Revolution Lullabye

January 12, 2009

Alexander, Ishikawa, & Silverstein, A Pattern Language

Alexander, Christopher, Sara Ishikawa, and Murray Silverstein. A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction. New York: Oxford UP, 1977.

This architectural guide is the second book of a larger work that attempts to define a theory and language for constructing spaces that allow for optimal human happiness and well-being. Alexander et al wrote this book in response to the increasingly unpoetic architectural decisions of the mid-twentieth century, which resulted in large, sprawling buildings and cities that had no elegance or life. The authors present 253 patterns, design problems and their solutions, in the book’s three different sections: towns, buildings, and construction. “Towns” describes how larger, global spaces of cities, countryside, communities, and neighborhoods can be organized; “Buildings” details the attributes that should be considered when constructing spaces and places of work, life, and recreation; “Construction” explains the type of materials and structures that should be used in buildings. Alexander’s patterns contain similiar themes that on the surface might seem contradictorary: harmonious but heterogeneous, complicated and compressed but simple and open. All the patterns are shaped around the rhythm of human life and call for balance, diversity, and specific boundaries. The patterns are further organized by asterisk marks: those that are followed by two are patterns that Alexander believes are universally deep, true, and sound; those with one he is less sure of their universaility, and those with none suggest at patterns that seems to make sense but is not engrained in the soul of human existence. These patterns are not supposed to be the foundation of some master society plan; rather, a society based on this pattern language can only emerge organically from the bottom up, as each individual designer follows the patterns to design their own space, big or small (3).

Quotable Quotes

“No pattern is an isolated entity” – a whole theme about the problem of isolation (of old people, of homes, of workplaces, of shopping areas, of little kid sleeping areas. Human beings, it seems, should be in communication with each other and interact with one another. Human life is a network.)

“This is a fundamental view of the world. It says that when you build a thing, you cannot merely build that thing in isolation, but must also repair the world around it, and within it, so that the larger world at that one place becomes more coherent, more whole; and the thing which you make takes its place in the web of nature, as you make it” (xiii).

“Many of the patterns here are archetypal – so deep, so deeply rooted in the nature of tihngs, that it seems likely that they will be a part of human nature, and human action, as much in five hundred years, as they are today” (xvii)

It is a language “which can make people feel alive and human” (xvii)

Compressing patterns is “the only way of using a pattern language to make buildings which are poems” (xliv)

“The suburb is an obsolete and contradictory form of human settlement” (30).

“The full cycle of life [needs to be] represented and balanced in each community” (145).

“People need an identifiable spatial unit to belong to” (81)

“No one stage in the life cycle is self-sufficient” (189)

Notable Notes

Each of the patterns works in concert with the others. They are organized by general magnitude -the large ones are completed by the smaller ones, the smaller ones compliment the larger ones. (xii)

There are many pattern languages; every society and culture will form its own

It is a network: create structure, embellish structures, embellish embellishments.

The goal is to make a space that resonates a poem: put together the patterns so they are dense, overlapping, and compressed, so that the space becomes meaningful, illuminated, economical, and profound.

Importance of the life cycle and interaction with all people: the old, the young, men, women

Patterns like child caves, four-story limit, row houses, still water, grave sites, roof garden, old age cottage, fruit trees, etc.


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