A Pattern Language: Towns * Buildings * Construction (by Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa and Murray Silverstein) is a fascinating book that changed the way I view the world around me. But have you ever heard of it?
A Pattern Language is comprised of 253 timeless “patterns.” These individual design elements describe the large-scale community in patterns such as “mosaic of subcultures,” “web of public transporation,” and “shopping street.” Patterns such as “cooking layout,” “built-in seats,” and “windows which open wide” describe the smaller scale of the home.
Together these 253 patterns form a language which can then be used to describe an infinite variety of designs for urban planning. The design elements have been defined and are at your disposal–all 253 of them–and they can be combined in infinite ways to describe any sort of design you can dream up, from the large scale (regional corridor) to the very small (window seat).
I’m an amateur architecture buff–I’ve adored books like Last Harvest, Home from Nowhere, and The Death and Life of Great American Cities–but the way of viewing the world set forth in A Pattern Language was entirely new to me.
Though this is a book about architecture, written by architects, it’s aimed squarely at the lay person, because Alexander believes they are best suited to the task of design: “People should design for themselves their own houses, streets, and communities. This idea may be radical…but it comes simply from the observation that most of the wonderful places of the world were not made by architects but by the people.” The idea is to recognize the patterns you love and that suit your needs and combine them together to create a space you’d love to live in.
Alexander has a knack for identifying the elements that make our cities, neighborhoods, and houses comfortable and welcoming–and for advising how to combine these elements in pleasing ways. A handful of the patterns seemed unrealistic to me, but I found myself nodding and murmuring “yes!” to the vast majority. “Light on two sides of every room.” “Sunny Place.” “Windows Overlooking Life.” Yes, yes, and yes!
Here are two prime examples of patterns that struck me as intuitively true:
“The fact is that very few things have so much effect on the feeling inside a room as the sun shining into it.” (Pattern 128: Indoor Sunlight)
“If children do not have space to release a tremendous amount of energy when they need to, they will drive themselves and everybody else in the family up the wall.” (Pattern 137: Children’s Realm)
Although A Pattern Language was written over 30 years ago, this classic is still one of the best-selling books on architecture, and I highly recommend you find yourself a copy. (Hint: your local library likely has one.)
Have you ever read A Pattern Language?