A First Glimpse at the Whole: Christopher Alexander’s Fifteen Fundamental Properties of Living Centers and Their Implication for Education

A First Glimpse at the Whole: Christopher Alexander’s Fifteen Fundamental Properties of Living Centers and Their Implication for Education

Reinhard Bauer (Danube University Krems, Austria) and Peter Baumgartner (Danube University Krems, Austria)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-144-7.ch018
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This chapter proposes an interesting discussion on how to transfer design patterns from architecture and software engineering to education. Computer scientists and pedagogues try to define patterns and pattern languages suitable for educational needs. The main goal of their work is to enhance quality and to foster best practices of teaching. Arguably, talking about a pedagogical pattern language requires definitely thinking about and describing its taxonomy, in other words, we have to think about a “grammar,” a set of logical and structural rules that govern the composition of meta-patterns, patterns and subpatterns like sentences, phrases, and words in any given natural language. Analyzing an exemplary educational scenario, this contribution will demonstrate the applicability of Alexander’s fifteen properties of living centers in education and intends to open discussion and reflection about the important role of an educational taxonomy for classifying existing pedagogical patterns.
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A First Glimpse At The Whole

With this thematic paper we would like to exemplify our first considerations on how might be used Christopher Alexander’s fifteen properties of living centers as a foundation and starting point for the analysis and classification of different stocks of educational scenarios, the “phrases” in a system of pedagogical patterns. In our perception, the lack of an agreed educational taxonomy has its root in a misunderstanding of how to define educational scenarios (e.g. different didactical levels are usually confounded) and, with regard to taxonomies, assuming a strict hierarchic structure of taxonomies, forgetting the importance of a holistic approach (Alexander, 1977).

In these premises, the following considerations are a tiny fragment of a complex discussion which we had during a research workshop last year. It dealt with the pattern approach of Christopher Alexander. This year, preparing a didactic lecture on patterns in the context of a Grundtvig Workshop in Vienna, we tried to build on some of the workshop results. We attempted to transfer Alexander’s fundamental properties of life discussed in the 5th chapter (cf. Alexander, 2004a, pp. 143-242) of his book “The Nature of Order – The Phenomenon of Life” (TNO) to pedagogy. To provide a basis for our considerations, first of all we deduce five premises from Alexander’s conceptions.

  • 1.

    The concept of life is far more than our traditional biological understanding. For Alexander, “life” is an emergent property of structures, i.e. the nature of order. Life emerges from the wholeness, the structural coherence and therefore is an emergent property of matter:

The key idea in this book [TNO] is that life is structural. It is a quality which comes about because of the existence of a discernible structure in the wholeness – and therefore explains what we perceive as the quality of buildings of artifacts. (TNO, p. 110)

  • We dare to suppose that the quality named in this quote refers to the former QWAN (quality without a name).

    • 2.

      “Life” is not a yes-no property, but according to its degree of wholeness, degree of harmony, and degree of structural coherence a gradual property of matter:

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