A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction (Center for Environmental Structure Series) Info

Fan Club Reviews of best titles on art fashion, artists, history, photography. Check out our top reviews and see what others have to say about the best art and photography books of the year. Check out A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction (Center for Environmental Structure Series) Community Reviews - Find out where to download A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction (Center for Environmental Structure Series) available in multiple formats:Hardcover,Kindle,Digital A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction (Center for Environmental Structure Series) Author:Christopher Alexander,Sara Ishikawa Formats:Hardcover,Kindle,Digital Publication Date:Jan 1, 1977


You can use this book to design a house for yourself with your
family; you can use it to work with your neighbors to improve your town
and neighborhood; you can use it to design an office, or a workshop, or a
public building. And you can use it to guide you in the actual process
of construction.
After a ten-year silence, Christopher Alexander
and his colleagues at the Center for Environmental Structure are now
publishing a major statement in the form of three books which will, in
their words, "lay the basis for an entirely new approach to
architecture, building and planning, which will we hope replace existing
ideas and practices entirely." The three books are The Timeless Way
of Building
, The Oregon Experiment, and this book, A
Pattern Language
.
At the core of these books is the idea
that people should design for themselves their own houses, streets, and
communities. This idea may be radical (it implies a radical
transformation of the architectural profession) 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.
At the core of the books,
too, is the point that in designing their environments people always
rely on certain "languages," which, like the languages we speak, allow
them to articulate and communicate an infinite variety of designs within
a forma system which gives them coherence. This book provides a
language of this kind. It will enable a person to make a design for
almost any kind of building, or any part of the built environment.

"Patterns," the units of this language, are answers to design
problems (How high should a window sill be? How many stories should a
building have? How much space in a neighborhood should be devoted to
grass and trees?). More than 250 of the patterns in this pattern
language are given: each consists of a problem statement, a discussion
of the problem with an illustration, and a solution. As the authors say
in their introduction, many of the patterns are archetypal, so deeply
rooted in the nature of things that it seemly likely that they will be a
part of human nature, and human action, as much in five hundred years
as they are today.

Average Ratings and Reviews
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Reviews for A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction (Center for Environmental Structure Series):

5

August 11, 2015

One of the Most Unique Books I've Ever Encountered
This book is insightful and fun to read. It is also a book that is easy to pick up and read a bit, and put it
down and come back later to pick up where you left off, because it is broken into many very short chapters,
each of which contain a key idea. It's hard to describe this book, because it is so unique in its approach
to telling the reader "how things ought to be" concerning everything from civil planning and city layout,
to floor-plans, to architectural design, to furnishing. The author is very opinionated and does not shy away
from boldly telling you what is wrong with the physical constructs of our urban, suburban, and rural areas,
and how all of that should be properly done in his imagined ideal world.

In some ways, this book is like reading the professional diary of your crazy uncle who is constantly ranting
about what's wrong with the world, and how he thinks it should be set right. However, after reading it for
a while, you get the impression that the author is not really crazy, so much as he is a brilliant eccentric
whose experience and understanding is based on an extremely broad appreciation of how human beings choose
to craft their surroundings, and how we get it right, and how we get it wrong, and why.

Be forewarned... you are not going to agree with everything the author says.
I don't agree, for example, with his outlandish claim that living in a home that is more than four stories
about the ground will eventually make you crazy, because I have loved living on the top floor of my
high-rise condo for the past ten years. I also don't agree with his idea that all kitchen cabinets should
be open shelves with no doors, because the doors just get in the way, hide what is contained therein,
and are essential useless. I must admit, however, that I love reading the author's insights on things
with which I disagree with him, and I have to admit that even on such issues... he's got good points!
Many times I find myself saying "Almost, thou persuadest me."

To be fair, I actually do agree with the author's views regarding the vast majority of his observations,
as they are all just good common-sense approaches, and I must admit they often leave me thinking
"Yes, that's such a beautifully simple truth... why don't we always build it that way, or do it that way?"

This book gives you the benefit of the sage wisdom of an author who is genuinely worth reading
and considering. Even though this book is decades-old, most of its observations are timeless.
It's so hard to classify the book. Is it a Western approach to Feng Shui ... without all the questionable
Eastern Spiritualism, and more of practical philosophy on how to best craft your environment?
Or is it better described as foundational reading for everyone from a City Planner, to an Architect,
to anyone building a house, to anyone one looking to make their home a more pleasant place?

However you choose to classify it... this book is a unique, delightful treatise on how things should
ideally be in order for human beings to be more comfortable, productive, and happy in their surroundings.
3

October 22, 2009

Idealism is wonderful
A Pattern Language was probably ground-breaking for its time, it is certainly spoken about in some circles with reverence. I found that it contains many fascinating ideas and many that I thoroughly agree with, however is based on very slender or no evidence and a distinct world view, that tends towards the didactic. If your personal philosophy is in alignment with Alexander et al then you may be a very willing consumer of these ideas, however I do not think they area as universal and timeless as claimed. Several of them have been invalidated by the passage of time, for example, being based on (US) society in the 70s.

Still, it all certainly makes you think, and willl definitely infuence the way I look at places, and how I design my next house. I don't regret buying the book, I just don't care to agree with a good proportion of it.
3

December 26, 2007

surprisingly religious..... interesting, but not believable
I bought this book after reading the glowing reviews on amazon. It was also an inspiration for Will Wright to make SimCity and the SIMS..... so I had high expectations.

I was shocked to find how opinionated and philosophical the book is. I expected the book to look at the history of cities, towns, etc. and describe patterns that already exist (much like the GoF's software design patterns book talks about patterns that people actually use). Instead the book presents a series of ideals about how the world should be structured.

If these ideals came from concerns I could identify with, I would take it more seriously. But instead they attack "problems" which I do not perceive to exist. For example, on p. 43 "The homogeneous and undifferentiated character of modern cities kills all variety of life styles and arrest the growth of individual character." This statement is contrary to my experience. I have met many great characters from cities, and seen profound cultural differentiation emerge from cities (e.g. jazz, abstract painting, hippie culture, punk, you name it). But the authors proceed as if cities killing character is axiomatic. I agree that there is a rural character that is not present in cities. But citydwellers have another type of character which is equally valid.

I have only made it through the first 100 pages. In these pages are so many naive ideas about mixing cityspace and vacant space. I live in Los Angeles so I know about sprawl & I also know a lot about cars -- while they are aiming for less sprawl then LA, they also neglect traffic congestion. They claim that making small roads in places make people reluctant to drive there.... the experience worldwide (worst in Malaysia, I hear) is that people use whatever roads are present, and if the roads are small, they then just end up sitting in traffic. The author's are naive in their structuring of space, nowhere do they cite any hard evidence of how these structures function.

I might make it the rest of the way through.... at least it's an easy read, with so many repetitions in how the models work you can kinda skim through it. I like the spirit of the book, it is reminiscent of P.M.'s bolo'bolo.... but where bolo'bolo comes from a purely emotional position, these authors take themselves seriously and believe what they are saying is objectively true. I give the book 3 stars because it is nice to see someone work through the ideas of bolo'bolo (which was actually written ~6yrs after alexander's book). I would give 5 stars to a book that did so by looking more at actual data of how spaces are utilized, and presented designs that didn't have obvious flaws in them.
4

December 22, 2017

A note on Christopher Alexander's context
Other reviews correctly address this book's wholesomeness and holistic approach to building good cities and buildings and other structural frames for full, good human lives in a healthy world. Alexander does have a few particular crotchets, however, which have a surprisingly deep effect on the structure of the language he lays out here. Watch for these, and be reminded (as Alexander also reminds you) that patterns are the product of the people who made them, and may disappear or change for different groups.

1. Swimming. He is intensely focused on swimming as a major factor in civic planning and personal recreation. It's a considerable contortion at multiple points.

2. Dancing, especially in the streets. Alexander was a great fan of the Peckham Clinic which focused on (guess what) swimming and dancing as exercise and recreation. It shows.

3. Many of his patterns make an uncomfortably dated misstep when they pertain to women--and another, subtler one when dealing with work concerns and issues of children while not mentioning women directly. Women working outside the home is not a gutiding concern or a base assumption for him; a base assumption IS that women prefer and want to care for children. It's a very important shaping concern for many other parts of life, so this blind spot, characteristic of its time and place and socioeconomic environment, is very significant.

4. Disabled people, other than mildly infirm and otherwise hale elderly people, do not exist. Another blind spot.

Bear these crotchets in mind as you consider these patterns, and how to find even better patterns for a wonderful world.
1

Mar 31, 2011

I really don't know what I was expecting when I reserved this from the library, but it wasn't this. In my defense, it sounded interesting. I thought it might be a discussion of sociology and history meant to inspire or empower people to build what they wanted. In fact, what I got is....

Let me back up. Just recently, Irrational Games released the latest in their series of dystopian first person shooters - 'Bioshock Infinite'. In this series visionary philosophers seek to found utopian communities I really don't know what I was expecting when I reserved this from the library, but it wasn't this. In my defense, it sounded interesting. I thought it might be a discussion of sociology and history meant to inspire or empower people to build what they wanted. In fact, what I got is....

Let me back up. Just recently, Irrational Games released the latest in their series of dystopian first person shooters - 'Bioshock Infinite'. In this series visionary philosophers seek to found utopian communities based on the idea that humanity needs to be organized around a different guiding principle, and in this isolation temporarily achieve great things only to be ultimately undermined by the fundamental flaws inherent in their philosophy. In the first game, you get to live out the fantasy of killing a bunch of Ayn Randian objectivist libertarians that have mutated into monsters. In this latest game, you are pitted against fanatical American patriots who worship the founding fathers.

One of the things that greatly interests me is that the utopian communities of Bioshock look absolutely nothing like the sort of utopian communities that are actually created or desired by the sort of people whose philosophies Bioshock draws inspiration from. American religious mystics don't create high tech cities. They create something more like a Shaker village. The people inspired by American Exceptionalism didn't create isolationist flying communes, but Detroit and Chicago. The followers of Ann Rand didn't and wouldn't be interested in planned communities. They'd correctly diagnosis any sort of planned community as a de facto government and isolation as a tool of empowerment by that government. You can say many things about the Objectivists, but they aren't really into building Utopias or at least not for communities as a whole. Actual religious utopians building intentional planned communities don't tend to imagine high tech cities as a way to get spiritual. If you actually look at the history of intentional communities in the United States and the world, you find a lot of luddite religious groups, a few con artists, a great many free spirited anarchist squatters, and an endless succession of socialist communes, compounds, show cities, and planned communities. In fact, the only modern religious philosophy that has shown any consistent interest in building communities set apart from the rest of society is socialism. It's got a rich 200 year history, but if you are waiting for the Bioshock game that has a communist planned community at its heart, well, I suspect you'll be waiting a long while. Actually attacking a vibrant religion, especially one many of your friends belong too, has way too many social repercussions.

If you want a real model for the sort of communities found in Bioshock, then you couldn't really do better than this book. Instead of a discussion of the theories of social organization and how they relate to architecture, what you get in this book is a blueprint based on a theory of desirable organization. There is within the pages of this book a detailed outline of exactly how the lives of people are to be controlled in every practical aspect. Alexander has a plan for everything - where you own land, where you work, what you do, where you shop, and where you sleep. Everything is planned out in meticulous detail.

What I find particularly interesting is that what he's planning is ultimately little more than a tessellated medieval town. This is guy who has clearly gone to Europe, fallen in love with the post-medieval countryside and decided that this is the way mankind must be made to live. Grounded in pseudoscience, Alexander outlines reasoning for recreating every incidental aspect of the medieval countryside. In the real world, the complex winding tapestry of medieval fields and farms was the result of patrimony and continual subinfeudation. In Alexander's fantasy world, the thin intertwined fingers of land familiar to anyone with more than a half-dozen hours of college level course study in Medieval history are the product of science - in the same way that the huge communal government owned farms of the Soviet Union and Mao's great agricultural leap forward were the product of science.

The pattern of streets in a medieval town, the layout of semi-self-sufficient neighborhoods within larger cities, virtually every aspect of medieval culture save the central organizing cathedral at the hub is apparent in the layout. The steel I-beam doesn't exist in this world, nor does it appear the elevator, nor does electricity save in the most cursory way. This is building for the 19th century. Now, there are important topics here that could be discussed, but from his perspective in the 1970's - a time filled with socialist community planning (my cousin lived on a commune) - the writer isn't really asking the right questions or thinking about them. Instead of looking at the world's architectural diversity and really seeing it as adaptive and useful engineering, he's got his theory and by golly he's going to stick with it.

I do Alexander no injustice to claim that he is a would be tyrant of the highest degree. Alexander is well aware that his intentional planned community won't come about organically by people seeing the sense of his ideas and incorporating them into their lives from the bottom up, first building house according to his principles, then latter building complexes, and latter neighborhoods and finally cities. He well aware that his vision requires above all two things – central planning and authoritarian force. The only way to get people to do what Alexander believes is good for them is to make them do it. Every second page of the book contains an enjoinder to create laws that enforce the pattern discussed in that section, and a discussion of the necessity of doing so. Of course, every page with such an injunction also contains a 'proof' that the pattern to be enforced is really the natural one humanity prefers, which means there has to be a Satan in the garden somewhere but I didn't read the book closely enough to find evidence beyond a few attacks on 'bankers' and 'investors'. I suspect however that I'd be learning nothing additional about the book to find the answer on that subject. I've encountered too much of this sort of crap before.

Anyway, what I wanted was science. What I got was religion. There are many ironies in this text, but probably the greatest one for me is that of all the areas of American life that this book impacts (other than a few municipal codes in California), the area you can see Alexander’s theories play out to their fullest is in the design of Shopping Malls. ...more
2

March 3, 2013

Am I missing something?
I'm sorry, but what is so great about this book? It's a list of platitudes, presented as though it is some profound observation about society and spaces. Give me a break.

Here is a quote, on a random page:

"People cannot be genuinely comfortable and healthy in a house which is not theirs. All forms of rental [...] work against the natural processes which allow people to form stable, self-healing communities."

Citation please? *All* forms of rental, really? This is religious mumbo-jumbo. Every other sentence is just declared, as though it is some axiom about humans and life.

Here's another great one, explaining why 9% of an area should be devoted to parking:

"Our observations rely on our own subjective estimates of cases where 'there are too many cars here', and cases where 'the cars are all right'."

Is this some sort of joke?

"If children are not able to explore the whole of the adult world round about them, they cannot become adults."

What am I suppose to do with this?

This book is a collection of opinions on society, and how the authors believe their perfect utopian imaginary world should function. There is an incredible LACK of information about architecture in this book. I am beyond disappointed, especially after reading all these 5-star glowing reviews. I give it 2-stars, because there are some interesting bits, but you have to read 20 pages of platitudes for every useful piece of actionable knowledge. Luckily it's a very thick book *cough*, so you can get a few good ideas out of it, if you're willing to dig for them.
3

January 5, 2002

Yes, but a bit analytical
As a professional designer, I tend to approach books that purport to reveal the secrets of good design with skepticism. Although I can't say that I disagree with most of what the book says, the author's attempt to explain principles of good design relies too heavily on analytical reasoning.
Good design stems as much from intuition and talent as it does from a methodical analysis of the problem. The most talented designers, writers, composers and artists rarely exhibit analytical personalities; they rely instead on an intuitive understanding of how to solve the problem -- in other words natural inborn talent combined with many years of practice and experience.
This is mostly a book that will appeal to builders and engineers who dream of being architects, or programmers who secretly want to design user interfaces. Unfortunately, the book doesn't deliver any insight into the most important thing -- talent.
1

September 2, 2010

holistic hooey
Sorry, but if you think that women and men are integrated, connected, rational beings in touch with Nature and themselves, you're hiding your head in the sand! And this is supposed to be revolutionary? This book and its predecessor MAINTAIN THE STAUS QUO.
The primary conditions of modernity are alienation from nature, from the rest of humanity, and from the self, as described by Kafka, Camus, etc.. Architects are notoriously money-hungry business people who don't give a damn about the human condition, Christopher Alexander and company not excluded; they are simply part of the apparati of power that keeps human beings in line. Unfortunately, the post-modern philosophy I've read doesn't rescue us from these conditions, although it purports to rationalize them, and offer a way out. A Thousand Plateaus, The Society of the Spectacle, Foucault, etc.. You want to be a new-age drone? Read this book, and bury your head in the sand. Otherwise, think for yourself and formulate your own revolutionary sociological and architectural ideas!
3

October 21, 2003

Modern Architecture Ends Here
Not quite the research it pretends to be, more a polemic against Modernism in its final days, basically summarizing the emerging consensus that Government-built monolithic concrete housing was a failure. Better we should all live in rustic cottages set amidst fields of wildflowers, eat our meals at tables with mismatched chairs, and spend our idle time reading The Whole Earth Catalog or basking in sunlit public squares. Just what the public was clamoring for in 1975.
5

Aug 08, 2007

This is the book that sparked my interest in architecture and home design, many years ago. Skip the town and urban planning if you are more interested in how to design a comfortable home. Christopher Alexander is passionate and persuasive about what he believes we need in our homes: natural light from two sides of a room, window seats one can actually read in, quiet separate dressing areas for every person in a house (because bedrooms should be rooms to relax and be intimate in, not a messy This is the book that sparked my interest in architecture and home design, many years ago. Skip the town and urban planning if you are more interested in how to design a comfortable home. Christopher Alexander is passionate and persuasive about what he believes we need in our homes: natural light from two sides of a room, window seats one can actually read in, quiet separate dressing areas for every person in a house (because bedrooms should be rooms to relax and be intimate in, not a messy clothes managing area), child caves (because children love to be in tiny, cave-like places), and many things you may have not thought of. You'll never look at your home the same way again. ...more
5

March 1, 2014

Great Reference Book
Bought this as a gift for a friend. Since its original publication, I have purchased numerous copies as gifts and to have in multiple locations for reference. Written in a series of short 1-2 page chapters, the book goes through an array of critical "place making" criteria based on human behavior. As an architect/urban designer, it is one of my top 5 reference books when thinking through an new project. Although not a book intended to be read cover to cover, some of his other publications are written in a way to show how these "place making" elements can be combined to create a livable human habitat.
5

June 28, 2009

Perfect for Downsizing! Must read!!
The ideas in this book will forever change how you look at city and building design. Urban planners, architects, builders and interior designers who want to keep their jobs-- read up! This book will help you create low-cost solutions to the real estate downturns in your area. You have unprecedented opportunities to rethink your cities, towns, strip malls, etc. to make them more user-friendly and inviting while trimming the ugly wasted space that fills so many of our urban centers and McMansion neighborhoods.

More careful expansion of the cities along logical pathways, with rainwater harvesting, edible self-managed self-watered landscaping, and tree-shaded roads with neighborhood shops and small industry woven in would have created more jobs and more meaning plus kept people together in sustainable neighborhoods at a much lower cost, both initially and long-term. Now we face the prospect of bulldozing entire vacant blocks and turning them into the rural spaces that so many longed to be near to begin with. This is not good business sense-- it's pathology.

'A Pattern Language' is the perfect medicine for this sickness. Like a healthy diet, it gets down to basics: how the human body relates to space; how people 'feel' in certain environments; the criteria of places that draw people in as opposed to others that are left usused or avoided. These principles are classic patterns that have stood the test of time, and Mr. Alexander gives numerous examples from around the world, from entire regions down to the height of windowsills and the best designs for office space.

Anyone planning their own house needs this book! I designed a big house in Arizona for my large family using these principles and it's amazingly light and functional while being cool in summer and warm in winter. The kitchen is smaller than most custom homes, yet eight people can prepare food together comfortably while 3 more surf the internet and Dad reads his paper.
5

Oct 26, 2010

I have to give it 5 stars because there is no other way to describe it but as amazing. Forgive me the long review, but it was a library checkout and I want to refer back to it.

I was initially annoyed that there wasn't an idex where I could look up "office space" and quickly read their recommendations for the best layout. Yet now I love the way each pattern refers to all the other patterns it is connected to, and you find yourself flipping from garden benches to farmhouse kitchens. It probably I have to give it 5 stars because there is no other way to describe it but as amazing. Forgive me the long review, but it was a library checkout and I want to refer back to it.

I was initially annoyed that there wasn't an idex where I could look up "office space" and quickly read their recommendations for the best layout. Yet now I love the way each pattern refers to all the other patterns it is connected to, and you find yourself flipping from garden benches to farmhouse kitchens. It probably also helps that each chapter/pattern is only a few pages so I could delude myself (and my family) that I was only going to read for a few more minutes.

I can see why some wouldn't enjoy this---I can't imagine trying to read it for a class, or as laid out from start to finish rather than jumping around. One (positive) reviewer wrote: "It's wildly ambitious and preachy and reassuringly confident." All true, and also quite dated at times, but still lovely and inspiring.

It made me want to contact the designer of our house, because, while we unfortunately don't have the several feet-thick walls recommended, so much of our house has patterns as if the designer had the book in hand, eg: the flow through rooms, cascade of roofs, dormer window, ceiling height variety, low window sills (something I previously found baffling), as well as things we added: window seats, half-hidden garden, child-caves (under-the-stairs room).

I especially loved the last pattern: Things From Your Life. "Do not be tricked into believe that modern decor must be "slick"...or "natural" or whatever else that current taste-makers claim. It is most beautiful when it comes straight from your life--the things you care for, the things that tell your story." I so appreciated this after being told, by a much more "design-wise" friend that I was "brave" to have so many family photos out. I know design "rules" call for them to be in less public rooms, but I love photography and these people, and love having them throughout our home.

I love the open shelves pattern & hope to implement it in our kitchen. The city-planning patterns depressed me, as they are the opposite of how most public spaces are laid out, but I still found them instructive. Loved the "child in the city" pattern and more.

The copy I borrowed from our library had a personal inscription that included this quote:
There is nothing stronger or nobler
than when a man and a woman
are of one heart in a home--
a grief to their enemies
And to their friends great joy,
But their own hearts know it best.--Homer

EDIT: The above review is from November 2010.
Reread again in 2014. Loved it even more, and started a blog series, 31 Days of A Pattern Language ...more
5

Apr 12, 2012

An essential book for anybody interested in the field. I read it cover to cover, very slowly with breaks and now I feel I have some grasp of what it takes to build a house.

It is of course dated and highly geared towards North American houses but it's still a seminal work. The parts on urbanism are in fact how we in CNW Europe do manage things, so that is heartening.

Extensions to the book for instance how to build houses in very space constrained environments like the Netherlands could be An essential book for anybody interested in the field. I read it cover to cover, very slowly with breaks and now I feel I have some grasp of what it takes to build a house.

It is of course dated and highly geared towards North American houses but it's still a seminal work. The parts on urbanism are in fact how we in CNW Europe do manage things, so that is heartening.

Extensions to the book for instance how to build houses in very space constrained environments like the Netherlands could be interesting.

What is annoying is how much of today's buildings are not aligned with the patterns in this book. I recommend policy makers and architects to be thumped with this tome on a regular basis. ...more
5

September 5, 2011

Read it Hundreds of Times
Most everyone already said what I also believe about this book. It is a fantastic read. It doesn't matter there are no color pictures - only crude drawings - because the book CONTENT is so fantastic. My original book was read so many times, it fell apart and I was happy to buy it again.

The roof garden and cross ventilation won me and even years later I tend to look at homes or apartments in terms of how they could be made better based on this one book.

Susan Susanka's books (I own most of them) are really just this author's ideas BUT with colored photos.

The one thing I would add is SECURITY. NARROW high venting windows in all rooms (makes it difficult for burglars to get in and gives more wall space) and NO French doors but a single door (solid metal or wood) and a NARROW cannot crawl though venting window above the door AND a commercial grade security screen door so the door can be opened without a burger pushing in a cheesy Lowe's screen door. Both my French doors were removed and replaced with exactly that PLUS now there are also no worries about hurricanes/tornados blowing in French doors.
4

June 8, 2014

Most Intriguing
I like books that shake me up and make me think about new ideas or tip my ideas on their heads. This is that book. Made me think about things I had never thought about and relationships between ideas that changed my thinking totally. I am a teacher and I try to encourage my students to really think and stretch their minds. I want them to expand their minds and to find new and creative ways of interpreting information. I have not read all of this book but every time I dive in to the material, I am amused, challenged and my brain is tickled.
5

Jun 08, 2012

This is probably my favorite non-fiction book. Christopher Alexander and his students have collected everything there is to know about design and put it in one book. Yet cultures go on making the same mistakes over and over. And few architects I talk to have ever read the book.

The book is easy to read and understand. It consists of hundreds of patterns, described in a page or two. They range from the width of door molding to how cities should be laid out. For example, there is a pattern, "Old This is probably my favorite non-fiction book. Christopher Alexander and his students have collected everything there is to know about design and put it in one book. Yet cultures go on making the same mistakes over and over. And few architects I talk to have ever read the book.

The book is easy to read and understand. It consists of hundreds of patterns, described in a page or two. They range from the width of door molding to how cities should be laid out. For example, there is a pattern, "Old People Everywhere", and Alexander explains why that's the best pattern for humans to follow. Each pattern has a number of stars. Four stars means the author is pretty sure there are no other patterns for this subject of equal value. One star means it's a good pattern, but there may be other patterns that serve people well.

A little bit of history, at least as I know it. First, Alexander wrote a thin volume titled, "The Timeless Way of Building", that postulated that there were patterns of design that just worked. All we had to do was identify them and emulate them. This book was greeted with a huge yawn by readers. So, Alexander went off, with his students, to actually identify the patterns, thus producing "A Pattern Language". ...more
5

September 11, 2014

Worth its weight in molybdenum for those who value it
Classic book from the 1970's written by a Berkley, CA and Oregon of University Professor. It is for serious architects or engineers who wish to be challenged by values in the way things are built. This man is the Archimedes of city planning. It is a dense read but will fire you up with dreams of a better way to plan humans enjoying each other, living together in balance with resources. It is over 1,000 valuable pages of hope for city planners or individual architects. It is a priceless AND timeless book, worthy to be preserved for 1,000's of years like Archimedes gifts to us. Also, see his more reader friendly "The Timeless Way of Building" only 550 pages long.
4

Jun 29, 2015

Very inspiring. Empowered me to think practically about architecture at all scales. No appraisal or brainstorm on anything architecture, houses or buildings goes by without these patterns popping up in my mind.

I now understand why the author himself hated that his 'pattern' approach was appropriated by folks turning it into something abstract (programming patterns) whereas he meant them as an easy, democratic tool for everyday people to make their own neighbourhoods and houses. This book is a Very inspiring. Empowered me to think practically about architecture at all scales. No appraisal or brainstorm on anything architecture, houses or buildings goes by without these patterns popping up in my mind.

I now understand why the author himself hated that his 'pattern' approach was appropriated by folks turning it into something abstract (programming patterns) whereas he meant them as an easy, democratic tool for everyday people to make their own neighbourhoods and houses. This book is a political statement in the sense that it actively tries to pry the monopoly on shaping our built world out of the hands of the chosen few in architecture firms.

The book is a product of its time though, and while many ideas are rooted in universal properties of the human psyche and physique, there are also ideas that are less timeless — and obviously it lacks insights we've learned since the 70s. ...more
2

Aug 07, 2012

1171 pages covering 253 'patterns'. And this is the second half of the book (1st half is "The Timeless Way of Building".

1171 pages!!! love their little sketches and diagrams, but for the average urbanist, this book isn't worth your time. Lots of the ideas are timeless, if misunderstood or neglected during certain periods, but many others are dated, unpopular, or so idealistic as to be ludicrous. Some principles counter-acted others, some are counter-intuitive but quite sensible, others are 1171 pages covering 253 'patterns'. And this is the second half of the book (1st half is "The Timeless Way of Building".

1171 pages!!! love their little sketches and diagrams, but for the average urbanist, this book isn't worth your time. Lots of the ideas are timeless, if misunderstood or neglected during certain periods, but many others are dated, unpopular, or so idealistic as to be ludicrous. Some principles counter-acted others, some are counter-intuitive but quite sensible, others are classic gems.

This book in it's exhaustive coverage of all scales of living, might be a guide for God, as if he were moving on to towns and buildings on the 8th day. The scale of the proposed design is completely utopian, but the tone is unabashedly sincere and specific.

What i like is that instead of just identifying problems with the built environment as so many do, they are all about solutions, however unrealistic.

A few quotes.

"It is not possible to avoid the need for high speed roads in modern society; but it is essential to place them and build them in such a way that they do not destroy communities or countryside."

"There is abundant evidence to show that high buildings make people crazy."
(From Chapter 21: "Four-Story Limit", complete with cited studies and a comparison of SF's Transamerica Pyramid to a Big Brother Ministry from Orwell's 1984)

"As part of the network of bike paths, develop one system of paths that is extra safe - entirely separate from automobiles, with lights and bridges at the crossings, with homes and ships along it, so that there are always many eyes on the path. Let this path go through every neighborhood, so that children can get onto it without crossing a main road. And run the path all through the city, down pedestrian streets, through workshops, assembly plants, warehouses, interchanges, print houses, bakeries, all the interesting 'invisible' live of a town - so that the children can roam freely on their bikes and trikes."

See what i mean? ah, to have lived in the 70s, when such a path was still dreamable...

...more
5

Jun 20, 2009

Anyone with the luxury of designing their own home should jump at the chance to get this book. It's a bit dated, but at 1100+ pages it surely describes most of the details you'll need to think about.

I took it home from the library because it's a fascinating book about architectural design in general, everything from the optimal size of a public square (70 feet wide) to the best place for a garden seat. I learned that my house has a good "intimacy gradient" (spaces meant to be public are readily Anyone with the luxury of designing their own home should jump at the chance to get this book. It's a bit dated, but at 1100+ pages it surely describes most of the details you'll need to think about.

I took it home from the library because it's a fascinating book about architectural design in general, everything from the optimal size of a public square (70 feet wide) to the best place for a garden seat. I learned that my house has a good "intimacy gradient" (spaces meant to be public are readily accessible; private rooms are tucked away) but is poorly designed with regard to windows (rooms should have windows on 2 sides).

However, with no easily discernible scheme of organization--not to mention seeing all the ways my house could never be improved--this book was ultimately frustrating to me. ...more
5

November 16, 2018

Change your worldview, and change the world, with this book.
In college, I was so intrigued by this way of examining the spaces we live in, from our literal kitchen sink to the way our cities and countries are arranged--and was delighted when my 17-year-old discovered it independently through TED talk etc. recommendations. He treats it like his bible, reading it passage by passage and noticing how the way chairs, streets, etc. are arranged affects how we live. He's considering city planning or something as a career now, but it's also just a really readable, interesting book that ideally, tons of people should read so that we can live in a more beautiful and livable world!
3

January 4, 2017

Brilliant Meme; Too Bay-Area Oriented
BACKGROUND AND OVERVIEW
"A Pattern Language" is exactly as the title describes. The book is a language for describing and organizing patterns. It presents 253 patterns from large [on the scale of regions] down to small [details in a house]. All of them relate to architecture in some way or another.

I first came across this book during my Permaculture Design Certificate with Julia and Charles Yelton at the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Ranch in 2010. It was presented not as a book on permaculture, but on the permaculture mindset. A permaculture design could be laid out using the approach of this book.

Last year I saw the book sitting on my parents’ shelf, and asked if I might borrow it. As it’s almost a 1,200-page book and I take notes, it’s taken me a year to read.

RECEPTION
In some ways I find the book too specific. In order to name something, we must strip it down to the bare essentials, something that can fit in a phrase. Inherently, there are aspects of something that get pushed out by this process. So although it seems like the authors had the best intentions in mind, their persistence in talking about all levels of patterns in architecture felt a little bit disrespectful and controlling some of the time.

I love patterns, but I don’t love objective guidelines. For example, the book claims that wood is an unecological building material, and that we should use lightweight concrete instead [pattern 207]. I don’t understand the logic in this, but regardless, the impacts are irreparable. Patters in later part of the book build on earlier patterns. So the one pattern to use concrete affects countless later patterns, locking in that method of building and only that method of building.

I think one way to judge the nuance and universality of this book would be to see what range of styles this book might support. It’s actually quite narrow, so I feel that in many cases, the book has settled on more surface-level patterns rather than defining the underlying dynamics.

On the other hand, many patterns aren’t this restrictive, and are rather, quite observant. Such as pattern 127, the Intimacy Gradient. This pattern outlines the dynamic that almost all multi-roomed residential or spiritual buildings have an intimacy gradient, ranging from almost public near the front and center, and quite private around the edges and toward the back. But it could be argued that this is so intuitive it need not be expressed.

So as to the style of architecture trumpeted by this book, it’s a mixed bag. But I think there’s promise in this pattern language thing. Unfortunately, I won’t know for sure until I read the two other books in this series, “A Timeless Way of Building,” and “The Oregon Experiment,” which give the pattern language context, and then put it to use with a real-world project.

Lastly, regardless of my opinions on the actual patterns described in the book, the book is a very impressive work. I wonder at the team dynamic and research that must have been put into it.

Overall, if you’re interested in architecture, I’d recommend this book. And I’d love to see a permaculture design using a pattern language sometime.
5

Apr 14, 2013

This book was my anam cara. I’ve long since felt perplexed by the way American cities are designed and the way we are forced to live as a result of their structure and underlying philosophy. I am likewise confused by the holding in high esteem of homes that lack the ability to satisfy daily needs. Though this book is designed for the city planner, architect, or builder (none of which am I), I found in it validation that these needs are not so unusual and hope that there are those in the American This book was my anam cara. I’ve long since felt perplexed by the way American cities are designed and the way we are forced to live as a result of their structure and underlying philosophy. I am likewise confused by the holding in high esteem of homes that lack the ability to satisfy daily needs. Though this book is designed for the city planner, architect, or builder (none of which am I), I found in it validation that these needs are not so unusual and hope that there are those in the American planning and architectural communities who are doing work to further these ideals.

This book is divided into three sections: Towns, Buildings, and Construction. This book advocates using a highly utilitarian philosophy in constructing towns and buildings. I use “utilitarian” not in a Marxist sense, but in the sense that utility and function incorporate the need for beauty, sunlight, and connection to the outdoors and religion - all of which are also fundamental needs to life in addition to other standard forms of utility such as having a shelter, a place to put your coats when you enter a home, etc. This philosophy asks the question of what humankind’s needs are and, based on that, creates a language to pattern towns and buildings.

Here are a few examples for creating a successful house from the Buildings section:

•The modern standard for a door height is taken for granted. Be sensitive to the moment of passage and transition by altering door heights.
•Likewise, vary ceiling height for formality and intimacy.
•Build closets and storage space into walls that separate rooms - this will provide increased sound-proofing and won’t waste access to natural light.
•Children love special, small places. Use empty nooks and crannies to fulfill this love.
•Build low window sills to greater connect occupants to the outdoors. Likewise, use opening windows as opposed to sliding windows.
•Raised flower beds provide humans with greater physical access and connection to the outdoors.
•Use items that tell your story and have meaning as decorations in your home.

Here are a few examples for creating successful neighborhoods and cities in the Towns section:

•No one stage of the human life cycle is self-sufficient. As such, places in which the elderly reside or frequent must be very near places where the young resident or frequent.
•Structure towns in such a way that tap the fundamental desire of humans to be near water, without destroying the water.
•Create small industry cores near small residential cores. The modern separation of industry from residential creates an unfortunate environment in which people live two lives that do not intersect.
•Create neighborhoods that support the common desire to be around like-minded individuals without supporting complete segregation.
•Use green streets for little-used streets and lanes as an alternative to asphalt. This is more pleasing for the eye, better for the environment, and cheaper.
•Create playgrounds based on the local neighborhoods. A playground that boasts “No skateboarding, no bikes, and no pets” will be no playground at all in some neighborhoods.
•Connect religion to common life. In Rome, cathedrals were never free standing but were always connected to other buildings.

I skimmed through the most technical-oriented section - the Construction section, which comes in at a measley 231 pages in a book of 1167 pages.

My only quibble is that this book could benefit from an index.
...more
0

Apr 04, 2013

If I was on a desert island and could only have one book, this would be it.

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