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Book Review

The Timeless Way of Building
by Christopher Alexander

ISBN: 0195024028
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Pages: 568

Reading Alexander's classic book on architecture that inspired the early software patterns community was a strange experience. I have read several interpretations of Alexander's work in the context of software and almost every pattern book in my shelf contains quotes from Alexander. As a consequence I experienced a feeling of familiarity with the material and recognized several famous quotes. One example is Alexander's description of what a pattern actually is: “Each pattern is a three-part rule, which expresses a relation between a certain context, a problem, and a solution".

Alexander comments that this book is more important as a whole than in its parts. He illustrates this with an interesting organization of the book that makes it possible to read it at three different levels of details: the detailed table of contents, the headlines in each chapter, and of course chapter by chapter. This organization works surprisingly well and it makes it possible to get the overall picture in an hour. Especially as I read the final chapters, which felt less relevant to me, the organization made it possible for me to skim through the chapters without running the risk of missing something essential.

Alexander writes in a very beautiful, almost poetic language and I am definitely going to read the next part (A Pattern Language) in his series of books. But, what does The Timeless Way of Building have to offer a modern software developer? Even though the software patterns community has its roots in the work of Alexander, the days of literate interpretations of Alexander are long gone. Alexander's books were an extremely influential starting point for the pattern movement and The Timeless Way of Building is a great read that I highly recommend, but for a software developer today I believe the use stops there.

Reviewed October 2005

©2005 Adam Petersen