Notes on Synthesis and Form

This originally appeared on our blog in 2016, and more recently, in S P A C E as a conversation-starting prompt. Amazing things came from that thread, so I wanted to share it here. Mostly for EC.

AUSTRIAN-BORN architect Christopher Alexander says in Notes on Synthesis and Form, that achieving a “frictionless coexistence” between a thing you’re making and what’s around it is the goal for every problem. The premise of this book is that “good fit” between a form and its context is key to good design. (This “frictionless coexistence” stuff reminds me of a story someone tried to explain to me in Japan when I was a high school exchange student in the boonies of Tochigi prefecture. “In Japan,” he tried to tell me gently though neither of us spoke too many words of the other’s language, “people have to get along, right? Because there are a lot of us in a small amount of space? So, it’s like this… you have all these people all next to each other, like this, and you want everyone to go smoothly around each other. Like this. Round and not square, see? And the idea? The idea is that no one disturbs anyone else, because we’re all moving easily without smashing anything up.”)

Open the first page of Notes. It says:

Every design problem begins with an effort to achieve fitness betweeen two entities: the form in question and its context. The form is the simple solution to the problem, the context defines the problem. In other words, when we speak of design, the real objective of discussion is not the form alone, but the ensemble comprising the form and its context.–Christopher Alexander, Notes on Synthesis and Form

I have this nagging suspicion that most designers don’t really do a lot of thinking about the context. A problem that’s not new, it seems:

Today (1968) functional problems are becoming less simple all the time. But designers rarely confess their inability to solve them. Instead, when a designer does not understand a problem clearly enough to find the order it really calls for, he falls back on some arbitrarily chosen formal order. The problem, because of its complexity, remains unsolved. —Ibid

Here it is… ‘Some arbitrarily chosen formal order.’ This is what the book I’m reading right now (perhaps you’ll want to join another conversation, a discussion), Lila (by Robert Pirsig) argues, too. People just fall back on what’s already been done, according to… What the herd does. Status quo. ‘The problem, because of its complexity, remains unsolved.’

I wonder what you think? Why is this so, if it is, I am curious. What questions does this provoke, for you? Open format, today. No formal order… 😉

Comments were open from January – March in this (now archived) post, for members of S P A C E and The Mirror Section A. Learn more about The Mirror here.

S P A C E || ‘Good Night, Day!’

Update: Mirror 2020 application window is now open. Details are here.

Writing in S P A C E

THE WRITING IS GOING ALL RIGHT. Here, behind the scenes, we are turning yearslong collected writings and bits into things that are actually in some way processed, thought through, organized, and well-presented. I think this is called publishing. And that’s why we are working on it with Kismuth Books. Lots of room and space, to reflect, to look at the arc of where the stories that left the warmest impressions were, and how they got there. Not that there is a thing to ‘figure out,’ per se. It’s quite nice to just let the things be what they are slowly, in an ukiyo-e way, bubbling up and surfacing to be. Does it make sense?

DISCOVER THE MIRROR. IN 2014, I got this weird idea to write with other people. Some of them friends, some of them acquaintances, and many of them people I didn’t know. Internet friends? I guess. It became interesting very recently, as we have been iterating quite a lot since then. Now, THE MIRROR is a robust tool and we are sharing it out again starting 8 January, with a handful of people who are the right fit. I continue to do this because I love cojournaling; it gives us the opportunity to build a global tribe of people who are also asking questions, and curious about life. A few brave cojournalers who signed up for our very first experiment (January 2014) had NO idea what to expect. It was definitely an exercise in trust. And design, of course. We’ve tweaked it, tested it, added things, deleted things, and tried the whole thing out. It’s less clunky now, 4 years into it.

We use email. But it’s not just mail. It’s someone’s trust in you, and me, and us. It’s sharing. It’s this thing I kept going on about last year, “the village.” It’s about connecting, in a way that’s meaningful and deep and not someone paying for a therapist’s time or someone reading a book once and forgetting about it after that. It’s not a workshop off in the mountains, though those are fantastic, or a c0 lass that is going to help you set up everything to write a bestseller. It’s not any of those things. It’s just, simply, space. And it’s working. I can’t believe how the people who’ve just newly met are sharing their very personal thoughts, even in these early days. People are telling me they’re so happy to have time to just “free write,” without much of an agenda, and that they appreciate someone is listening (that would be the groups, and also me), holding them accountable to keep a practice to themselves: Write. Write weekly.

 

Weekly conversations

You don’t have to be a writer, you don’t have to be an artist. You can just be YOU. That’s the thing. We often don’t have space or time to spend just discovering who we are, within. I promise I’ve seen this over and over again at Design Kompany. In a modern world where we are so achievement-driven, we forget to make space and time to look within. Frankly, it’s discouraged. It’s “artsy-fartsy,” and it’s “woo-woo.” But by gosh, it’s so darn important. You can’t ever know why you’re doing what you’re doing if you don’t know who you are. So this has been fantastic, and that’s why we’re kicking off this year officially NEXT WEEK. On 8/1/18, we are going to start THE MIRROR 2018. It is for those who are interested in making space to reflect, take stock. With others also responding to the same prompts, in forums, each week. What I learned from DK that I apply to THE MIRROR is one thing: the conversation is the most important part of any creative process.

‘What’s in it for me?’ Fair question. This is about creating intentional space for you to write, in a dedicated way, with other people doing the same thing in other parts of your city or the world. I will be here to hold you accountable, giving you a quarterly update with feedback. This is not for a grade or any kind of validation, but I will guide you to committing time to flex your creative writing (outside of work, your local writing club, or academia). Sharing in a nonjudgmental way with others is a huge part of this, and learning to be a little vulnerable along the way makes space for a different kind of writing which may be new for you, too.

Why this is different. This isn’t school, or work, and yet, even recess has a set time for little kids. Space to play. To discover. To look, ask, and try. Think of it like you might imagine kindergarten—anything is possible—except now you have experience to draw from too. Without a chance to make what’s in our hearts known (first to ourselves, and then to others), it doesn’t get heard. Sometimes our stories are painful—grief, loss, or hurt—but sometimes, behind those things, there is an enormous well of something we didn’t know was there. The subconscience speaks through journaling, telling us each about our deepers elves as we get better at practicing how to let it speak.

I’m a believer in flat, open circles, and am creating this space so as to invite lots of real stories from the heart to come onto the (digital) page, if that’s what happens, or at least illuminate for their authors exactly what it is that’s inside. There are far too many times when you can look into the mirror and wonder, “What if things had turned out differently? What if I had applied myself a little more?” It’s not easy in our modern, achievement-oriented culture to give ourselves this kind of permission. Space. To play, to look inward, to do the hard work that can unleash a world of new insight if we let it.

Join S P A C E. Become a member when you subscribe for our weekly e-mag. Subscribe here.

 

Let’s meet in real life in Phnom Penh

Rooftop Philosophy, Phnom Penh 2016-2018. See what’s on now.

THE FIRST TIME I CAME TO PHNOM PENH, there was a feeling that anything could happen. This was in March, 2014. This was a time in my life that I needed to be in a place where you could try things, make it up, see what happened. Because so much of what I had imagined was going to work simply hadn’t been doing that. I was on the verge of quitting it all. Giving up on the ‘Anything is Possible’ dream that we started Design Kompany with as a limited liability company in Seattle in 2005. This was the hope, back then: You could do anything you wanted, if you just had a clear picture of what it was. Somehow, the universe would deliver. Regardless of background or income or societal class, the clarity of intent was the key. A few days after moving into a flat on Street 63, something that I never imagined I would do, I organized a conversation salon called ORIGIN. What is fromness? Having turned this question about in my heart for the one year on the road in India, Nepal, Viet Nam, Thailand, and Laos, I very much wanted to know.

Having a burning question in your heart is one of the best ways to host a salon.

So I did.

ORIGIN was hosted in an ‘unconference’ format, which I think is a new idea here in Phnom Penh and I’d only first ever heard of it a few years prior at a barcamp in Seattle. You propose a theme, a topic that is, that could be openly interpreted. Here’s how it works. You share about it as a date-time-place and just see who comes. When guests arrive, you host the space in such a way as to invite those who are there to share what they hope to hear, and in this way, a natural and organically formed agenda is devised. On the spot. It’s very nice. We talk together in small circles, only with those who are also interested in exploring the topics that we are. In this way, we make good on our time. We establish real connections. People at ORIGIN, pictured below, seemed to really engage with this style of gathering with new and different others.

Here’s a pic:

ONE OF THE GREATEST things I have learned about living in Cambodia is just how open to trying new things that the Cambodian people are. How could I possibly have gotten to know people here, who are from here, when I’d only just arrived myself? Yet there were a lot of people who were local to Phnom Penh who got word of this and came. I really admired and appreciated that.

A lot of times you just throw an idea ‘out there’ and see if it ‘has legs,’ which is just designspeak for, ‘Does anyone really want this?’

In my three years since ORIGIN, I have tried out a lot of other kinds of topics, to mixed reviews and response. I have also gone to other countries and gathered people in different cities, just to see if maybe it was about the place. It’s not. It’s about the people. Whoever comes is the right people, it says in the Open Space manual. Whatever happens is exactly the only thing that could have.

New things ahead. I’m looking forward to it.

Let’s play.

STAMMTISCH #5 || A salon about the creative process and why we bother to make, design

Update: In April 2018, DK are hosting this event for creatives in Phnom Penh and who are passing through to talk about the process of “making” and “making a living,” and how those two things relate to one another. Inspired by conversations with “digital nomads” in Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia, plus a budding interest in something *new* that will get us offline and looking at one another, made DK become interested in restarting the real-life Monday meet ups that we used to do in a past life in Seattle. The fifth ‘Stammtisch’ is going to be in Phnom Penh this coming Monday. Limited seats. Advance bookings only. It’s $15 to participate. Register here.

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Artrepreneurship: ‘Is it right for me?’

Photo: OMNI Photostudios

SALON & MEETUP FOR DESIGNERS. This is the fifth time that we will host STAMMTISCH in Phnom Penh. We’ll make it short, sweet and a chance to mingle with creative people based in this city or just passing through. STAMMTISCH #5 in Phnom Penh on Monday is designed to be very small, and a chance to share some of the creative projects we are all working on.

DK is seeking creative people to connect and interconnect in real life. STAMMTISCH is s a traveling series. This started in an earlier form as ‘Designers Korner’ in Seattle 2006-2009 at Stumbling Monk and Vermillion Gallery in Capitol Hill. After that we circled to other places: Durham NC, Raleigh, Bangkok, and Phnom Penh. Join us for the next conversations. Details will be announced on our calendar for where, but it’s always on Monday, 4-6:30PM. (Can’t come because you have ‘work?’ Well, this is by design meant to be for people who are in charge of their own schedules. Makes for a more intriguing conversation, we’ve found, that way.)

Design Kompany events have been featured in GOOD magazine, North Carolina’s Independent Weekly, Seattle’s The Stranger, and Asia Life Cambodia.

WHO SHOULD COME TO STAMMTISCH #5. You also have a difficult time accepting ‘schools of design’ or fads. You will have earned your chops, but know when to keep your eyes and ears open. You are naturally curious and want to connect with the world in a meaningful way. You care about quality. You know that ultimately, your toughest client is yourself. You are someone who has worked in a design field for long enough to know that networking with others who’ve also got some experience is time valuably spent. That’s because we have different approaches to overlapping concerns: choosing our clientele, continuing to innovate and grow our businesses, how to best develop new products and services, and where to uncover new opportunities.

WHY THIS MATTERS. The world is changing, and the ‘how’ of making work work is something we can learn from one another in a conversation salon like this: real-time, real-life conversations with others also doing, making, sharing and growing. DK seeks others who are interested in learning about the way others think, that is, who are open to new ways of trying things. Ultimately, we make a break from the old thinking of ‘this is how it’s always been done.’ Status quo kills beauty in design. That’s what we feel. Let’s meet and connect and share what’s been interesting and new, in person, on this Monday afternoon. STAMMTISCH is one of our many kinds of  S P A C E. Making spaces for us to meet and talk, like for real, and about things that matter, and in ways that connect and engage us, is the ‘why’ of making S P A C E.

WHAT YOU’LL GET. Are you a designer? Do you work with people? Are you interested in talking more with others who do both? You’ll get a chapter of Design Kompany’s collection S P A C E || Circumference, when you register for a ticket.

LIGHT PROGRAM. Perhaps you’re interested in talking shop—about international business styles and how they vary, about lessons lessons learned from growing a business that continues to evolve, about trends and chapters in the emerging fields of digital technologies, communications, and how we relate to others through visual composition, through words, through Snaps… Let’s meet and talk more. A light program will be shared with those who confirm attendance. Meet us on 2F of Java, the one by Independence Monument.

HOW TO REGISTER

Very limited seats, and advance bookings only, please. This is where to go to register for a ticket.

Get a ticket. // Photo: Phnom Penh Post

‘Et eksempel er frygten for at udleve mine passioner’

Frygt og Lykke. A short essay by Aske Pedersen

I VIRKELIGHEDEN HANDLER det ikke om at skrive, men om at åbne mig op for andre mennesker. Og for mig selv. For at gøre dette, er jeg nødt til at smide min facade, mit uigennemtrængelige skjold af forsvarsmekanismer, og hvad sker der, hvis modparten ikke kan lide det den ser? Noget af det mest uhyggelige er at gøre sig sårbar, blot for at blive såret.

Update October 2018: S P A C E the zine begins in print with the new zine, ‘Janteloven.’  Learn more here.

 

image

TODAY, a guest post by Aske Pedersen from Aarhus, Denmark.

(English version here.)

Frygt og Lykke

JEG ER BANGE. Ikke for mørke, højder eller for at dø. Nej, jeg er bange for ikke at slå til, at være utilstrækkelig, og derfor foregår der en konstant kamp indeni mig. En kamp mellem frygt og lykke. Et eksempel er frygten for at udleve mine passioner.

Når folk spørger mig, hvad jeg virkelig godt kan lide, siger jeg næsten altid at skrive. Men hvorfor har jeg så ikke rørt tasteturet i snart et år? Jeg ved, at det gør mig glad, men noget holder mig alligevel tilbage. En del af min identitet og selvforståelse er bygget op omkring forestillingen om, at jeg er god til at skrive. Hvad sker der med mig, hvis forestillingen ikke holder? Hvis jeg virkelig giver det bedste jeg har, men det bare ikke er godt nok. Denne frygt holder mig fanget i en magtesløs og narcisistisk stilstand, hvor jeg gemmer mig for frygten og udskyder konfrontationen. “I dag er jeg træt, jeg skriver i morgen. I morgen har jeg travlt, men der er tid i næste uge.” Næste uge bliver til næste måned, og næste måned bliver til næste år. Frygten vinder kampen, og min selvfølelse bliver baseret på en løgn, som jeg ikke længere tror på. Men der er sket noget i kampen mellem frygt og lykke. Jeg skriver.

I virkeligheden handler det ikke om at skrive, men om at åbne mig op for andre mennesker. Og for mig selv. For at gøre dette, er jeg nødt til at smide min facade, mit uigennemtrængelige skjold af forsvarsmekanismer, og hvad sker der, hvis modparten ikke kan lide det den ser? Noget af det mest uhyggelige er at gøre sig sårbar, blot for at blive såret. Denne frygt holder mig fra de mest spændene samtaler, nye venskaber, kærester og evnen til at kunne elske rigtigt. I mødet med andre mennesker vælger jeg den nemme vej, hvilket for mig, er humoren. Ironi er blevet en så stor del af mig, at grænserne er blevet udhviskede. Jeg ved ikke længere, hvornår jeg er ironisk, og hvornår jeg ikke er. Måske har alt jeg siger en grad af ironi, hvilket betyder, at jeg kan sige stort set alt. Men mister mine ord så ikke betydning?

Det er ikke kun det jeg siger, det er også måden jeg lytter på. Ofte tager jeg mig selv i at udtænke mit næste svar, før modparten er færdig med at tale. På den måde er jeg sikker på at undgå den akavede stilhed, og samtidig kan jeg fremstå mere intellegent. Dog går der noget tabt i processen. Jeg glemmer at lytte, og jeg formår ikke at se mennesket overfor mig. I stedet kommer samtalen til at foregå på mine præmisser og ofte til at handle om mig. Måske er jeg nutidens narkissos, eller måske er jeg bare bange, eller måske er det én og samme ting.

Hvis man koger det ned, handler det om at tage den sikre vej i samværet med andre mennesker. I samtalen kommer vi ind på alle de selvskrevne emner som studievalg, vejret og geografiske placeringer, og så kommer der et par vittige bemærkninger. Bare så det hele ikke bliver for kedeligt. Det er ikke pinligt, ingen er blevet såret og alle har det fint. Fint… Hverken mere eller mindre. Men jeg gider ikke længere have det fint. For når målet er at undgå fiasko, udelukker jeg samtidig muligheden for succes. —AP


Fear and Happiness

I AM AFRAID. Not of darkness, heights or of dying. No, I am afraid of not being enough, of being inadequate. And because of that, there is a constant battle inside of me. A battle between fear and happiness.

An example is the fear to live out my passions. When people ask me what really lights my fire, I almost always say writing. But then why haven´t I touched the keyboard in almost a year? I know that writing makes me happy, but something is still holding me back. A part of my identity and self-understanding is based on the conception that I am good at writing. What happens to me if that conception breaks? If I really give it my best shot, but it´s just not enough. This fear keeps me in a powerless and narcissistic standstill, where I hide from the fear and delay the confrontation. “Today I’m tired, I will write tomorrow. Tomorrow I’m busy, but there should be time next week.” Next week becomes next month and next month becomes next year. Fear is winning the battle, and my self-esteem is based on a lie that I no longer believe in. But something has happened in the battle between fear and happiness. I am writing.

REALLY IT’S NOT AS MUCH about writing, as it is about opening up to other people. And to myself. To do this, I have to throw away my facade, my impervious shield of defense mechanisms, and what happens if the counterpart doesn’t like what it sees? One of the most frightening things is to make yourself vulnerable, only to get hurt. This fear holds me back from the most interesting conversations, new friendships, girlfriends and the ability to really love another person. When meeting other people I choose the easy option, which to me is humor. Irony has become such a big part of me, that the boundaries have become blurry. I no longer know if I’m being ironic or if I’m not. Maybe everything I say has a touch of irony, which means I can say almost everything. But then what significance do my words hold?

It’s not only what I say, it’s also the way I listen. Often I catch myself devising my next answer while the counterpart is still speaking. That way I’m certain to avoid the awkward silence, and at the same time I can appear more intelligent. However something gets lost in the process. I forget to listen and I don’t manage to really see the person in front of me. Instead the conversation happens on my terms and is often centered around me. Maybe I’m the modern day Narcissus or maybe I’m just afraid, or maybe they are one and the same.

IF YOU BOIL IT DOWN, it’s about taking the road of comfort in the companionship with other human beings. In the conversations we go through the even written topics such as education, the weather and geographical locations, and then a couple of jokes are thrown in just so it doesn’t get too boring. Nothing is embarrassing, no one has been hurt and everybody is fine. Fine… No more, no less. But I don’t want to be fine anymore. Cause when the goal is to avoid failure, I exclude the opportunity of success. —AP