“In the most profound centers which have perfect wholeness, there is at the heart a void which is like water, infinite in depth, surrounded by and contrasted with the clutter of the stuff and fabric all around it.”Christopher Alexander, p. 222, Book One, The Nature of Order
“The need for the void arises in all centers. A cup or a bowl rests, as a living center, on the quiet of the space in the bowl itself, its stillness. A painting that is a mass of color rests on some quiet unbroken field of color, less differentiated, and concentrating the quiet to itself.”Christopher Alexander, p. 225, Book One, The Nature of Order
We are seduced by busyness. Busy days in full calendars, busy homes on busy streets. In America, if one isn’t working hard or playing hard, being entertained, or even planning our work and play, something is wrong. One is lazy or at best unproductive. This ‘work ethic’, which seems uniquely hard wired into our present culture, is powerfully reflected in our built environment. From the largest urban settings to the most intimate living environments, we find scant few places to rest, to stop, to meditate, to reflect. The Void speaks to achieving a balance between the busy and the calm. Without the void all we have is freneticism; without action we are left with a cold emptiness.
This aerial photo of a small town in the Czech Republic illustrates a balance between the Void and activity rarely seen in contemporary American towns. The size of the open central plaza is generous compared to the volume of surrounding buildings. The froth of active, small scale window, parapet and decorative elements play against the calm and stillness of the open public space and vice versa. Compare this to a typical small town in America where the overwhelming percentage of public common space is a five foot wide sidewalk between the street and private property. It is all buzz with no calm.
Once we finally visualized that The Void was about balance, at every scale of the built environment, our architectural work began reflecting this elusive Property of Wholeness.