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A Pattern Language (1977) [pdf] (cornell.edu)
66 points by zeeshanqureshi 10 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 22 comments





Some of the co-authors / contributors of A Pattern Language distilled the original >200 patterns to what they though were the 10 most essential in the book Patterns of Home: The Ten Essentials of Enduring Design:

* https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/885970.Patterns_of_Home

* http://www.architectureweek.com/topics/patterns.html


I have have been introduced to many of Alexander’s ideas through this series of lectures on architecture and urbanism by Nikos Salingaros [1]. Mind bending stuff.

[1] https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLre1SQJb-jSXex1MlLFlGrsRj...


Thanks for sharing this. The lecture format helps draw out some of the implications of the Alexander's work. For example, "a healthy mind in a healthy body–in a healthy environment", connecting the value of shaping the environment well to human benefit.

He also simplifies an explanation of why algorithmic design vs "all at once" may be preferable: an algorithm offers opportunities for discovery beyond intuition and memory. In other words, trust the process.


I bought a hard-copy back when SW patterns came in vogue, just to have it. It's pretty interesting even though I know nothing about architecture.

My daughter goes to UO, where Alexander had a hand in applying some of his ideas. If you go to the campus today, though, it's overwhelmingly Uncle Phil who shapes the look and feel, sadly.


I also own a hard copy of this one and know nothing about architecture. I've found the patterns helpful for video game level design. Whether it's the layout of a small town, window placement, or the tiered chambers of a church or temple, this book is extremely insightful for someone who doesn't know where to start when it comes to this stuff.

Uncle Phil?


I feel like A Pattern Language is overrated standing on it's own. Too much people are extrapolating based on this book only instead of diving deeper into Christopher Alexander's other works. The patterns becomes a small thing in the mindset of working from a whole, piece by piece, and iterating with real world feedback instead of planning everything to the minute detail.

Completely disagree. Many of the patterns contain interesting ideas. My house, property, relations with my neighbors and civic volunteer work is different because I read it. I also build software to enable different things, and in general, see details with more scrutiny as well as awareness of the benefit of compromise to aid the whole effort. It is a deeply insightful book into the way humans relate to each other.

I do second the recommendation to read the other works as well. If pairing one book with Pattern, I would choose The Battle for the Life and Beauty of the Earth because it most clearly portrays the process of taking Alexander’s thinking into the real world and overcoming its perverse incentives to impose ugliness and financial difficulty. I gave a talk for a bunch of developers immediately after reading it because it mapped so well to what we do and struggle with.


A Pattern Language is applicable when putting lines on paper or nails in wood, i.e. actually designing and/or building. Though interesting, A Timeless Way of Building tends to be mostly useful for complaining about the way something has been built. Nobody talks about the third book in the trilogy The Oregon Experiment because the resulting buildings don't look like what people want to be the result of A Timeless Way of Building.

Anyway, in the actual practice of architecture, A Pattern Language is by far the best of the set. There are other books that make approximately the same case as Timeless Way of Building. [1] Most of it's fame is from standing in relation to A Pattern Language.

[1] e.g. How Buildings Learn, The Timeless Way of Seeing, Structure of the Ordinary, etc.


I couldn't find a book named The Timeless Way of Seeing. Is there another name? Who is the author? It sounds interesting.

Just based on a bit of googling, the parent commenter might have been meant to refer to this: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2785.The_Old_Way_of_Seei...

Thanks for your sleuthing! That indeed looks interesting.

Yes. It has been about 25 years.

Reading A Pattern Language without reading The Timeless Way of Building makes no sense at all. We do it, I think, because many technologists stumble on A Pattern Language through its relationship to Gang of Four and other “pattern” approaches. The book I always return to, more and more as I get older, is The Timeless Way of Building.

I second this. A Timeless Way of Building is a beautiful book.

Would you why summarizing why it “makes no sense at all”?

I was aware that there was a trilogy, chose to dig into “Pattern” first, and got a lot out of it.


The Timeless Way of Building describes a philosophy, not just of building practice but really of how to live a good, fulfilling life. A Pattern Language is an set of examples of how to shape specific parts of your community and home to implement that philosophy.

Following the patterns without understanding the philosophy makes no sense to me because it’s a very opinionated and, in the modern world, quite radical. What if you don’t agree with it? I think many don’t. At least, you want to be able to read them critically.


The introduction to the book agrees with you and warns about that - it specifically mentions that it is just one possible pattern language, which is why the title is “A Pattern Language” and not “The Pattern Language”

I return to this book every year or so but it hasn't aged well as an utopian text. Balkanization at the world, nation, and local levels isn't the slam dunk he seems to think it is.

Not all of the patterns are winners, but some of them are really out there. I still love it for how many hit the mark.

The book itself has a star rating system for the quality of each pattern. Some are one star, others are more.



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