A soft voice on the phone, telling me that he knows it's a terrible imposition but he's a student at the U of O (where Chris did a major project) and could he please come and see the architect's "masterpiece"?
Masterpiece? Well, it's the only house he did in the Pacific Northwest but I wouldn't say it's his masterpiece.
But he did. On the list.
When Tomo Furukawazono came to the house—and took many of the photos you see here—he explained that Chris had made a list of some of his works and had ranked them, putting the visitors' center in Sussex at the top of those rankings, and this house just below it.
We'd never heard of such a list, but I started making inquiries and sure enough, it exists. I got the word from a network of people who have worked with Chris, one of whom—Michael Mehaffy—actually worked on The List, with him.
Found the book, New Urbanism and Beyond from Rizzoli, and you're looking at a scan of page 21, aka The List.
We just stared at it for a while, looking at a manifestation of Chris's PhD in mathematics charted with his emotional, intuitive search for the Quality That Has No Name.
The List reminds me of the old crack about engineers trying to measure mud puddles with micrometers, but there it is. He scored the Whidbey House at 9 out of a possible 9 for the number of "generative patterns" he considers essential, and at 10 out of 10 in the B category of being "healthy and wholesome" for its users.
You'll notice that "West Dean"—the visitors' center in Sussex—comes in at 8 and 10. All other numbers on The List are lower. Which means...the Whidbey House, this place, has been judged Christopher Alexander's masterpiece, by Christopher Alexander.
We still shake our heads in wonder over this discovery. After 33 years of living here, we can attest that it's a wondrous place to be but... we had no idea Chris saw it this way.
Want to know a little secret? I think this is about a poem. I sent it to him decades ago and he put the part about himself on his website, without of course ever saying a word to me about that. When I found it there I just thought, Well, I guess he liked it.
Here's the Chris part of the long poem "Clergy"...
- Alexander sculpts a building
- out of air and wisdom,
- waving his hands,
- squinting his eyes
- to see what only he and God can see
- in this clearing on the ridge.
- Listening to something
- we cannot hear, he brings into being
- a house so solid, silent and calm,
- so embracing, consoling and inevitable,
- that it draws in and restores
- every open soul that finds its way here.
- And many do.
- Pilgrims who have heard,
- who’ve seen a photograph,
- who sense that here there is something
- mysterious, rare, perhaps even inspired.
- On a clear blue afternoon
- we sit at a long table in the sun,
- the house embracing this garden
- and all of us who bask here
- amid the calendulas and ferns.
- Feasting on tabouli and cold birds,
- we talk of poetry and paintings,
- of terraces in Tuscany and homemade wine,
- of our work, our passions, our quests.
- We are friends, gathered here
- by the grace that emanates from this holy place.
- At Christmas, the clan assembles.
- The tree, dressed in familiar ornaments,
- touches the coffered ceiling
- and sends the scent of balsam to mingle
- with fire, roast, and cakes.
- Thick walls hold out the cold, the wind,
- and every danger of the world we know.
- Comets cut across the high windows
- as we are drawn in and held fast, together,
- blessed by the house that Alexander made,
- while listening to God.
Yeah, I think that's why the "Whidbey House" got Chris's ranking of 9 out of 9 and 10 out of 10. The Poet got through to him, and his Intuitive Self made his Mathematician assign those numbers to the poet's house.