50 Years of Design Research









The Idea of Architecture, The User As Inhabitant: Design through a Christopher Alexander Lens

Molly Wright Steenson 

Carnegie Mellon University, School of Design 


Keywords: architecture, Christopher Alexander, pattern languages


The architect Christopher Alexander contributed the major notion of “architecture” to the field of design research and its associated practices, an engagement that began in 1962, with the Design Methods movement. As co- author of A Pattern Language and author of such books as Notes on the Synthesis of Form and The Timeless Way of Building, he and his colleagues influenced the notion of architecture in the fields of design, design research and computer programming. Through the joint interpretations and applications of Alexander’s version of architecture by designers and programmers, two important practices emerged: the use of patterns in programming, and the concept of a user as the inhabitant of a system of software. Yet this view of “architecture” held by designers and programmers differs from how architects practice the field, not to mention how they negatively they assess Alexander. Ultimately, there is much to learn from Alexander’s contrarian stance and in the connections and disconnections in the idea of architecture, as it is understood in user-centered design.

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Cite this paper:

Steenson, M (2016). The Idea of Architecture, The User As Inhabitant: Design through a Christopher Alexander Lens. Proceedings of DRS 2016, Design Research Society 50th Anniversary Conference. Brighton, UK, 27–30 June 2016.

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