253 patterns that change the way you see the world

253 patterns that change the way you see the world

31 days of cult classics | Modern Mrs Darcy

“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)

Christopher Alexander has a knack for defining things the layperson cannot articulate but immediately recognizes as true. His best work,  A Pattern Language, is aimed squarely at the layperson, but few non-architects have heard of it.

The book has earned a passionate following not because it’s a useful architectural classic (though it is), but because it opens a window to a new way of seeing the world.

A Pattern Language

A Pattern Language is comprised of 253 timeless “patterns.” Some of these individual design elements apply to the large-scale community:  Mosaic of Subcultures, Web of Public Transporation, Shopping Street. Some apply to the smaller scale of the home: Cooking Layout, Built-In Seats, Windows Which Open Wide.

These patterns 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 HarvestHome from Nowhere, and The Death and Life of Great American Cities–but Alexander’s way of viewing the world was entirely new to me.

I don’t think I’m alone in that–A Pattern Language has the power to change the way you see the world, and heighten the beauty of your little corner of it. The book is loved and adored for its elegance and simplicity, but also for its ability to improve our lives by making our spaces more welcoming, comfortable, and livable.

Alexander identifies the elements that make our cities, neighborhoods, and houses comfortable and welcoming–and advises how to combine these elements to best effect. 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!

Once you read it, you won’t be able to go back to seeing in the old way.

Have you read A Pattern Language?

*****     *****     *****

This is the seventeenth post in a series, 31 Days of Cult Classics. You can click here to see a list of all the posts, updated everyday in the month of October.


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9 comments | Comment


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  1. Anne says:

    Oooooh! I liked the word layperson in your review. That makes me think I could understand it without straining my brain, hahahaha! I’m intrigued. 🙂

  2. Nancy says:

    I’m Director of Marketing for an Architectural firm and yes, this book is a classic! One that is referred to quite often around here.

  3. Jeannie says:

    I think this was mentioned in Gretchen Rubin’s Happier at Home (which would make sense) and it sounded very interesting. But … I followed the Amazon link and the book just looks so dated and nerdy, and even the early pages sound really odd: there’s a reference to cars being too big and it says something like “Let us state this problem in its most pungent form.” Pungent???? So I guess the lesson is some books, however great, just don’t lend themselves well to Amazon’s “Look Inside Me!” feature.

    • Anne says:

      I know she’s blogged about it before, so that wouldn’t surprise me at all. I’m going to go grab my copy of Happier at Home to see what I can find. 🙂

  4. I was able to check it out at the local public library and had so much fun reading it and discussing with my husband as well as an architect friend who had, of course, read it several times. I didn’t read all of it but only the parts about individual homes. Mostly I loved the concepts, but we were all really weirded out by the “public bathing room” pattern. Eww.

  5. Lotty says:

    Dear mrs Darcy,
    I have never met anyone who read ‘The death and life of great American cities’. I read this book about 35 years ago, just out of interest when I was studying economics. I also read ‘The economy of cities’ which I found even more fascinating. I still have both books and I even re-read the latter one. You inspire me to read the first one again as well. I may strongly recommend the economy of cities; it’s about the origin of cities.
    Kind regards,

  6. Wendy says:

    This might be the oldest post of yours I’ve read–fun to see where you’ve gone from here. I LOVE this book, and the copy I bought is the most money I’ve ever spent on a book. Ironically, the book itself is not very attractive–tiny print and dated photos–but the ideas are truly great.

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