This link will take you to an excellent summary of Christopher Alexander's thinking.
"They offer a view of a human-centered universe, a view of order, in which the soul, or human feeling, and the soul, play a central role. Here, experiments are not only conceivable in the abstract Cartesian mode, but a new class of experiments reveal the foundation of all matter, and all process, as being something which resides in human beings. Whether this something, which is demonstrated and used throughout the four books, is a new entity underlying matter, or what used to be called the “soul,” is left for the reader to decide.
About twenty years ago, I began to notice that objects and buildings which have life all have certain identifiable structural characteristics. The same geometric features keep showing up in them, again and again. Initially I began writing these characteristics down informally, and I began to "keep watch" on them.
What I did was straightforward and empirical. I simply looked at thousands and thousands of examples, comparing those which had more life with those that had less life. Whenever I looked at two examples, I could determine which one had greater "life" or greater wholeness, by asking which of them generated a greater wholeness in me. Thus, I did not impose on myself the modesty of judgment typical in a pluralistic society. I did not worry about "my" values compared with someone else's values. I simply identified those examples which had the greater wholeness, judging this by the degree of wholeness they induced in me, and assuming, with as much confidence as I felt to be real and reliable, that what I measured here would also be shared with others.
I asked myself this question: Can we find any structural features which tend to be present in the examples which have more life, and tend to be missing in the ones which have less life? In other words, can we find any recurrent geometrical structural features whose presence in things correlates with their degree of life? To find this out, it is necessary to make thousands and thousands of comparisons, to ask oneself constantly whether any features can be identified which correlate with the degree of wholeness which things have. This is what I did. For twenty years, I spent two or three hours a day looking at pairs of things--buildings, tiles, stones, windows, carpets, figures, carvings of flowers, paths. Seats, furniture, streets, paintings, fountains, doorways, arches, friezes--comparing them, and asking myself: Which one has more life? And then asking: What are the common features of the examples that have most life?
I managed to identify fifteen structural features which appear again and again in things which do have life. These are: 1. LEVELS OF SCALE, 2. STRONG CENTERS, 3. BOUNDARIES, 4. ALTERNATING REPETITION, 5. POSITIVE SPACE, 6. GOOD SHAPE, 7. LOCAL SYMMETRIES, 8. DEEP INTERLOCK AND AMBIGUITY, 9. CONTRAST, 10. GRADIENTS, II. ROUGHNESS, 12. ECHOES, 13. THE VOID, 14. SIMPLICITY AND INNER CALM, 15. NON-SEPARATENESS.
... The fifteen properties identify the character of living systems. The regions of space which can have this living character vary enormously. If we have a bowl, a picture, a building, a forest, a pathway in a temple, a bay window in a London house--and we see all fifteen properties repeating throughout again and again and again, there is a good chance we have a thing or place whose life is profound. Systems in space which have these fifteen properties to a strong degree will be alive, and the more these properties are present, the more the systems which contain them will tend to be alive.
These include most examples of natural living systems: a clump of grass in a swamp. They may include a medieval illuminated miniature; the window in the wonderful room at the Topkapi palace in Istanbul. They will also include, at a lower level, places or things which have more ordinary life. This may include the terrace outside your favorite gas station, a beer garden outside the Oetztal station in Austria. It may include the seaweed in a tidal fiat, even with a few cans and bottles lying there.
If we look at things which have a few of the fifteen properties, less densely packed, and not all of them, we often get some sort of living character, for instance, the stadium at Wrigley Field, a pair of roller skates, a toothbrush.
The things and systems in the world which are most dead the most image-laden buildings and artifacts, the most sterile housing projects, the most damaged ecological systems, the most poisoned streams--will have these properties to the least degree."
I am stunned by the power of this view. It causes me to consider a central question that I can ask in every situation in life - in my personal life, in where and how I live, in my work and in business or government - Does this choice enhance or degrade life?