Saturday, June 10, 2006

A Pattern Language

A Pattern Language
Towns - Buildings - Construction
by Christopher Alexander - Sara Ishikawa - Murray Silverstein

This text weighs in at 253 sections spread over 1171 pages. No light read but well worth the time and effort. It's illuminating and insightful in regards to how design science techniques can vastly improve the quality of life within an environment, how underappreciated this point of view is and how poorly modern society performs in fostering the values espoused.

Having worked as a professional software engineer for many years I was already familiar with design patterns in software architecture and I knew they'd somehow originated from a similar organizational hierarchy in structural architecture. I bought this book not realizing that this was very much the Book that started it all.

The word Language in the title is very relevant. A Language provides one with a vocabulary with which to label objects and events within a system. The grammer of the language establishes a framework from which to organize and create an internal model of the system. Without such a language it is almost impossible to even think about a system in a meaningful way. Without a symbolic language the objects and events perceived in a system are a nebulous aggregate of impressions, visualizations and feelings. A difficult set of tools to work with. Alexander has created an example of a language which describes a specific architectural value system. One which he proposes we'd all be much better off to follow that not.

The vocabulary of the language is in the title of each of the 253 chapters:

1. Independent Regions
25. Access to Water
36. Degrees of Publicness
41. Work Community
60. Accessible Green
80. Self-Governing Workshops and Offices
96. Number of Stories
107. Wings of Light
116. Cascade of Roofs
135. Tapestry of Light and Dark
154. Open Stairs
167. Six-Foot Balcony
210. Floor and Ceiling Layout
239. Small Panes
242. Front Door Bench
253. Things from your Life

...a small sampling. To each is devoted a summary, an illustration and an argument as to why the pattern is important and good. By and large I agree with Alexander's reasoning and his conclusions. Living in an urban environment in which I'm surrounded with many examples of good and bad, pleasant and unpleasant, well designed and well built juxtaposed with utter crap - this book gave me a way to understand why I like what I do and don't what I don't.

I've stopped trying to get my friends to read this book. But if you want to understand why a well designed community, home, threshold and porch are actually better for you than their counter examples then this book pretty much says it all. You will then be more empowered to actually do something about it.

Zomad says read it!

1 comment:

nollij said...

Well, I'll need to borrow it from you... just as soon as I finish reading my other loaner from you (Fingerprints of the Gods). I'm still not finished with Collapse, so that has to come first.