Nikos A. Salingaros:
contributions to oriental carpet studies and design

 


In Defense of Alexander
HALI: The International Magazine of Antique Carpet and Textile Art 78 (1995), pages 67-69.
Proposes that a quantitative analysis based on interlocking elements, and the similarity of designs on different scales, can predict the emotional appeal of a carpet.

The "Life" of a Carpet: an Application of the Alexander Rules
Oriental Carpet and Textile Studies V (1999), edited by M. Eiland, Jr. and R. Pinner (Danville, California: International Conference on Oriental Carpets), pages 189-196.
Derives a checklist of design criteria, including the correct use of local contrast, scaling, similarity, detail, and randomness, that distinguish a carpet with "life".


My interest in carpet studies was spurred by the publication of Christopher Alexander's collection of early Anatolian Rugs. As a friend of Alexander, I regard his contributions to architecture and computer science as among the most significant of our time (Some Notes on Christopher Alexander). Reading a review of his book: A Foreshadowing of 21st Century Art: The Color and Geometry of Very Early Turkish Carpets (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), I felt that the reviewer had missed Alexander's basic result, which was to formulate a quantitative theory of order. These ideas were presented in the following article:

Nikos A. Salingaros, "In Defense of Alexander", HALI: The International Magazine of Antique Carpet and Textile Art 78 (1995): pages 67-69.

As a result, I was invited to give a talk at the 8th International Conference on Oriental Carpets in Philadelphia, entitled: The Life of a Carpet: an Application of the Alexander Rules. I applied Alexander's rules for the creation of life to carpet design, and showed how traditional weavers must have followed a similar set of rules. Every carpet has some "life" as a result of following the rules, and the greatest carpets follow most of the rules to the greatest extent. In particular, I argue that modernist design is a threat to the continuation of the carpet-weaving tradition. The millenia-old rules that endow inanimate matter with life are the opposite of the rules for modernist design, as discussed in my paper: The Laws of Architecture From a Physicist's Perspective. People are often confused on this point by the common misconception that Gabbeh carpets are "Modernist" -- they are not.

The word "life" is chosen for the following reason. Research in the last decade on complexity, fractals, and systems theory reveals the existence of structural rules that are followed by all life forms. These rules determine how components of matter are put together, which eventually results in biological life. Man's creations before the twentieth century follow the same universal rules. The reason for this is that the human mind itself developed by following the same rules, so that they are "hard-wired" within our perceptive mechanism. These rules apply to link ideas together to form a mathematical theory, or in designing a house, or in weaving a carpet. By purposely violating these rules in order to follow some arbitrary design fashion, one removes something vital for the well-being of human beings.

Christopher Alexander has emphasized how our age and culture is unique in not producing objects and constructions that have any degree of life. This is a legacy of the intolerant dogma (architectural as well as political) of the modernist movement. Even worse, we don't seem to value those objects that have life, and we destroy them sometimes thoughtlessly, sometimes with perverse pleasure, because we identify them with the past. Lovers of oriental carpets know how a well-designed object such as a carpet can communicate with a person. In my papers, I try to analyze how this emotional connection takes place because of purely mathematical rules. I believe that scientific analysis offers the antidote to the great destructive movement in the arts during the twentieth century.

In the final analysis, this work is not centered on the narrow topic of oriental rugs, but encompasses the traditional arts of mankind. It is all of these that are under threat from a nihilistic design fashion that is obsessively anti-art and ultimately anti-God.

 

REPORT FROM THE EIGHTH INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON ORIENTAL CARPETS

My talk at the conference The Life of a Carpet: An Application of the Alexander Rules, ( Oriental Carpet and Textile Studies V (1999), edited by M. Eiland, Jr. and R. Pinner (Danville, California: International Conference on Oriental Carpets), pages 189-196) answers some questions and raises others. Before the talk, many persons incorrectly assumed that my analysis had to do with Renaissance mathematics, such as the Golden Section and harmonic ratios, which has been covered by eminent art historians such as Ernst Gombrich. Instead, the theory relies on the mathematics of complex systems and fractals, which are only very recent developments. By establishing a link between the design of textiles and both the structure of subatomic particles, and the complexity of computer programs, I make it clear that we are talking about the vanguard of contemporary science.

Questions remain about the necessity of mathematical rules for judging aesthetic qualities, when intuition serves just as well. My answer is to look all around us, and see how much ugliness has been created in the absence of such rules. People are often bullied against their intuition into accepting monstrous and hostile objects as "beautiful". By insisting that the mathematical theory actually predicts the emotional responses of a user, I am stirring up quite a controversy. Science has been totally separated from the humanities for so long that my claim must be shocking. And yet, I demonstrate the truth of this assertion by explaining the appeal of a set of Inca blankets displayed by Billy Siegal of Santa Fe. Here is one textile (actually, a set of almost identical textiles) whose appeal lies not in some design, but in its hierarchical subdivisions.

Nikos A. Salingaros, "Inca Period Textile", HALI: The International Magazine of Antique Carpet and Textile Art 91 (1997): pages 164-165.

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Publications on architecture