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A Pattern Language

April 22, 2011

A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings and Construction is probably one of the more boring names you could choose for a book, but according to Wikipedia it is still the one of the most read books in architecture. Written in 1977, the authors wanted to create a language out of 253 “patterns.” These patterns describe a specific problem in towns, buildings, or construction and then offer a solution. They also point you to other patterns/solutions in the book that work together. This still doesn’t sound very interesting, so I’ll give an example:

Pattern 105: South Facing Outdoors

Problem: People use space if it sunny, and do not use it if it isn’t. 

Solution: Always place buildings to the north of the outdoor spaces that go with them, and keep outdoor spaces to the south. Never leave an empty band of shade between the building and the sunny part of the outdoors. 

Let half hidden gardens (111) influence the position of the outdoors too. Malr the outdoor space positive (106), and break the building into narrow wings (107). Keep the most important rooms to the south of these wings (128), and keep storage, parking, etc. to the north (162). Make definite places on the south side for people to sit in the sun (161).

Here is another example:

Pattern 167: Six Foot Porch

Problem: Porches often do not offer enough room to be comfortable (I forgot to write this problem down, but I’m pretty sure it was close to this).


Whenever you build a balcony, a porch, a gallery or a terrace, always make it at least six feet deep. If possible, recess at least part of it into the building and enclose it partially. (Six feet is needed for each seated group of two or three so they can sit in a circle and stretch.)

Enclose the balcony with a low wall (sitting wall 243), heavy columns (column place 193). Keep it open toward the south (sunny place 161). Treat it as an outdoor room (163).

What I really liked about this book is that you can apply the principles to many projects. They offer guidance on where to put buildings on sites and with relation to each other. You could use it for ideas on a remodeling project (like adding a porch), or improving the lighting in your house. I appreciate that the authors took the time to find problems, show you their evidence for the problem, and then present solutions (this is how I like to think). Although it is a pretty hefty book and can be hard to find, I would highly recommend picking this book up especially if you are planning a house.

Some more information

Example from Apartment Therapy

Pattern Language in landscape design (Serenity in the Garden)

Christopher Alexander

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 22, 2011 4:47 pm

    I adore this book and am so glad to see someone else who sees what it has to offer!


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