Book Review: A Pattern Language

Green building people… if you are designing/building or buying a house, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of this book — A Pattern Language (1977, Christopher Alexander et al.). I also recommend it to those thinking deeply about education, Sudbury Valley School/Democratic Free Schools.

I have skimmed and skipped around, and I am sure there is much hooey to ignore (I certainly can’t speak to the CONSTRUCTION section), but there is MUCH to consider deeply and carefully. Fail to consider the points made at your own risk!!! Lots of food for thought. Don’t worry about the perhaps seemingly haphazard organization of the sections. Just enjoy the sections for themselves.

And I am speaking from personal experience. When I ponder what makes one house or apartment I have lived in comfortable, I inevitably find a number of “patterns” which pretty clearly make sense of it. Here I list some of my favorite sections from the BUILDINGS major section, numbered as they are in the 1200 page book:

(76) House For A Small Family
(In this pattern I think he is wrong… the 2-part house is a typical ranch/rambler/split-level. It’s a question of age. When the kids are little, they love having their beds/room very near the parents.)

(109) Long Thin House (Popular in many green architects designs… I actually don’t like this very much!)
(110) Main Entrance, (130) Entrance Room
(111) Half-Hidden Garden (explains the success of some patios I have experienced)
(112) Entrance Transition, (113) Car Connection
(117) Sheltering Roof
(125) Stair Seats
(127) Intimacy Gradient
(128) Indoor Sunlight (duh but still some interesting comments)
(131) The Flow Through Rooms (Which contains one of my personal favorites — loops “Even better, is the case where these is a loop”. This one is almost NEVER followed in many new smaller houses I look at… but it is fundamental to why many older homes are comfortable. And kids love them! And you will too if you live in New England or somewhere cold!)
(132) Short Passages (as opposed to bowling-alley hallways like one house we looked at recently)
(133) Staircase as a Stage (both our current and last house made good use of this pattern)
(137) Children’s Realm
(142) Sequence of Sitting Spaces
(143) Bed Cluster (partly why the boys’ bedroom is so comfortable)
(154) Teenager’s Cottage (the basement!)
(159) Light on two sides of every room (Nice, but also better ignored in some cases I have found)
(167) Six-foot balcony (porch size rule-of-thumb)
(181) The Fire (“There is no substitute for fire.” Don’t let your dream of a superinsulated passive house let you forget this!)
(190) Ceiling Height Variety (In spades with our current house. love it!)
(192) Windows Overlooking Life (“Rooms without a view are prisons for the people who have to stay in them.”) (SVS related as well)
(196) Corner Doors (yes!)
(197) Thick Walls (Your superinsulated home will have that!)
(203) Child Caves
(242) Front Door Bench, (243) Sitting Wall

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(Also, an aside. This book is also very interesting to me because of the way it links to different sections within each of the individual writeups. It is hypertext written before it’s time! It would work well as a PDF E-Book with links to the different sections.)

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Also… Communities:
(9) Scattered Work (Discussing the problem of separation of work from homes)
(12) Community of 7000 (That democratic voices are lost when towns/cities get too big)
(14) Identifiable Neighborhood (We live in one now)
(18) Network of Learning (hmmm… sounds like a Sudbury Valley School (SVS) ad)
(26) Life cycle
(31-33) Promenade, Shopping Street, Nightlife, (58) Carnival
(40) Old people everywhere

And more SVS-related themes:
(57) Children in the City
(64) Pools and Streams
(68) Connected Play
(72) Local Sports
(73) Adventure Playground
(80) Self-governing workshops and offices
(84) Teen-age Society
(85) Shopfront Schools

Also… Transportation:
(11) Local Transport Areas (A diatribe on cars), (20) Mini-buses (half taxi, half bus), (22) Nine percent parking
(51) Green Streets (good for driveways)

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Filed under erik-green, green, hindsight is 20-20, Sudbury Schools and Sudbury Valley School

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