Hajo Neis





The man who works with his hands is a laborer;
The man who works with his hands and his mind is a craftsman;
The man who works with his hands, mind and heart is an artist. (1)

Starting with the quote by Thomas of Aquinas, which assumes a progression from lower levels of learning and doing to higher levels of understanding and doing into a more integrated picture of art and architecture - similar to Abraham Maslows modern and more indulgent formulation of progressive human development -, one could be tempted to apply this integrated model to the development of architecture in general.(2) However, this model, of course, does not apply to the development of architecture in this century because modernism and modernity have given us a different path to follow. Instead what we find in architecture is a clear distinction, a fragmentation of all three of these elements in modern society and in the production and design of architecture. All these three elements have their different distinct and unrelated place. This is, of course, what is called modernity and the division of labor in modern society, and it certainly has brought us many advantages in modern life. However, the scissors have widened and are widening more and more between these three elements and activities so that we have to ask the question, if this development is good for architecture itself. Furthermore, globalization and European integration shows various levels of modernization, integration and fragmentation, so that a picture has emerged which Peter Eisenmann characterizes as the double zeitgeist in architecture

"Traditionally, every era has manifested a unitary organizational strategy called a zeitgeist, or spirit of the times. Architecture has always had the capacity to both mirror and be driven by the zeitgeist...What characterizes the Rome of Sixtus V, Hausmann's Paris, or the work of Le Corbusier, whether mirroring or transforming, is that their plans derived from a singular body politic, an operating and animating principle where a unitary world view was possible. Now, ironically, at a time when the entire world can be seen as part of a singular operating network, such a singular world view is no longer possible. There is no one body politic and, thus, no single zeitgeist." (3)

Eisenmann continues in his essay to describe today's world in terms of a double zeitgeist, where two "spirit of the times" coexist as separate entities. He describes the first zeitgeist as a traditional one based on land, industry, and people. Examples include the newly formed nations such as Serbia and Slovakia that have been formed based on land, language, culture and specific ethnic identities. The second zeitgeist is based on information, communications and technology, and include the emergence and increasing use of jet airplane travel, fax machines, and the world wide web. Thus, with the first zeitgeist there exists a tendency to concentrate on the particular local conditions and place, whereas with the second zeitgeist there exists a tendency to concentrate on the global whole.

However, I believe that Eisenmann's idea of a double zeitgeist is by far not limited to differential technologies in different societies and differences in ethnic based cultures and societies but also shows limitations and shortcomings of the modernist approach in itself. Modernism was not able so far to connect between the different independent activities and society as a whole, as Habermas for example regrets in his article "Modernism - An Incomplete Project". However, he also continues to criticize various (young, old and neo) conservative philosophical directions for wanting to give up modernity altogether.(4) It is to observe that this double zeitgeist is also happening within highly developed cultures and societies at various levels of discourse, as well as within less developed cultures and societies. My emphasis here will be on the double zeitgeist in architecture within highly developed cultures. And my own propositions have to be understood in the context of an expanded view of modernity and cultural modernity.

The contrast between what I call 'Building Architecture' and 'Design Architecture' can be considered one manifestation of the double zeitgeist, in this case the different attitudes, philosophies and practices of our times to design and build within the same culture. It is these two directions in architecture and design which will be investigated, theoretically as well as in practical examples. Also, the possibilities of an 'Integrated Process of Design and Construction' will be discussed with its own potentiality and reality for creativity and materialization.


Let us start with what I call design architecture which is the most prevalent mode of creating buildings today within the developed world. We all know very well what design architecture is because that is what we learn at the universities and that is also how most of us practice architecture. Essentially we design something according to a particular philosophy or theory, and then we hand it over to a contractor who will built it for us and the client. We may be able to exert some influence during construction but even that becomes less and less possible, so that many of us become more and more design architects, covering only preliminary design, or in Germany covering the first 4 of the nine professional working phases of the HOAI.(5)

Especially with the system and culture of competitions, particularly in Germany, many of us are educated and trained as competition design-architects. Here the design is emphasized as the most important part, and what happens afterwards is a matter of implementation, something we do not deal with, we are even not competent anymore to deal with. We also have come to believe that all creativity takes place in design, and that construction is merely a matter of materialization devoid of creativity.

There are many different creative techniques in design, such as conceptual brainstorming and blockbusting, lateral thinking, bionics, synectics and other techniques in which we try to combine two different ideas to form new ideas which then serve as the basis for design following the classic book on creativity by Arthur Koestler "The Art of Creation" and other books which deal with these techniques.(6) And there are also newer techniques which rely more on organized stochastic procedures such as the 'formation of inner picture' technique by Wolfgang Rang.(7) To simplify, these stochastic techniques can be compared with playing the Japanese stick game 'Mikado' and then select the best parts as a parti or continuation for our design.

There are of course also different directions in design architecture with their own creative techniques. We have neo-modernism with its canon of modern forms, and post modernism with its sometimes humorous) reference to classical form, and we also have deconstructivism with its collage method, as well as other less dominant forms such as the neo-classical direction in architecture with its canon of classical forms, or the ecological direction in architecture with its functional environmental forms. Most of these architectural directions are recognized by style and their formal language, and some possibly by their distinct creative process of design.

But the task of the architect is not only to design but also to carry through the building to its completion. The architects role in this field is more and more curtailed by several tendencies. First, the increasing tendency in Europe, and particularly in Germany, to develop building projects more and more within the developer method, removes the architect one step further away from his/her original task of being directly responsible for the environment and for the making of buildings. Guenter Behnisch, in a recent lecture at UC Berkeley has deplored the tendency toward being less and less able to speak and coordinate with subcontractors directly.(8) Second, the increasing tendency in the United States to develop more and more projects in the design/build method, which seems to open up new possibilities but actually is geared towards saving cost and time, leaving little space for the architect to function as the responsible creator of structure in the environment.

This may be a time therefore to reflect on these tendencies and to consider not only, how to expand our knowledge and skills with computer technology but also, how to give back to the architect the powers of direct responsibility for forming the environment in a responsible fashion for today, consistent with modern society. Exactly because the architect is more and more removed from the actual building and recently also has begun to become more and more a computer architect or an architect in the hands of a developer, it may be relevant to investigate the design and construction of a building as a continuous and singular process - not two processes - for which the architect signs responsible. This means to first go back and investigate that part of the creation of a building which has to do with its making.


Building architecture in its most pure form without design or without much design probably only exists today in societies where there is a regional tradition or pattern language of architecture, and therefore design is more a matter of variation within an established pattern and form language, such as in the case of traditional Chinese and feng-shui architecture or Islamic courtyard house architecture. I have observed great building architecture in contemporary societies with an understanding of traditional architectural language and procedure such as in Tunisia, Greece and other places. Therefore, there may not be much need for design in the meaning of our modern definition of design. Bernhard Rudofsky has made us aware of the value of this vernacular architecture and has shown us many examples of these traditional and in some areas still working architectures which he calls "Architecture without Architects" in his book with the same title.(9) The richness and creativity of the vernacular architecture is well presented in this book.

In other instances there may not be enough or no money at all for design. Instead there may be so basic a need for shelter that design is not even an issue. Squatter settlements in the third world certainly have to be understood as building architecture such as in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, or the squatter settlements of Kisumu in Kenya. This however does not mean that there is no creativity within these kinds of buildings and settlements. The activity in creating more useful space in the overcrowded high rise buildings of Hongkong certainly exhibits a form of creativity. John Turner in his seminal work "Freedom to Build" has taken up this topic and has emphasized the right of people to build their own home and community as a positive and useful approach to solve housing problems in the Third World.(10)

But the question of building architecture may be much closer to home than we think. Just consider the large amount of construction which we do privately in our homes, year after year. The amount of private home construction in monetary terms can amount to a considerable number in the overall construction dollars spent. If every household in California spends just $2,000 per year on home construction it would add up to $20 billion and applied to the US this would add up to about $140 billion per year. This is a huge amount of design and construction money which is not considered architecture because architects rarely deal with this kind of work.

The integration of the European Community also makes it important for us to look at the various ways of designing and constructing buildings in various European countries. How for example are buildings produced in Spain and Portugal or Greece? Do they have to follow the same procedure as we do here in Germany? Or can they also follow other procedures more close to building architecture. The same questions can be asked with regard to Eastern European countries. How, for example is architecture done in Poland, or Ukraine or Russia. And what does it mean for our own design and building procedures here in Germany?


Given the recent developments in Europe with more and more developer architecture on the one hand, and with the need to incorporate other kinds of European design and building practices and processes on the other hand, we can pursue the development of architecture in various ways. We can go in the direction of having more and more design architecture, even more and more computer architecture. We can also go in the direction of having more and more developer architecture. But we can also try to look for opportunities of developing new kinds of architecture and building processes. In all likelihood we will pursue all of these options.

The direction which I want to explore here as a potentiality and possibility is a new process of integrated design and construction or called - in short - Building Process Architecture. What do I mean by an integrated process of design and construction? First, we have to clearly understand that I am presenting these ideas from the point of view of the architect. Building Process Architecture as I propose it, is addressed to the architect who also wants to be responsible for construction, not only as an architect but also as builder and contractor. It is addressed to the architect who sees design and construction as one continuos process in which design, construction, planning and theory are integrated and in which the architect can continue to improve the building also during construction. Of course, there are many possibilities of integrating design and construction; this is a matter of degree and principle, which can be expressed in design and building methods, in agreements and contracts.(11)

I am discussing this approach not only based on ideas and possibilities, but based on actual experience and practice with a particular integrated process. This integrated building process approach to architecture has been developed for more than 20 years in California and has been applied in different parts of the world. In its early stage this approach or direction in architecture was known as the 'Pattern Language Approach'. The approach is based on the book "A Pattern Language" which has sold more than 100,000 copies, of which more than half have been bought by lay people, craftsman and non-architects. The pattern language approach, therefore, forms the basis of a more popular direction in architecture in which not only architects but also lay people can apply these patterns in their designs and construction.(12)

Since then this direction has progressed and developed into what is now known as the Building Process approach to architecture which includes 'pattern language' as one of many principles. An overall description of this process architecture is forthcoming in the book "The Nature of Order" by Christopher Alexander and other books and articles are in print or publication preparation.(13)

Foundations of Building Process Architecture

The foundations of the Building Process architecture, may be summarized as answers to three basic research questions:

1. What kind of structure must built form have to support 'life'?
(When I refer to life here as a key category, I refer to an organic systemic understanding as it is described by Fritjof Capra in his book "The Web of Life"; I am also referring to Chris Alexander's more expanded definition of life as well as Michael Benedict's understanding of life as the key category of measuring value.)(14)

2. What kind of process(es), such as processes of growth, transformation and design, are capable of helping to support and help to create life in the structure of the environment?

3. What kind of building processes, and processes of building production are capable of helping to create life in the environment?

Everything follows from attempts to answer these three major questions with their numerous sub-questions.

• It follows, for example, that building construction should not be separated from design, since it is possible to show that life-supporting structures are difficult to make by processes in which design and construction are separated.

• It follows that the beauty of buildings may be understood as based on human feeling and innate sense of wholeness as opposed to concepts.

• It follows that some involvement of users in the design and planning process is necessary, since the kinds of adaptation needed by a healthy and life-supporting environment are difficult to create when users are left out of the process.

• It follows that nature, ecology, animals and plants must be considered together with building design, since a life-supporting environment is difficult to be created without such a comprehensive approach.

• It follows that the process of building a city, or a neighborhood in a city, must be understood as a unified process of planning design and construction, since a process in which planning is separated will hardly be able to create an urban structure with the appropriate level of life in the environment.

These are some of the answers to these three major questions coming out of the research of the building process. There are more answers to these questions, which resulted in planning design and construction principles.

Organic Urban Order: The city or urban area is made up of many individual elements and buildings and is not planned and built according to one master plan.

Piecemeal Growth: The city or urban village is being planned, designed and built by the participants in step by step formation, one building after the other, thereby forming the city or urban area in a dynamic growth pattern.

Structure Preserving Transformations: The step by step formation occurs in a qualitatively definite way through the enhancement of the existing structure.

Visions or Concrete Imaginations: Each individual project or building is first conceived by the individual owner, architect or participant as a vision or concrete imagination.

Creation of Positive Urban Space: All space in the development of the city is "positively" shaped without left-over negative space.

Application of Spatial-Geometrical Properties: Positive space and other geometrical properties will not only be applied at the larger scale but will also occur at the medium and smaller level of buildings and other urban details.

Participation: The people, users, owners and inhabitants of the urban area should have a say and be part of the history of the making of an urban neighborhood.

Pattern Language and Project Language: The formation of a Pattern Language or Project Language ensures that the participants have a common language based on functional arguments for the development of the new area.

Formation of Centers and Fields of Centers: The overall development occurs as a field of centers, itself made up of many other fields of centers at various levels of scale.

Continuous Design and Construction: Design and construction are integrated so that the field of centers can also manifest itself at the very small level of construction.(15)

Practice of Building Process

At an early stage, a low-cost housing project was carried out in Mexicali, Mexico in which many of these principles or variables were applied. Key to the success of this project was that the architect/contractor had control over the following elements: control over planning, control over zoning, control over lot subdivision, control over design, control over structural engineering, control over material testing and development, control over manufacturing, control over building permits, control over construction, control over accounting and some parts of loan approval. (16) Additional projects of this kind have been accomplished in the US and other countries, in particular the Martinez field station buildings, the Albany house, the Sakura Tsutsumi Building in Tokyo and the Cultural Park Project in Cairo. In larger projects, this integrated approach was successfully applied in the Eishin College Campus in Japan ,(17) the Emoto Apartment building in Tokyo, the Shelter for the Homeless in San Jose, and the low cost Agate/Amazon Family Student Housing Village in Oregon. In Germany this process also has been applied in the design for the Breuberg housing project and in particular is now in the process of being applied to the design and construction of the Parkstadt project in Frankfurt. In these various projects we can observe integrated building process architecture with a range from almost pure building architecture to more design architecture.

Creativity in Building Process Architecture and Urban Process

While creativity in design architecture works with ideas or a series of ideas which are incorporated in drawings and a model, creativity in building process architecture depends, in addition to ideas, on working with the medium directly, and therefore is more testing oriented, and works in innovative ways with the object or space itself. It depends much on the art of making.

Art of Making. Throughout a project the architect continuously experiments with mock-ups, materials and construction techniques and applies innovative construction as well as structural engineering experiments. The architect attempts to modify and use existing materials in new ways, experiments with construction processes and construction system combinations, and can also work with manufacturers to modify the production of materials in order to find cost effective means of bringing the overall feeling of a project to a high degree of quality. Details of construction, structural engineering, and finishes that have a great impact on the project as a whole are under the architect's direct control and manipulation. Engineering is not an afterthought or means of making a given design work, it is an integral part of the process of design and making. Working as an engineer, or in close association with an engineer as part of the core team, creates the possibility for creativity, innovation, exploration, and experimentation. Working directly with materials and processes -- in other words, working directly with the medium of the art -- is one aspect of working as a creative building process architect or artist.

As a teaching curriculum, the Building Process approach shares similarities with the Bauhaus approach, but differs with regard to its contents and its emphasis on process and new process. Similarities in the two curricula include a clear entry level ("Vorlehre" and Nature of Order), emphasis on working with real materials, construction experience and design experiments on the site, and emphasis on real building projects ("Bauplatz" and Atelier) at the core level of education. Differences include the emphasis on creating new form in the Bauhaus, which saw the task of incorporating industrial production in the early twentieth century into the overall making of a buildings and artifacts as a major challenge,(18) and the emphasis on process and new process of design and making in the Building Process, which sees the task of creating living environments within the electronic and media oriented domination of the late twentieth century as a major challenge.

Formal Language or Style of Building Process Architecture

The formal language or what also may be referred to as style has not been taken up as a serious research question so far in the building process. However, the question is posed to us repeatedly. Can you place yourself in reference to the history of various movements and styles? People are obsessed with style today. While style used to be a category of history, ever since the end of last century, we are aware of style as something to choose from, and ask the question: In what style should we build, or -more contemporary- which new style can we invent?(19) Based on the application of various principles and processes such as patterns, geometry, spatial properties, process properties and building principles as well as context variables, we have developed our projects so far without the question of style or form language. With many projects built however, the beginning of such a form language has emerged and we can start to ask questions like: What kind of roof, or wall, or window opening can be associated with a living architecture. Preliminarily, we can observe that in the form language used so far, we can find quite a bit of masonry walls, we find roof tiles, wooden windows, natural stone and wooden structures. We also find ornament as structure and we find color and even ornamentation. A form language as a system still needs to be researched and formalized. What we have so far is a process architecture with a definite set of design and building principles.


The question and dialectics of design architecture and building architecture has not gone away at the end of the 20th century. Architects who thought that everything can be solved through good design certainly have achieved a lot as the case of the Bauhaus shows. But good design and mass production may not suffice for creating an architecture with a sense of ownership and personal identity. In addition to integrated design and construction we may also need a new kind of integrated process.

New Process. The Building Process provides us with an expanded understanding of architectural process, and makes process the key of approaching and experiencing architecture. Juhani Palasmaa in 'Six themes for the next millennium' deals with the question of process and proposes 'slowness' as his first theme:

We need an architecture that rejects momentariness, speed and fashion; instead of accelerating change and a sense of uncertainty, architecture must slow down our experience of reality in order to create an experiential background for grasping and understanding change. Instead of current obsession with novelty, architecture must acknowledge and respond to the bio-cultural and archaic dimensions of the human psyche.(20)

Our approach to this problem is on the level of finding and developing new processes which make the process of design and construction itself the experience, an experience which is communal, transparent and which can be shared at each step in the design and production of a building.


In some ways, we may say, we are attracted to both zeitgeists, the innovative formal zeitgeist of the design architecture on the one hand, and the deep feeling of building architecture on the other hand. What we are less and less used to is an organized integrated process of design and construction in which both of these components can be combined in new productive ways. The zeitgeist, as I see it, will continue to include several approaches to architecture, including design architecture in its various versions and degrees, but it also will include, I hope, several integrated design and building processes in their various versions and degrees. I have shown you one of these integrated building process architectures as it has been developed in the US and has been applied in various parts of the world. This new development may also be useful and applicable in Europe, perhaps and most likely in a modified form. While it seems that in Germany, we have all kinds of architecture, mostly design architecture, what we do not have is a process of integrated design and building which has the potential to create new forms of architecture and which has the potential to open up new ways for creativity and materialization - as process.



(1)This quote has been attributed to Thomas of Aquinas

(2) See: Abraham Maslow Toward a Psychology of Being Princeton: Van Nostrand 1968.

(3) Peter Eisenmann, "Confronting the Double Zeitgeist", Architecture, October 1994.

(4) see: Juergen Habermas "Modernism an Incomplete Project" in: Foster and Hall edts The Anti-aethetic Port Townsend: Bay Press 1986.

(5) Honorarordnung fuer Architekten und Ingenieure (HOAI) Stuutgart: Boorberg Verlag 1991.

(6) Arthur Koestler The Act of Creation New York: Macmillan 1964.

see also: James Adams Conceptual Blockbusting San Francisco: W.H. Freeman, 1975;

William Gordon Synectics New York: Harper Row, 1961.

(7) Wolfgang Rang teaches this design technique at the Fachhochschule in Frankfurt.

(8) Guenter Behisch lecture at UC Berkeley April 12,1999

(9) Bernhard Rudofsky Architecture without Architects London, Academy Editions, 1964.

(10) John Turner and Robert Fichter Freedom to Build New York: Macmillan 1972.

(11) Hajo Neis "Design and Buiding Process - Methods of Integrated Design and Construction" Proceedings of the 85th ACSA Annual Meeting, Washington ACSA Press 1997.

(12) Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa, Murray Silverstein et. al A Pattern Language Oxford University Press, New York, 1977.

(13) ChristopherAlexander, The Nature of Order forthcoming: New York, Oxford University Press, New York.

see also: Howard Davis, The Culture of Building forthcoming: New York, Oxford University Press

(14) For a discussion on 'systemic structure' and 'living structure' see: a. Fritjof Capra The Web of Life (New York: Doubleday, 1996); b. Christopher Alexander The Nature of Order (Berkeley: Oxford University Press 1999, in print; c. Michael Benedict " Value and Psychological Economics: An Outline" in: Value, Center 10/Architecture and Design in America, School of Architecture, The University of Texas at Austin, 1997, p.54 ).

(15) Some of these principles are explained in detail in: Christoher Alexander, Hajo Neis et.al. A New Theory of Urban Design New York;: Oxford University Press 1987

(16) Christopher Alexander wit Howard Davis et al., The Production of Houses forthcoming: New York: Oxford University Press, 1985).

(17) Christopher Alexander, Hajo Neis et al., Battle: A Crucial Clash Between World System A and World System B (Book ms, Berkeley, 1995).

(18) See, for example, Walter Gropius, "The Theory and Organization of the Bauhaus," in Herbert Bayer, Walter Gropius, and Ise Gropius eds., Bauhaus 1919-1928. (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1938), pp. 22-31.

(19) Heinrich Huebsch "In What Style should we Build ?" In What Style Should We Build? Sant Monica, The Getty Center Publication 1992. The essay by Heinrich Huebsch was first published as a book in 1828 in German.

(20) Juhani Palasmaa 'Six themes for the next millenium'