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Hardcover A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction Book

ISBN: 0195019199

ISBN13: 9780195019193

A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction

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Book Overview

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...

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Architecture

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

Different Meanings for Different People

While ostensibly a book about city planning, architecture and building construction, A Pattern Language is a treasure chest offering so much more:Academics will respect this 1171-page treatise for its thoroughly researched (eight years' work by six co-authors during the 1970s) and eminently logical (mathematically motivated) analysis, arriving at an optimal hierarchical configuration of our living space (253 self-consistent "patterns"), based on the simple premise that social function should determine physical form.Idealists will praise the book for its wonderfully comprehensive utopian prescription specifying how our society--cities, neighborhoods, houses, rooms, alcoves and even trim and chairs--should be designed and built.Curious types will marvel at the richness of this book as a launching pad for exploring new realms--for example: Land usage (how countryside in England differs from public parks and private farms in the U.S.), transitional space (how outdoor-indoor and public-private boundaries are as important as the buildings and rooms themselves), small window panes (how large pane windows paradoxically do not bring us closer to nature), etc.Romantics will be moved by the contrasting luminescence in Tapestry of Light and Dark, the warmth of The Fire, and the retelling in Marriage Bed of how Odysseus was reunited with his wife, Penelope, after 20 years of separation.Pragmatists will take the best ideas from the collection--The Flow Through Rooms, Light on Two Sides of Every Room, Alcoves--and use them with abandon in the most opportunistic way in designing, building and remodeling homes. Members of the status quo will see this book as the underground manifesto of a threatening movement, an attempt by Berkeley anti-architect radicals to apply social engineering to thrust their liberal values (e.g., communal bathing, composting of human waste, banning of skyscrapers and chain stores) on our present society that is "just fine the way it is, thank you!"And realists will criticize this book for falling short, failing to tell us in any truly practical sense how to fix the problems inherent in our convenient, automobile-centric, impersonal, profit-oriented social structure of today.

zen and the art of architecture

I've read all three books in this series, and I thought this was by far the best and most accessible. The first, "A Timeless Way of Building", introduced the author's philosophy and was, I thought, a bit bogged down with New Age jargon. I prefer to think in terms of comfort and relationships, though ultimately I agree with just about everything the author-as-designer states and obviously went on to read his other work. I thought the third book, photographs of a project completed by the author, should have been the most informative, but ultimately didn't do justice to the author's ideas. But maybe it was just the poor quality of the pictures. IMHO this is the masterpiece of the trilogy. Christopher Alexander's Empire Strikes Back. Its concern is the practical application of the author's ideas, and one could only wish to live or work in a space designed with this philosophy. His thinking is pragmatic AND beautiful, bringing balance and harmony to space.Having made the case for his system of architectural and social design in his earlier work, the author here goes on to formalize a system of 253 patterns, ranging in scale from towns down to benches. Patterns 1 through 94 define a town or community; numbers 95 through 204 define (groups of) buildings; and numbers 205-253 define a "buildable building". The individual patterns are themselves evocative and inviting, and cover a myriad of human social and environmental relationships: number 1 is Independent Region, pattern 2 is Distribution of Towns, 10 is Magic of the City, 57 is Children in the City, number 62 is High Places, number 63 Dancing in the Street, 94 is Sleeping in Public, 203 Child Caves, 223 Deep Reveals, 235 Soft Inside Walls, 253 Things from Your Life. One example of developing the pattern language for a specific project using a subset of the author's Pattern Language is that of the front porch, composed of 10 elements: private terrace on street, sunny place, six-foot balcony, outdoor room, paths & goals, ceiling height variety, columns at the corners, front-door bench, raised flowers and different chairs. Alexander gives many such examples and eloquently details the process of exploring patterns and moving between them in a search for the proper set. And that is one thing that makes this book special and fun. He does not say a 'successful' set of elements but a 'proper' set of elements. At first that might seem like a lot of hot hubris, but on reading you find that there is a reason that a balcony should be 6-feet square .... THAT is the minimum space required for people to have a comfortable discussion around a small table. It is a charming and useful way to look at one's surroundings, and each of the 253 patterns is given the treatment as the author goes on to detail each element's specifications, definition and purpose. These expanded definitions are often quite charming; for instance, under pattern 57, Children in the City, he specifies a very safe bike path that

Placemaking Guide

One can find the answers to most of life's little (and big) problems in this classic work. It does everything from helping one determine why the backyard just doesn't feel right to describing the problems with sprawl. I hesitate to label it as an architectural work because it can be so much more. Certainly, it illustrates how architecture can play a much larger role in shaping our lives than it has during the past fifty years.The format of the book is effective in that it allows one to follow the connections between various design rules/patterns that might otherwise not be obvious. The use of these "links" within the book could have been a source of inspiration for web designers. This book will appeal just as much to the lay person as it does to the legions of architectural professionals who use it as a guide on a frequent basis.

This book changed the way I look at buildings ... and life!

My fascination with Christopher Alexander's work began with "The Timeless Way of Building," but increased tenfold upon discovering his inexhaustible classic, "A Pattern Language." At over a thousand pages (I think,) "A Pattern Language" is an encyclopedic study of what makes buildings, streets, and communities work -- indeed, what makes environments human.Alexander and his co-authors present us with over two hundred (roughly 250) "patterns" that they believe must be present in order for an environment to be pleasing, comfortable, or in their words, "alive." The patterns start at the most general level -- the first pattern, "Independent Regions," describes the ideal political entity, while another of my favorite patterns, "Mosaic of Subcultures," described the proper distribution of different groups within a city. The patterns gradually become more specific -- you'll read arguments about how universities should relate to the community, the proper placement of parks, the role of cafes in a city's life. If you wonder about the best design for a home, the authors will describe everything from how roofs and walls should be built, down to how light should fall within the home, where your windows should be placed, and even the most pleasant variety of chairs in the home. An underlying theme of all the patterns is that architecture, at its best, can be used to foster meaningful human interaction, and the authors urge us to be aware of how the houses we build can help us balance needs for intimacy and privacy.They admit that they are uncertain about some of the patterns -- they indicate their degree of certainty using a code of asterisks placed before the pattern. For each pattern, the authors summarize the pattern in a brief statement printed in boldface, and then describe it at length, drawing upon a variety of sources to give us a full sense of what they mean: these "supporting sources" include an excerpt from a Samuel Beckett novel, papers in scholarly journals, newspaper clippings, etc. Most patterns are accompanied by a photograph (many of them beautiful and fascinating in their own right) and all are illustrated by small, casual hand-drawings. Taken together, "A Pattern Language" is an extraordinarily rich text, visually and conceptually.As I said in the header of this review, "A Pattern Language" has changed the way I look at buildings and neighborhoods -- I feel like this book has made me attuned to what works, and what doesn't work, in the human environment. I'm constantly realizing things about buildings and streets that this book helped me see -- things that make people feel at home, or feel "alive," in their surroundings, or conversely, things that make people uncomfortable. And the book makes me think differently about life because it showed me how our well-being depends so much upon the way our buildings fit, or don't fit, us as UNIQUE INDIVIDUALS.

it isn't about architecture

Nominally about architecture and urban planning, this book has more wisdom about psychology, anthropology, and sociology than any other that I've read. Nearly every one of this volume's 1170 pages will make you question an assumption that you probably didn't realize you were making. In a section entitled "Four-Story Limit", Alexander notes that "there is abundant evidence to show that high buildings make people crazy." Underneath is a photo of San Franisco's Transamerica tower, captioned with a quote from Orwell's 1984: "The Ministry of Truth--Minitrue, in Newspeak--was startlingly different from any other object in sight. It was an enormous pyramidal structure of glittering white concrete, soaring up terrace after terrace 300 metres in the air." Alexander backs up this polemic with convincing arguments that high-rise living removes people too far from the casual society of the street, from children playing in the yard, and that apartment-dwellers therefore become isolated. Alexander spends a lot of time in this book trying to figure out how to restore the damage to our communities that have been done by automobiles. He argues for better public spaces and for more integration of children, old people, and workers. He argues for more access to water by more people. Many of Alexander's arguments are against the scale of modern systems. Public schools spend a fortune on building and administration precisely because they are so physically large [I've seen statistics showing that our cities spend only about one-third of their budgets on classrooms and teachers]. If we had shopfront schools and fired all the school system personnel who don't teach, we might be able to get student-teacher ratios down to 8 or 10:1 without an increase in cost. Similarly, Alexander argues for smaller retail shops, smaller factories (or at least identifiable small workgroups within factories rather than hundreds of faceless cogs) and more master/apprentice instruction. What if you like the depredations of modernity and aren't interested in a utopian world where basic human needs are met? Can you learn anything about architecture from this guy? Absolutely. You'll learn that light is everything. Your bedroom has to have eastern light so that the sun wakes you up. Your best living quarters should have southern light. All the rooms should have light from at least two sides, otherwise there will be too much contrast and you'll just have to draw the shades. If you've got kids, make them sleep and play in their own wing of the house. Build a realm for yourself and your wife on a different floor. Meet the kids in the kitchen. To avoid cluttering my apartment, I give away virtually all the books
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