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A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction

4.38 of 5 stars 4.38  ·  rating details  ·  2,242 ratings  ·  206 reviews
In this volume, 253 archetypal patterns consisting of problem statements, discussions, illustrations, and solutions provide lay persons with a framework for engaging in architectural design.
Hardcover, 1216 pages
Published August 25th 1977 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 1977)
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The Four Books of Architecture by Andrea PalladioThe Ten Books on Architecture by VitruviusA Pattern Language by Christopher W. AlexanderA Field Guide to American Houses by Virginia McAlesterThe Architecture of the City by Aldo Rossi
Best Traditional Architecture
3rd out of 97 books — 35 voters
Architecture by Francis D.K. ChingArchitects' Data by Ernst NeufertThe Poetics of Space by Gaston BachelardA Visual Dictionary of Architecture by Francis D.K. ChingThe Architecture of the City by Aldo Rossi
Must-Read Architecture Books
12th out of 79 books — 73 voters

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Community Reviews

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I really don't know what I was expecting when I reserved this from the library, but it wasn't this. In my defense, it sounded interesting. I thought it might be a discussion of sociology and history meant to inspire or empower people to build what they wanted. In fact, what I got is....

Let me back up. Just recently, Irrational Games released the latest in their series of dystopian first person shooters - 'Bioshock Infinite'. In this series visionary philosophers seek to found utopian communities
This is the book that sparked my interest in architecture and home design, many years ago. Skip the town and urban planning if you are more interested in how to design a comfortable home. Christopher Alexander is passionate and persuasive about what he believes we need in our homes: natural light from two sides of a room, window seats one can actually read in, quiet separate dressing areas for every person in a house (because bedrooms should be rooms to relax and be intimate in, not a messy clot ...more
This is probably my favorite non-fiction book. Christopher Alexander and his students have collected everything there is to know about design and put it in one book. Yet cultures go on making the same mistakes over and over. And few architects I talk to have ever read the book.

The book is easy to read and understand. It consists of hundreds of patterns, described in a page or two. The range from the width of door molding to how cities should be laid out. For example, there is a pattern, "Old Peo
Deirdre Keating
Dec 15, 2014 Deirdre Keating rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Deirdre by: Gretchen Rubin's website
I have to give it 5 stars because there is no other way to describe it but as amazing. Forgive me the long review, but it was a library checkout and I want to refer back to it.

I was initially annoyed that there wasn't an idex where I could look up "office space" and quickly read their recommendations for the best layout. Yet now I love the way each pattern refers to all the other patterns it is connected to, and you find yourself flipping from garden benches to farmhouse kitchens. It probably al
Howard Mansfield
May 26, 2013 Howard Mansfield rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Howard by:
Patterns are key to understanding what is ailing our landscape. There is an order, a language, for the way a good street is created. For example, there are recognizable parts that make up a good village townscape. Each part — a fence, a lilac, a walkway, a wall, a front door, a roof — each part works with the other parts to create a place that could only be that place in the whole world.
This is the brilliant insight of Christopher Alexander’s amazing book, A Pattern Language. You may have seen
Anyone with the luxury of designing their own home should jump at the chance to get this book. It's a bit dated, but at 1100+ pages it surely describes most of the details you'll need to think about.

I took it home from the library because it's a fascinating book about architectural design in general, everything from the optimal size of a public square (70 feet wide) to the best place for a garden seat. I learned that my house has a good "intimacy gradient" (spaces meant to be public are readily
I'll start by saying that Christopher Alexander has attempted to develop a more humane system of urban and domestic planning, and has provided a number of thought-provoking ways to implement his vision.

I'll also say that, intellectually, it holds next to no water. By trying to ground the dreamy poetics of Bachelard as "science," you lose the metaphorical value that Bachelard has to offer, while gaining no actual science. It's not like there's any justification for the numbers he tosses in or any
1171 pages covering 253 'patterns'. And this is the second half of the book (1st half is "The Timeless Way of Building".

1171 pages!!! love their little sketches and diagrams, but for the average urbanist, this book isn't worth your time. Lots of the ideas are timeless, if misunderstood or neglected during certain periods, but many others are dated, unpopular, or so idealistic as to be ludicrous. Some principles counter-acted others, some are counter-intuitive but quite sensible, others are class
Hal O'Brien
I was reading John Brunner's "The Shockwave Rider" in college, and it makes some architectural references. Trying to dig up what they were, I stumbled on this, mostly because Alexander was early in the card catalog, and at 1200 pages I felt sure it'd have what I was looking for.

I was wrong, of course, but only in the limited-to-the-task-at-hand way.

Alexander's main idea is that architecture is like a language. With a finite set of elements he calls patterns (not unlike words), you can put them t
Alper Çugun
An essential book for anybody interested in the field. I read it cover to cover, very slowly with breaks and now I feel I have some grasp of what it takes to build a house.

It is of course dated and highly geared towards North American houses but it's still a seminal work. The parts on urbanism are in fact how we in CNW Europe do manage things, so that is heartening.

Extensions to the book for instance how to build houses in very space constrained environments like the Netherlands could be intere
Hans de Zwart
Most amazing non-fiction book I have read in years. This is the book I would take with me to a deserted island when I need to start a new civilization. I have written an extensive review on my blog:
Apr 13, 2009 Mykle added it
Shelves: didn-t-finish
I'm finally working my way through this seminal work of architectural theory. The planning suggestions ("patterns") are organized large to small; Pattern #1 is "Bring about an ideal world government ..." I'm hoping that the later patterns will be more relevant to my second story dormer.
Kristina Stykos
If I was on a desert island and could only have one book, this would be it.
This is an amazing book. A must for anyone building anything as small as garden beds to as large as a city.

Alexander extracts patterns (what you might think of trends) in building from ancient to contemporary architecture that create "living" buildings, places that are alive and energetic and used.

For instance, one that sticks with me is the pattern of Transitions. Thick walls in a home and well defined doorways, give you a sense of transition between rooms. This gives a peaceful or comfortable
Scott Moonen
This has long been on my must-read list, partly because someday we'd like to build our own house, but also partly because of Alexander's surprising influence on computer science via folks like Ward Cunningham and Kent Beck. In that way, this book illustrates a compelling way of thinking about problem-solving within a discipline of study.

I have mixed feelings about some of the large-scale patterns, both in terms of their correctness and also whether they are realistic in a free society. This firs
Todd Webb
With 1171 pages, teeny tiny text, and a structure more like a textbook than a story, I knew this was going to take a while to read. But I'm so glad I made it through after having it on my wish list for years. I was hoping to build my understanding of design in architecture. I wanted to know something about the timeless patterns that just work when designing and building cities, neighborhoods, streets, houses and structures for human beings, and this book delivered. More importantly, the structur ...more
This book formed the basis of one of the most interesting classes I took in university.

The underlying concept is that different types of places have different patterns of being. Like, farmhouses in Ontario have a different layout/ form than Victorian townhouses of the same era. Having lived and worked in various places, I have found this to be very true. This book talks about the larger patterns as they apply to public spaces and town planning, more than individual buildings.

Must-read for public
This book is a comprehensive compendium of design ideas, and a staple of the alternative design movement. I got lots of good ideas from this book and recommend it to anyone designing a structure, remodel, addition, or landscaping project of any size. In terms of the construction ideas, some of them seem to have been written before the widespread application of building codes. Some are utopian. Others are impractical. But I got lots and lots of good ideas from this book and I'm sure I'll be refer ...more
Read this before you embark on a home building project. Wish I had! The authors identify 253 "patterns" in city planning, architecture and design that make spaces more pleasing and livable to people. The chapters on home architecture were most interesting to me. This is not a typical coffee table style book on design with beautiful full color photos. This is more textbook with nuts and bolts information on how people interact with spaces.

For instance, it is currently all the rage in home archite
Read, reading, to read, on my shelf, on my kitchen table, at all times and everywhere. Ostensibly about architecture and town planning, but what book about design quotes from The Odyssey (Marriage Bed, 187) and Aldous Huxley (The Family, 75), Ray Bradbury (Promenade, 31), and champions the "re-emergence of the nurse-midwife" (Birth Places, 65)?

Half-Private Office (152)...
Secret Place (204)...
Courtyards Which Live (115)...
Jonathan Kittrell
This is an amazing, extraordinarily ambitious book, attempting a cohesive theory of design that links all manmade space from the regional level down to the choosing of chairs, while simultaneously acting as a planning guide for the layman. Each chapter, or "pattern," addresses a distinct element like "Sacred Space" or "Ceiling Height Variety" and deconstructs approaches that are likely to yield beloved results.

While the aim of individual patterns is an ideal standard of living, when taken as a w
I don't think I would have ever picked up this book if a friend hadn't loaned it to me and highly recommended it. It looks like a book for city planners (and kind of is), but it really applies to anyone interested in arranging their home or larger spaces in a workable/attractive way. It's really kind of a reference book, so it's easy to jump around and read small sections that interest you. Actually, mostly I found the book highly amusing. For example, there is an entry called "too many old peop ...more
a revolutionary book on making: cities, spaces, buildings, places. human-scaled and highly personal. essential for anyone interested in the relationship between humans and the built-environment.
This is the classic among architectural books. Some might find in quite dry, but for me, it was like reading a suspenseful novel. I gobbled up every last page.
This is the best-known of a 3 volume set by Alexander. I expected it to be some 1960s avant-garde thinking on how to design living spaces (cities/neighborhoods, but also some smaller scale spaces), and it did not disappoint. In fact, I have a hunch--as an armchair enthusiast, not a pro--that it is still relevant.

I certainly recommend it to any interested in thinking about why the spaces they live in and move through and enjoy (or not) either work or do not. The numerous hand-drawn sketches are
Will Szal
Background and Overview

"A Pattern Language" is exactly as the title describes. The book is a language for describing and organizing patterns. It presents 253 patterns from large [on the scale of regions] down to small [details in a house]. All of them relate to architecture in some way or another.

I first came across this book during my Permaculture Design Certificate with Julia and Charles Yelton at the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Ranch in 2010. It was presented not as a book on permaculture, but on t
Nathan Titus
wow, lots, of information, lots of research, you can really tell that this book was a labor of love. Much in here is simultainously revoluitionary, new, and plain common sence.
I almost took off 1 star for the book´s authoritarian tone, particularly in the begining. Much of what Alexander proposes is on such a massive scale that no one short of Huxley´s World Controller could ever put it into practice. But most of it can easily be scaled down. For example, at one point he recomends that all roads
"The fundamental philosophy behind the use of pattern languages is that buildings should be uniquely adapted to individual needs and sites; and that the plans of buildings should be rather loose and fluid, in order to accommodate these subtleties."

A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction is not simply a guide on how to build. It feels more like a hand guide on how to live and reconnect with what makes us human - not by shunning technology but rather by embracing it in a mor
Mar 26, 2009 Bruce rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Utopians, world-builders, architects
I'm with Goodreader Sonny here -- This is a tough book to review. Not dull outright (although I thought its formula of problem statement - all-too-brief analysis - conclusion quickly grew tedious), I have to confess I finally gave up on this one after 560 pgs. and the library unearthed my next reserve. This utopian monster runs close to over 1000 pages of proposed ideal "patterns" of organizing every kind of human space from international to bathroom-sca ...more
What a great book! This book is specifically written for architects, designers, etc. but anybody can read it and get ideas on how to make a comfortable home. I focused only on the sections that had to do with the design and function of rooms in a house and also kids in the community. I really liked how they tied psychology in with design because the two really do coincide with one another. For example, in the section talking about neighborhood parks it cited studies done that showed the importan ...more
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