Christopher Alexander

Christopher Alexander, architect, is also the founding father of the Pattern Language movement in computer science, and author of A Pattern Language, the seminal work that was perhaps the first complete book ever written in hypertext fashion. The page on my old website that referenced his ‘Elements of Style’ got a surprising number of hits, so I’ve decided to include it here.


Alexander has also published Nature of Order: Vision of the Living World, part of a four-volume treatise subtitled An Essay on the Art of Building and the Nature of the Universe. In 2,150 pages, Alexander outlines the properties that he believes underlie beauty in art, nature, and great buildings. You can read more on the publisher’s web site

The four-volume set outlines the properties that Alexander believes underlie beauty in art, nature, and great buildings. These ‘properties’ have influenced not only architects, but programmers, interface designers, usability engineers and computer game developers.

I believe they may also be applied to art and photography.
So, listed here for your consideration are ‘The Fifteen Elements’ as defined by Alexander.


1. Levels of Scale

A balanced range of sizes is pleasing and beautiful.

2. Strong Centers

Good design offers areas of focus or weight.

3. Boundaries

Outlines focus attention on the center.

4. Alternating Repetition

Repeating elements creates a sense of order and harmony.

5. Positive Space

The background should reinforce rather than detract from the center.

6. Good Shape

Simple forms create an intense, powerful center.

7. Local Symettries

Organic, small-scale symmetry works better than precise, overall symmetry.

8. Deep Interlock & Ambiguity

Looping, connected elements promote unity and grace.

9. Contrast

Unity is achieved with visible opposites.

10. Gradients

The proportional use of space and pattern creates harmony.

11. Roughness

Texture and imperfections convey uniqueness and life.

12. Echoes

Similarities should repeat throughout a design.

13. The Void

Empty spaces offer calm and contrast.

14. Simplicity & Inner Calm

Use only essentials; avoid extraneous elements.

15. Not-Separateness

Designs should be connected & complementary, not egocentric & isolated.