Introduction by the Editors

Foreword by Christopher Alexander

Images of Community

Review of Alexander's The Nature of Order

The Architects and City Planners:





Andrés Duany


Léon Krier


Images of Public Buildings


The Scientists:


Philip Ball, Brian  

    Goodwin, Ian



A Response by


    Alexander: New

    Concepts in


    Theory Arising

    from Studies in



Images of Neighbourhood




Built Work of


   Alexander and his



* Examples of






The Kind of


   Architecture is:

   Jane Jacobs,



   and Since


The 1982 Debate



   Alexander and

   Peter Eisenman


Images of Comfort




Nikos Salingaros:   

   Design Methods,

   Emergence and




* Brian Hanson and

   Samir Younes:  

   Reuniting Urban

   Form and Urban



Images of Building Details


* Michael Mehaffy:

   Meaning and the 

   Structure of Things



  Alexander: Our

  New Architecture

  and the Many

  World Cultures


Nikos Salingaros:

   Fractals in the New



Brian Hanson: 

   Architecture and

   the “Science of



Images of Landscape and Gardens


Michael Mehaffy: 

   Codes and the

   Architecture of Life


Nikos Salingaros: 

   Towards a


   Understanding of

   Architecture and



Brian Hanson:   

   Science, Voodoo

   Science and



Images of Houses


* Michael Mehaffy:     The New Modernity



   Alexander:  Sober

   Reflections on

   Architecture in Our



Images of Drawings


Afterword by the Editors


       *       *       *

London Conference

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Katarxis Nº 3




Culture, Genuine and Spurious 


An Excerpt from Edward Sapir's Classic 1924 Paper


Biographical Note:  For those who don't know of him, Sapir is a revered figure in anthropology, a brilliant linguist and student of Franz Boas known particularly for his analysis and recording of a number of dying Native American languages -- in several cases by interviewing the last living speaker.  He was active during that fertile period of anthropology when the genius of many diverse cultures -- the genius of human culture itself, in all its forms -- was recognized and documented.  Sapir's work, with others, helped establish the intricate structure of what were formerly regarded as "primitive" non-western cultures, hardly worthy of serious study.  In fact Sapir and others showed how we even had a thing or two to learn from them -- the subject of this essay. 


While it departs from a supposedly unbiased scientific description and argues for a transformation in our own culture, it does so from an informed scientific perspective.  It warns us -- in 1921! -- of the corrosive cultural effects of our economic society, the "great cultural fallacy of industrialism." 


...We may accept culture as signifying the characteristic mold of a

national civilization, while from a second conception of culture, that of

a traditional type of individual refinement, we will borrow the notion of

ideal form. Let me say at once that nothing is farther from my mind than

to plead the cause of any specific type of culture. It would be idle to praise

or blame any fundamental condition of our civilization, to praise or blame

any strand in the warp and woof of its genius. These conditions and these

strands must be accepted as basic .... In other words, a genuine culture

is perfectly conceivable in any type or stage of civilization, in the mold of

any national genius. It can be conceived as easily in terms of a Moham-

medan polygamous society, or of an American Indian "primitive" non-

agricultural society, as in those of our familiar occidental societies. On the

other hand, what may by contrast be called "spurious" cultures are just as

easily conceivable in conditions of general enlightenment as in those of rela-

tive ignorance and squalor.


     The genuine culture is not of necessity either high or low; it is merely

inherently harmonious, balanced, self-satisfactory. It is the expression of a

richly varied and yet somehow unified and consistent attitude toward life,

an attitude which sees the significance of any one element of civilization in

its relation to all others. It is, ideally speaking, a culture in which nothing is

spiritually meaningless, in which no important part of the general function-

ing brings with it a sense of frustration, of misdirected or unsympathetic

effort. It is not a spiritual hybrid of contradictory patches, of water-tight

compartments of consciousness that avoid participation in a harmonious

synthesis. If the culture necessitates slavery, it frankly admits it; if it abhors

slavery, it feels its way to an economic adjustment that obviates the neces-

sity of its employment. It does not make a great show in its ethical ideals

of an uncompromising opposition to slavery, only to introduce what

amounts to a slave system into certain portions of its industrial mechanism.

Or, if it builds itself magnificent houses of worship, it is because of the

necessity it feels to symbolize in beautiful stone a religious impulse that is

deep and vital; if it is ready to discard institutionalized religion, it is pre-

pared also to dispense with the homes of institutionalized religion. It does

not look sheepish when a direct appeal is made to its religious conscious-

ness, then make amends by furtively donating a few dollars toward the

maintenance of an African mission. Nor does it carefully instruct its chil-

dren in what it knows to be of no use or vitality either to them or in its own

mature life. Nor does it tolerate a thousand other spiritual maladjustments

such as are patent enough in our American life of today. It would be too

much to say that even the purest examples yet known of a genuine culture

have been free of spiritual discords, of the dry rot of social habit, devital-

ized. But the great cultures, those that we instinctively feel to have been

healthy spiritual organisms, such as the Athenian culture of the Age of

Pericles and, to a less extent perhaps, the English culture of Elizabethan

days, have at least tended to such harmony.


     It should be clearly understood that this ideal of a genuine culture

has no necessary connection with what we call efficiency. A society may

be admirably efficient in the sense that all its activities are carefully planned

with reference to ends of maximum utility to the society as a whole, it may

tolerate no lost motion, yet it may well be an inferior organism as a culture-

bearer. It is not enough that the ends of activities be socially satisfactory,

that each member of the community feel in some dim way that he is doing

his bit toward the attainment of a social benefit. This is all very well so far

as it goes, but a genuine culture refuses to consider the individual as a mere

cog, as an entity whose sole raison d'etre lies in his subservience to a col-

lective purpose that he is not conscious of or that has only a remote rele-

vancy to his interests and strivings. The major activities of the individual

must directly satisfy his own creative and emotional impulses, must always

be something more than means to an end. The great cultural fallacy of in-

dustrialism, as developed up to the present time, is that in harnessing ma-

chines to our uses it has not known how to avoid the harnessing of the

majority of mankind to its machines. The telephone girl who lends her

capacities, during the greater part of the living day, to the manipulation of

a technical routine that has an eventually high efficiency value but that

answers to no spiritual needs of her own is an appalling sacrifice to civiliza-

tion. As a solution of the problem of culture she is a failure--the more

dismal the greater her natural endowment. As with the telephone girl, so,

it is to be feared, with the great majority of us, slave-stokers to fires that

burn for demons we would destroy, were it not that they appear in the guise

of our benefactors. The American Indian who solves the economic problem

with salmon-spear and rabbit-snare operates on a relatively low level of

civilization, but he represents an incomparably higher solution than our

telephone girl of the questions that culture has to ask of economics. There

is here no question of the immediate utility, of the effective directness, of

economic effort, nor of any sentimentalizing regrets as to the passing of the

"natural man." The Indian's salmon-spearing is a culturally higher type of )

activity than that of the telephone girl or mill hand simply because there is

normally no sense of spiritual frustration during its prosecution, no feeling

of subservience to tyrannous yet largely inchoate demands, because it works in naturally with all the rest of the Indian's activities instead of standing out as a desert patch of merely economic effort in the whole of life. A genuine culture cannot be defined as a sum of abstractly desirable ends, as a mechanism. It must be looked upon as a sturdy plant growth, each remotest leaf and twig of which is organically fed by the sap at the core. And this growth is not here meant as a metaphor for the group only; it is meant to apply as well to the individual. A culture that does not build itself out of the  central interests and desires of its bearers, that works from general ends to  the individual, is an external culture. The word "external," which is so often instinctively chosen to describe such a culture, is well chosen. The genuine  culture is internal, it works from the individual to ends.        


     We have already seen that there is no necessary correlation between

the development of civilization and the relative genuineness of the culture

which forms its spiritual essence. This requires a word of further explana-

tion. By the development of civilization is meant the ever increasing degree

of sophistication of our society and of our individual lives. This progressive

sophistication is the inevitable cumulative result of the sifting processes of

social experience, of the ever increasing complication of our innumerable

types of organization; most of all of our steadily growing knowledge of our

natural environment and, as a consequence, our practical mastery, for

economic ends, of the resources that nature at once grants us and hides from

us. It is chiefly' the cumulative force of this sophistication that gives us the

sense of what we call "progress." Perched on the heights of an office build-

ing twenty or more stories taller than our fathers ever dreamed of, we feel

that we are getting up in the world. Hurling our bodies through space with

an ever accelerating velocity, we feel that we are getting on. Under sophisti-

cation I include not merely intellectual and technical advance, but most of

the tendencies that make for a cleaner and healthier and, to a large extent,

a more humanitarian existence. It is excellent to keep one's hands spotlessly

clean, to eliminate smallpox, to administer anesthetics. Our growing sophis-

tication, our ever increasing solicitude to obey the dictates of common sense,

make these tendencies imperative. It would be sheer obscurantism to wish

to stay their progress. But there can be no stranger illusion--and it is an

illusion we nearly all share--than this, that because the tools of life are

today more specialized and more refined than ever before, that because the

technique brought by science is more perfect than anything the world has

yet known, it necessarily follows that we are in like degree attaining to a

profounder harmony of life, to a deeper and more satisfying culture. It is as

though we believed that an elaborate mathematical computation which in-

volved figures of seven and eight digits could not but result in a like figure.

Yet we know that one million multiplied by zero gives us zero quite as

effectively as one multiplied by zero. The truth is that sophistication, which

is what we ordinarily mean by the progress of civilization, is, in the long

run, a merely quantitative concept that defines the external conditions for

the growth or decay of cultur.eXWe are right to have faith in the progress

of civilization. We are wrong 16' assume that the maintenance or even ad-

vance of culture is a function of such progress. A reading of the facts of

ethnology and culture history proves plainly that maxima of culture have

frequently been reached in low levels of sophistication; that minima of cul-

ture have been plumbed in some of the highest. Civilization, as a whole,

moves on; culture comes and goes ....


     It is perhaps the sensitive ethnologist who has studied an aboriginal

civilization at first hand who is most impressed by the frequent vitality of

culture in less sophisticated levels. He cannot but admire the well-rounded

life of the average participant in the civilization of a typical American In-

dian tribe; the firmness with which every part of that life--economic, so-

cial, religious, and aesthetic--is bounded together into a significant whole

in respect to which he is far from a passive pawn; above all, the molding

role, oftentimes definitely creative, that he plays in the mechanism of his

culture. When the political integrity of his tribe is destroyed by contact with

the whites and the old cultural values cease to have the atmosphere needed

for their continued vitality, the Indian finds himself in a state of bewildered

vacuity. Even if he succeeds in making a fairly satisfactory compromise

with his new environment, in making what his well-wishers consider great

progress toward enlightenment, he is apt to retain an uneasy sense of the

loss of some vague and great good, some state of mind that he would be

hard put to it to define, but which gave him a courage and joy that latter-day

prosperity never quite seems to have regained for him. What has happened

is that he has slipped out of the warm embrace of a culture into the cold

air of fragmentary existence. What is sad about the passing of the Indian is

not the depletion of his numbers by disease nor even the contempt that is

too often meted out to him in his life on the reservation, it is the fading

away of genuine cultures, built though they were out of the materials of a

low order of sophistication.


     We have no right to demand of the higher levels of sophistication that

they preserve to the individual his manifold functioning, but we may well

ask whether, as a compensation, the individual may not reasonably demand

an intensification in cultural value, a spiritual heightening, of such functions

as are left him. Failing this, he must be admitted to have retrograded. The

limitation in functioning works chiefly in the economic sphere. It is there-

fore imperative, if the individual is to preserve his value as a cultured being,

that he compensate himself out of the non-economic, the non-utilitarian

spheres--social, religious, scientific, aesthetic. This idea of compensation

brings to view an important issue, that of the immediate and the remoter

ends of human effort.


     As a mere organism, man's only function is to exist; in other words,

to keep himself alive and to propagate his kind. Hence the procuring of

food, clothing, and shelter for himself and those dependent on him con-

stitutes the immediate end of his effort. There are civilizations, like that of

the Eskimo, in which by far the greater part of man's energy is consumed

in the satisfaction of these immediate ends, in which most of his activities

contribute directly or indirectly to the procuring and preparation of food

and the materials for clothing and shelter. There are practically no civiliza-

tions, however, in which at least some of the available energy is not set free

for the remoter ends, though, as a rule, these remoter ends are by a process

of rationalization made to seem to contribute to the immediate ones. (A

magical ritual, for instance, which, when considered psychologically, seems

to liberate and give form to powerful emotional aesthetic elements of our

nature, is nearly always put in harness to some humdrum utilitarian end--

the catching of rabbits or the curing of disease. ) As a matter of fact, there

are very few "primitive" civilizations that do not consume an exceedingly

large share of their energies in the pursuit of the remoter ends, though it

remains true that these remoter ends are nearly always functionally or

pseudo-functionally interwoven with the immediate ends. Art for art's sake

may be a psychological fact on these less sophisticated levels; it is certainly

not a cultural fact.


     On our own level of civilization the remoter ends tend to split off

altogether from the immediate ones and to assume the form of a spiritual

escape or refuge from the pursuit of the latter. The separation of the two

classes of ends is never absolute nor can it ever be; it is enough to note

the presence of a powerful drift of the two away from each other. It is easy

to demonstrate this drift by examples taken out of our daily experience.

While in most primitive civilizations the dance is apt to be a ritual activity

at least ostensibly associated with purposes of an economic nature, it is with

us a merely and self-consciously pleasurable activity that not only splits

off from the sphere of the pursuit of immediate ends but even tends to

assume a position of hostility to that sphere. In a primitive civilization a

great chief dances as a matter of course, oftentimes as a matter of exercising

a peculiarly honored privilege. With us the captain of industry either refuses

to dance at all or does so as a half-contemptuous concession to the tyranny

of social custom. On the other hand, the artist of a Ballet Russe has sub-

limated the dance to an exquisite instrument of self-expression, has suc-

ceeded in providing himself with an adequate, or more than adequate, cul-

tural recompense for his loss of mastery in the realm of direct ends. The

captain of industry is one of the comparatively small class of individuals

that has inherited, in vastly complicated form, something of the feeling of

control over the attainment of direct ends that belongs by cultural right

to primitive man; the ballet dancer has saved and intensified for himself the

feeling of spontaneous participation and creativeness in the world of in-

direct ends that also belongs by cultural right to primitive man. Each has

saved part of the wreckage of a submerged culture for himself ....


      The transformation of ends is of the greatest cultural importance be-

cause it acts as a powerful force for the preservation of culture in levels

in which a fragmentary economic functioning of the individual is inevitable.

So long as the individual retains a sense of control over the major goods

of life, he is able to take his place in the cultural patrimony of his people.

Now that the major goods of life have shifted so largely from the realm of

immediate to that of remote ends, it becomes a cultural necessity for all

who would not be looked upon as disinherited to share in the pursuit of

these remoter ends. No harmony and depth of life, no culture, is possible

when activity is well-nigh circumscribed by the sphere of immediate ends

and when functioning within that sphere is so fragmentary as to have no

inherent intelligibility or interest. Here lies the grimmest joke of our present

American civilization. The vast majority of us, deprived of any but an in-

significant and culturally abortive share in the satisfaction of the immediate

wants of mankind, are further deprived of both opportunity and stimulation

to share in the production of non-utilitarian values. Part of the time we are

dray horses; the rest of the time we are listless consumers of goods which

have received no least impress of our personality. In other words, our

spiritual selves go hungry, for the most part, pretty much all of the time.


    There is no real opposition, at last analysis, between the concept of a

culture of the group and the concept of an individual culture. The two are

interdependent. A healthy national culture is never a passively accepted

heritage from the past, but implies the creative participation of the members

of the community; implies, in other words, the presence of cultured in-

dividuals ....


    It is only an apparent paradox that the subtlest and the most decisive

cultural influences of personality, the most fruitful revolts, are discernible

in those environments that have long and uninterruptedly supported a

richly streaming culture. So far from being suffocated in an atmosphere of

endless precedent, the creative spirit gains sustenance and vigor for its own

unfolding and, if it is strong enough, it may swing free from that very at-

mosphere with a poise hardly dreamed of by the timid iconoclasts of un-

formed cultures. Not otherwise could we understand the cultural history

of modern Europe. Only in a mature and richly differentiated soil could

arise the iconoclasms and visions of an Anatole France, a Nietzsche, an

Ibsen, a Tolstoi. In America, at least in the America of yesterday, these

iconoclasms and these visions would either have been strangled in the

cradle, or, had they found air to breathe, they would have half-developed

into a crude and pathetic isolation. There is no sound and vigorous individ-

ual incorporation of a cultured ideal without the soil of a genuine com-

munal culture; and no genuine communal culture without the transforming

energies of personalities at once robust and saturated with the cultural

values of their time and place ....


     The individual self, then, in aspiring to culture, fastens upon the ac-

cumulated cultural goods of its society, not so much for the sake of the

passive pleasure of their acquirement, as for the sake of the stimulus given

to the unfolding personality and of the orientation derived in the world (or

better, a world) of cultural values. The orientation, conventional as it may

be, is necessary if only to give the self a modus vivendi with society at large.

The individual needs to assimilate much of the cultural background of his

society, many of the current sentiments of his people, to prevent his self-

expression from degenerating into social sterility. A spiritual hermit may be

genuinely cultured, but he is hardly socially so ....


     No greater test of the genuineness of both individual and communal

culture can be applied than the attitude adopted toward the past, its institu-

tions, its treasures of art and thought. The genuinely cultured individual or

society does not contemptuously reject the past. They honor the works of

the past, but not because they are gems of historical chance, not because,

being out of our reach, they must needs be looked at through the enshrining

glass of museum cases. These works of the past still excite our heartfelt

interest and sympathy because, and only in so far as, they may be recog-

nized as the expression of a human spirit warmly akin, despite all differences

of outward garb, to our own. This is very nearly equivalent to saying that

the past is of cultural interest only when it is still the present or may yet

become the future. Paradoxical as it may seem, the historical spirit has al-

ways been something of an anticultural force, has always acted in some

measure as an unwitting deterrent of the cultural utilization of the past.


. . . We know immensely more about Hellenic antiquity in these days than

did the scholars and artists of the Renaissance; it would be folly to pretend

that our live utilization of the Hellenic spirit, accurately as we merely know

it, is comparable to the inspiration, the creative stimulus, that those men of

the Renaissance obtained from its fragmentary and garbled tradition ....


     To summarize the place of the individual in our theory of culture, we

may say that the pursuit of genuine culture implies two types of reconcilia-

lion. The self seeks instinctively for mastery. In the process of acquiring a

sense of mastery that is not crude but proportioned to the degree of sophis-

tication proper to our time, the self is compelled to suffer an abridgment and

to undergo a molding. The extreme differentiation of function which the

progress of man has forced upon the individual menaces the spirit; we have

no recourse but to submit with good grace to this abridgment of our activity,

but it must not be allowed to clip the wings of the spirit unduly. This is the

first and most important reconciliation--the finding of a full world of spiri-

tual satisfactions within the straight limits of an unwontedly confined eco-

nomic activity. The self must set itself at a point where it can, if not em-/

brace the whole spiritual life of its group, at least catch enough of its raysl

to burst into light and flame. Moreover, the self must learn to reconcile its

consciousness of that community and of its past, not merely that it may ob-

tain the wherewithal to grow at all, but that it may grow where its power,

great or little, will be brought to bear on a spiritual life that is of intimate

concern to other wills. Yet, despite all reconciliations, the self has a right

to feel that it grows as an integral, self-poised, spiritual growth, whose ulti-

mate justifications rest in itself, whose sacrifices and compensations must be

justified to itself. The conception of the self as a mere instrument toward

the attainment of communal ends, whether of state or other social body, is

to be discarded as leading in the long run to psychological absurdities and

to spiritual slavery. It is the self that concedes, if there is to be any conces-

sion. Spiritual freedom, what there is of it, is not alms dispensed, now in-

differently, now grudgingly, by the social body. That a different philosophy

of the relation of the individual to his group is now so prevalent, makes it

all the more necessary to insist on the spiritual primacy of the individual

soul ....


     It is in the New World, perhaps more than in any other part of the

globe, that the unsatisfactory nature of a geographically widespread culture,

of little depth or individuality to begin with, is manifest. To find substan-

tially the same cultural manifestations, material and spiritual, often indeed

to the minutest details, in New York and Chicago and San Francisco is

saddening. It argues a shallowness in the culture itself and a readiness to

imitation in its bearers that is not reassuring. Even if no definite way out of

the flat cultural morass is clearly discernible for the present, there is no

good in basking forever in self-sufficiency. It can only be of benefit to search

out the depths of our hearts and to find wherein they are wanting. If we

exaggerate our weakness, it does not matter; better chastening than self-

glorification. We have been in the habit of giving ourselves credit for es-

sentially quantitative results that are due rather to an unusually favoring

nature and to a favoring set of economic conditions than to anything in our-

selves. Our victories have been brilliant, but they have also too often been

barren for culture. The habit of playing with loaded dice has given us a

dangerous attitude of passivity--dangerous, that is, for culture. Stretching

back opulently in our easy chairs, we expect great cultural things to happen

to us. We have wound up the machinery, and admirable machinery it is;

it is "up to" culture to come forth, in heavy panoply. The minute increment

of individuality which alone makes culture in the self and eventually builds

up a culture in the community seems somehow overlooked. Canned culture

is so much easier to administer.


   Just now [1924] we are expecting a great deal from the European

war. No doubt the war and its aftermath will shake us out of some part of

our smugness and let in a few invigorating air currents of cultural influence,

but, if we are not careful, these influences may soon harden into new stan-

dardizations, or become diluted into another stock of imitative attitudes

and reactions. The war and its aftermath cannot be a sufficient cultural

cause, they are at best but another set of favoring conditions. We need not

be too much astonished if a Periclean culture does not somehow automati-

cally burst into bloom. Sooner or later we shall have to get down to thet

humble task of exploring the depths of our consciousness and dragging to

the light what sincere bits o[ reflected experience we can find. These bits

will not always be beautiful, they will not always be pleasing, but they will

be genuine. And then we can build. In time, in plenty of time--for we must

have patience--a genuine culture--better yet, a series of linked autono-

mous cultures--will grace our lives. And New York and Chicago and San

Francisco will live each in its own cultural strength, not squinting from

one to another to see which gets ahead in a race for external values, but

each serenely oblivious of its rivals because growing in a soil of genuine

cultural values.