Updated December 05, 2019

Emergence springs from alphabets. An alphabet is a kit of parts, together with rules for combining them.

Christopher Alexander. "Systems Generating Systems" Architectural Design 38, no. December 1968 (1968): 605-610.

If you want to provoke emergence, design an alphabet.


  • The english alphabet has 26 letters, together with phonetic rules for combining them into words.
  • Minecraft allows you to craft new items with new properties, using a kit of existing items, plus rules for combining them.
  • Chemistry defines how you may combine molecules to produce new materials with properties different from the sum of the parts.
  • DNA has a tiny alphabet ATCG, but the meanings this alphabet can produce have not yet been exhausted.

Most designers today think of themselves as the designers of objects. If we follow the argument presented here, we reach a very different conclusion. To make objects with complex holistic properties, it is necessary to invent generating systems which will generate objects with the required holistic properties. The designer becomes a designer of generating systems — each capable of generating many objects — rather than a designer of individual objects. — Christopher Alexander, Systems Generating Systems, 1968