“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 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 Harvest, Home 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.