Michael Mehaffy

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Coordinator, ESRG


Interests in ESRG: Interdisciplinary collaboration; applied research; complexity and self-organization; new mechanisms to transmit future value to present processes

Note from the subject: Thanks to Nikos Salingaros for putting together this page!

Michael Mehaffy (born October 24, 1955) is an urbanist and critical thinker in complexity and the built environment. He is a practicing planner and builder, and is known for his many projects as well as his writings. He has been a close associate of the architect and software pioneer Christopher Alexander. In 2005 Mehaffy assisted Alexander with the establishment of his new branch research office, the Centre for Environmental Structure - Europe, where Mehaffy served as Managing Director. As part of that work Mehaffy coordinated formation of the Environmental Structure Research Group ESRG in 2006, to take forward collaborative development of topics introduced by Alexander on the symbiosis of science and design. The work centered on the creation of new "generative codes" for neighborhood development, as well as new approaches to pattern languages.


Mehaffy's education reflects his wide inter-disciplinary interests. He studied 20th century music, design and the arts at California Institute of the Arts. He studied physics, anthropology and liberal arts in the Plan II Interdisciplinary Honors Program at the University of Texas at Austin. He studied architecture and liberal arts at The Evergreen State College, Olympia, Washington, where he received a BA in 1978. He did graduate work at the University of Texas at Austin and at the University of California at Berkeley, studying Architecture, Urban Planning, Philosophy, Business Management, and Public Affairs.


Mehaffy has planned and/or built projects at many scales, from gardens and furniture to homes, neighborhoods and regions. He is known in planning for his role as development project manager for the Orenco Station project, an ambitious $200 million, mixed use residential and commercial transit-oriented development with 1800 homes and 500,000 square feet of retail and office. The project received numerous national awards and extensive media attention. He has also served as project manager or consultant on other major mixed-use communities including Harbor Peak in Brookings, Oregon; the Fairview redevelopment project in Salem, Oregon; Cherry Park, a transit-oriented development in Hillsboro, Oregon; and others.

During 2003-2005 Mehaffy was Director of Education of The Prince's Foundation for the Built Environment in London. There he oversaw the creation of a highly-regarded new graduate and professional education programme, in partnership with leading agencies and institutions in the UK, including the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, English Partnerships, and a number of academic and research institutions. Under his direction, the Foundation hosted conferences and master classes with international leaders in these topics. The education program he developed evolved into a new Master's program in sustainable urbanism at Oxford University.

Since the devastation of the Southeastern States following hurricane Katrina, Mehaffy has been working closely with Andres Duany and others in planning reconstruction. He has fought for a reconstruction that preserves and builds upon the most human qualities of the built environment, as they existed before the disaster. Duany and Mehaffy have been vocal about the necessity of rebuilding so as to continue the socio-cultural richness of the region during its centuries of history. They proposed a series of "neighborhood rebuilding centers" which have been incorporated into the Unified New Orleans Plan and the Mississippi Recovery and Renewal plan.


In architecture and planning, Mehaffy has collaborated with the mathematician Nikos Salingaros and others to propose a theory of "architectural connectivism" which treats connective geometry as a usefully analyzable property within human environments. In philosophy, Mehaffy has made contributions to an updated theory of structuralism, informed by recent insights of complexity and information theory, called "symmetric structuralism". In economics, Mehaffy has made contributions to a proposed approach called "culturalism", in which trading mechanisms are developed to more accurately represent cultural values (including those that interact with unknown future events) within the economic system.

Katarxis No. 3

In 2004, the online magazine Katarxis published a major issue on the intersection of science and architecture. It featured interviews with Christopher Alexander, Andres Duany, and three distinguished scientists: Philip Ball, Brian Goodwin, and Ian Stewart. Michael Mehaffy was one of four co-editors (along with Brian Hanson, Nikos Salingaros, and Senior Editor Lucien Steil), and was instrumental in getting it online in final form. This was the first presentation of Christopher Alexander's most recent work, because Alexander had kept an almost twenty-year silence about what he was building while working on his monumental book The Nature of Order. It has been said that Katarxis 3 therefore heralded a new basis for understanding the built environment and its generative processes.


Mehaffy is currently Chair of the USA chapter of the International Network for Traditional Building, Architecture and Urbanism (INTBAU), a patronage of HRH The Prince of Wales devoted to heritage preservation and new building in historic contexts. He is a research associate and former Managing Director of the Centre for Environmental Structure -- Europe, Christopher Alexander's UK-based research center. He is also a partner in the European School of Architecture and Urbanism, an EU-funded pilot program in architectural curriculum development. He serves on a number of boards and committees, including the Editorial Board of the Journal of Urbanism (Routledge); the Academic Committee of the Council for European Urbanism's 2008 conference on "Climate Change and Urban Design" in Oslo, Norway; the Advisory Board of the "Transforming Land Use Regulations" research project, sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; and others. All of these efforts come under a small umbrella foundation, the Sustasis Foundation, based in Portand, Oregon.

Mehaffy operates a planning and development consultancy, Structura Naturalis Inc., from his office in Portland, Oregon. The consultancy specializes in innovative development practices in sustainability and transit-oriented development. He also teaches, lectures and publishes internationally.


Arthur Ross Award for Community Design (2006); Livable Communities Transit Design Award (2002); Ahwahnee Award (2000); Austin Heritage Society Award (1986); and others.

Selected Publications

AboutUs Pages

External Links

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