Tue Jun 08 16:00:00 GMT 2004
---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Thu, 29 Aug 2002 17:16:33 +0200
From: John Favaro
To: Yahoo XP Group
Subject: [XP] An architect's comments on patterns
In a recent thread I passed on some comments from my brother, who is an
architect, on the "design-build" paradigm. I had asked him what he knew
about it, since there was interest in the software engineering community as
an analogy to optional scope contracts; and I was interested in hearing at
least one architect's point of view.
The resulting discussion was interesting enough that I decided What The Heck
Let's Go All The Way and I asked my brother another question:
"What do you know about Christopher Alexander? His concept of patterns has
generated a great deal of interest in the software engineering world."
Here is his response:
"He was a kind of guru in the 60's and 70's.
"the 'patterns' refers essentially to 'tradition' ; his basic point being
that over 5,000 years immutable patterns of building and architecture emerge
that we can rely on when taking on a building design; (for example, if you
look at good rooms in domestic settings the best ones always seem to have
windows on two sides, preferably opposite sides) He came up with 'patterns'
instead of 'tradition' because it was Berkeley in the sixties when tradition
was seen as oppressive, euro-centric and 'irrelevant'. He wanted to
catalogue all the patterns of architecture in the history of the world (all
over the world, not just Europe of course) in the belief that there would be
a scientific way to get to good design--therefore avoiding the role of
culture (because culture requires values and judgment and whose culture are
we talking about anyway?) Of course it didn't work because architecture is
an art not a science. And his concept of patterns is ten times more
oppressive than the concept of the context of tradition as the fertile
ground within which innovation thrives (innovation is all about finding the
exception to the rule that changes the way we look at the rules, and
sometimes even the rules themselves). The buildings he actually produced
(not very many, small residences) ended up being ultra-conservative (very
eurocentric, in fact, like little Austrian cottages) and not very
"computer science is a science but I have a feeling that computer
applications are as much an art as a science, since they're about tailoring
to specific needs, making choices and judgments, relating choices to a set
of values on behalf of the client, etc.
"that's why the design-build analogy is big trouble because the intent is to
cut the 'artist' out of the equation--let the accountants drive the choices,
after all it's all cut and dry right?, it's all just science; that's what
the HMO's have done to doctors and medicine; our field went through it after
"run for your life..."
(Yes, he can be a bit provocative and dramatic)
In a second message he added this:
"well, the solution is to train the computer consultants to be responsible
about budget and schedule--that time and money are as potent in creative
possibility as anything else; the solution is not to cut them out of the
picture altogether; that just leads to self-fulfilling ends--assume the
consultant is only interested in design, let him focus on that in the vacuum
of budget and schedule and 'we'll handle that part (even though we don't
know what the hell he's talking about),' thus setting up a relationship of
conflict and misunderstanding from the beginning and encouraging the
designer to be irresponsible and narrowly focused;
"you treat people like children, they're going to act like children;"
Since I saw it first, I guess I get to make the first comments :-)
- after all the opinions expressed by us software guys about the
architecture field, it's kind of funny to see an architect commenting on OUR
- regarding his opinion on Alexander's work ... well, it certainly made for
interesting reading. Whether his opinion is universally shared in the world
of architecture I don't know. One possibility that occurs to me is that my
brother's goals for a successful building might be different from Alexander'
s. What he did seem to be implying, however, is that Alexander ultimately
did not have a lasting influence in the world of architecture. Again, I don'
t know how true that is.
- I did find interesting his insistence on measuring Alexander's ideas by
the buildings that were actually built with them. That meshes well with the
centricity of code artifacts in XP, as the principal measure of results.
- regarding his characterization of the nature of computer applications, I
thought he did pretty well, actually.
- when he starts talking about design-build again, I think this is once more
where the difference between our contexts comes out. As Dan Palanza and
others explained in the earlier thread, XP in particular is doing a lot to
eliminate the antagonistic relationship between design and build in our
context. Likewise the emphasis in agile development on accepted
responsibility for time and budget considerations. The analogy to his
warning about designers working in a vacuum of time and budget constraints
in our situation might be that of *requirements analysts* working in vacuum
of time and budget constraints, something Martin Fowler has also commented
Perhaps the overriding impression I get from all this is that, as others
have written recently, maybe we shouldn't push quite as hard as we do to
find perfect analogies between our world and the architectural world every
single time. Patterns and design-build may not have been successful in the
architectural world (if that's even true) -- but nobody doubts any more that
patterns have been hugely successful in the software world; and it looks
like the design-build paradigm as it is being tailored and applied in the
software world (e.g. with optional scope contracts) will probably be
successful, too. To each his own context.
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