferings of it’s inhabitants.

Multiple invasions, religious wars, two earthquakes, and a bombing at the end of of WWII, showed that the inhabitants were strong and brave enough to build a home that could withstand time.

Today, the village still stands on the same calcareous clay rock it was build on nearly a 1000 years ago and, with markets held every Tuesday, Gordes truly is an example of what Christopher Alexander refers to as “timeless”.


In A Timeless Way of Building, Christopher, an architect best known for his theories about design and reasoning that users know more about the buildings they need than any architect could, explains why traditional buildings, and villages such as Gordes, could withstand time with austerity:

There is one timeless way of building. It is a thousand years old, and the same today as it has ever been. The great traditional buildings of the past, the villages and tents and temples in which man feels at home, have always been made by people who were very close to the center of this way.

It is not possible to make great buildings, or great towns, beautiful places, places where you feel yourself, places where you feel alive, except by following this way.

This holds true for the digital world we are busy building right now as well and if there is one thing we can learn from architecture, a trade that is 1000’s of years old, it would be this:

It is not possible to make great products, or organisations, or ecosystems, digital spaces where you feel yourself and at home, except by understanding the people who are at the center of it.

The Timeless Way of Building Products

While doing research for a post I’m busy with, I came across this great quote by Christopher Alexander from his book, The Timeless Way of Building:

“We have come to think of buildings, even towns as ‘creations’ — again thought out, conceived entire, designed… All this has defined the task of creation, or design, as a huge task, in which something gigantic is brought to birth, suddenly in a single act… Imagine, by contrast, a system of simple rules, not complicated, patiently applied, until they gradually form a thing … The mastery of what is made does not lie in the depths of some impenetrable ego; it lies, instead in the simple mastery of the steps in the process…”

It reminds me of the lean way in which we’ve come to build products lately. It doesn’t start out with a grand and complete blueprint where everything is perfectly in place from the beginning. It rather starts out with loose components of what we already know and exist. And then, slowly and patiently over time, we piece them together to form something that functions better than what otherwise would have been possible.