A Universal Sequence
    Christopher Alexander on a step after Gatemaker
    -- Greg Bryant
    A good unfolding sequence has a universal quality.
    The Gatemaker sequence is particularly good at helping a person or group to grow anything.
    And yet, it was intended only to help a person to unfold a harmonious gate.

    The Gatemaker Sequence can be used to actually guide construction decisions on site.
    It can be used to repair a design or a place.
    It can be used inside, or outside.
    It can be used to design a narrative structure, or a computer program structure.
    It can be used by groups to facilitate agreement on a design.
    We first noticed this analogous unfolding quality in 1997.
    But after Olga Volchkova built some gates, trellises, and fences with it in 2001-2002,
    its power became even more compelling to me. I marveled at its diverse range.
    I wrote Alexander about it:

    >I should say that -building- the gate, the problems that arose
    >over and over again seemed more universal than specific. That is,
    >over and over again, I kept asking myself, "do the largest centers
    >in and around this thing have feeling?" and kept trying to make
    >sure that we had an adjustable mockup or jig at each stage. But,
    >I don't know how the -specific- needs could have been
    >conveyed. Maybe I'm wrong. But things like: the joint between
    >the trellis and the lintel and the post .. that had to be mocked
    >up in an adjustable wood jig ... but, in a program, how could we have
    >told me that this -specific- thing would need adjustment on my gate?
    >Almost -everything- seemed to have this un-specifiable quality,
    >to some degree. And what if I had made the Gate out of adobe?
    >So, to add the past two paragraphs together, it seems like
    >somehow we should create a -universal- engine for sketching
    >and for building. The user defines the project, and the number
    >of steps, and then uses the universal program.
    >That may seem crazy. Yet, I just used gatemaker to design an outdoor
    >bath! I think if we re-wrote the step descriptions, we could
    >have a universal sketching engine. And the universal building
    >sequence would just be another, but similar, kettle of fish.

    He wrote:
    >Dear Greg,
    >The idea of a universal sequence, and a universal sketching 
    >machine, is not crazy at all.
    >After working on a project about a shrine (church in new Mexico) and trying 
    >to explain the sequence that it is based on (specifically), Jenny asked me
    >if it was possible to use it for more general purposes -- just what you mention.
    >Here is what I sent her:

    [He then attached the page below.]

    >It is also visible on the first tab of the workspace (Universal sequence).
    >I think gatemaker essentially has a very similar structure, and your 
    >description is just right. We should work on this to perfect it.
    >All the best
    Try to use this version of the Universal Sequence. Let us know what you discover.

A Universal Sequence for a living center

Every act in a living process, creates a center. Although no two centers are the same, nevertheless there is a deep structure which all centers share. Perhaps too crudely put, each center is a nested system of layers.

The structure of every living center

  1. The outer shell is a boundary where the center meets the world beyond.
  2. Inside the outer boundary, is a wider, deeper boundary zone. This protects the main center.
  3. The main center is entered by a passage which connects the outer to the inner. This is a gate. There may be more than one gate.
  4. As one passes through the main center, there is a gradient toward a smaller, finer center. This gradient focuses attention, life, towards some still smaller center, which gives focus to the whole.
  5. The smallest, focused center, is more elaborate, stands alone, offers opportunity for contemplation and quiet. But it is not the smallest, or the most focused place.
  6. Standing apart, in contrast to the smallest center, there is an even smaller center. This gives the whole its zest.
Applies to all things, large and small

  • This description applies to a kitchen.
  • It applies to an armchair or a table.
  • It applies to a neighborhood.
  • It applies to the downtown of city.
  • It applies to a lake, and its ecology.
  • It applies to a monastery.
  • It applies to a house.
  • It applies to a garden.
  • It applies to a jug that has been filled with flowers.

Here is a completely general generating process for making a living center

  • Set the focal point of what is to become the living center.
  • Make a boundary which is the outer boundary of the place, which is to focus on this focal point
  • Thicken this boundary, and make it up from smaller coherent ornamented centers, thickened, and significant in their own right
  • Inside the boundary, shape the main center, a large zone and space which is supremely positive in shape and character
  • There is a gate or entrance to this place.
  • Create a gradient which leads from the entrance point towards the focal point.
  • Shape the focal point as positive space
  • Around the focal point put detailed centers of romantic and touching quality
  • Against the romantic touching quality, put a stark plainness that sets it off.
  • Off-beat, syncopated to the stark simplicity, is an even smaller center, lost, protected by layers, which is also stark and quiet. It is reminiscent of the void.
Use this sequence to make anything

You can use it, too, to elaborate any one of the centers which you have just been making.