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A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction

4.38 of 5 stars 4.38  ·  rating details  ·  2,470 ratings  ·  222 reviews
You can use this book to design a house for yourself with your family; you can use it to work with your neighbors to improve your town and neighborhood; you can use it to design an office, or a workshop, or a public building. And you can use it to guide you in the actual process of construction.
After a ten-year silence, Christopher Alexander and his colleagues at the Cent
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Hardcover, 1216 pages
Published August 25th 1977 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 1977)
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Architecture by Francis D.K. ChingArchitects' Data by Ernst NeufertA Visual Dictionary of Architecture by Francis D.K. ChingThe Poetics of Space by Gaston BachelardThe Architecture of the City by Aldo Rossi
Must-Read Architecture Books
6th out of 80 books — 83 voters
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 98 books — 36 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Matt
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
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Tiggerj
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
Mike
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
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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
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Howard Mansfield
May 26, 2013 Howard Mansfield rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Howard by: howard@howardmansfield.com
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
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Faith
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
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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
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Andrew
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
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Dawn
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
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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
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Andrea
This is an extraordinary book, not least because I'd seen it referenced as an architectural handbook and a good source for thinking about public space. It is all that.

But really, it is quite a mad reimagining of our world as it could and should be, but at the same time serves as a blueprint of how to build it. After that final scene in V for Vendetta when the world is reduced to rubble and everyone is like oh shit, what next? You want to think through what happens after the revolution if you'd p
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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: http://blog.hansdezwart.info/2010/06/...
Mykle
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.
Rico
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
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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
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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
Anne Bogel
This architecture classic from 1977 approaches architecture in a way that's altogether new to me: it provides 253 archetypal elements of design that together form a "language" to speak of an infinite variety of designs, from the large scale (regional metro plans) to the small scale (individual homes).

I loved how this book was very easy to pick up and put down--the 1000 or so pages don't have to be read all at one go for it to make sense.

What I hate about this book: I adore the building plans Al
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Heather
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
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Jonathan
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
Debbie
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
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Karen
Apr 05, 2015 Karen rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Karen by: Cait
Shelves: read_chunks_of
Holy f***! This just arrived at my house! I yelled "ITS A PATTERN LANGUAGE!" out loud alone in my room in delight! Thank you, mysterious surprise gift giver - I have been lusting after this ridiculously expensive ridiculously brilliant book ever since Cait and Jay set up their apartment all cool based on ideas from it. Oh yes, yes, yes! I own it! I can read it whenever I want! I literally now own the most badass wisdom about living in spaces ever compiled. Yes.
thecrx
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)...
Heather
I've never read a book about building design before and I still know very little about any of it, so my remarks are basically: this is interesting stuff to read, think about and then observe on your own. My library turn with this second book, came to end way too quickly and I haven't requested it again because I'm trying to finish the first book. You may not agree with all of ideas, like bed alcoves and such but he at least will make you consider things about your home and surroundings that you ...more
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
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Bruce
absolutely essential reading for the designers of spaces. Ironically professional architects I have worked with who poo-pooed the book as maybe OK for laypeople but easily contained within their vast professional knowledge have designed spaces that make fundamental errors according to the precepts of the book.

This book is a great support if you have the knack of space design as it will confirm intutions and suggest further ideas. There is the occasional weird thing like the 1/4 inch molding rul
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Tim
Dec 15, 2007 Tim rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone interested in history or technology
A brilliant exposition of what works in architecture and why ... but more importantly, how abstracting the patterns of "what works" can give us rules for successful buildings, towns and cities. And of course, this book is the origin of the much later concept of design patterns in software.
Rachel
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
Aaron
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.
Karey
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.
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