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A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction

4.41  ·  Rating details ·  4,688 ratings  ·  373 reviews
At the core of A Pattern Language is the philosophy that in designing their environments people always rely on certain ‘languages,’ which, like the languages we speak, allow them to articulate and communicate an infinite variety of designs within a formal system which gives them coherence.

This book provides a language of this kind. It will enable making a design for almost
Hardcover, 1171 pages
Published August 25th 1977 by Oxford University Press (first published 1977)
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Chip Young In the Nature of Order, a 3-book series published in 2003-2004, he takes patterns one step further with what he calls sequences, which describe how to…moreIn the Nature of Order, a 3-book series published in 2003-2004, he takes patterns one step further with what he calls sequences, which describe how to work toward patterns. The idea of patterns has also been very influential in software engineering, to the point where it is a commonly accepted way of thinking about and describing software designs and components.(less)

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Mar 31, 2011 rated it did not like it
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
Carol Jones
Aug 08, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Deirdre Keating
Oct 26, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Alper Çuğun
Apr 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
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. They range from the width of door molding to how cities should be laid out. For example, there is a pattern, "Old Pe
Oct 03, 2015 rated it liked it
The authors of this book, architects and designers, believed that they had identified design issues that were timeless. They did the research and writing for the book between about 1968 and 1977. I think many of their solutions, and even some of the problems they identified, were dated by the time the book was published. I read the essays in the book out of order, which was interesting--sort of like choosing your own adventure. That, and the unwieldy nature of their arguments, made it difficult ...more
Jordan Stephens
Apr 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book was my anam cara. I’ve long since felt perplexed by the way American cities are designed and the way we are forced to live as a result of their structure and underlying philosophy. I am likewise confused by the holding in high esteem of homes that lack the ability to satisfy daily needs. Though this book is designed for the city planner, architect, or builder (none of which am I), I found in it validation that these needs are not so unusual and hope that there are those in the American ...more
Jun 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
Very inspiring. Empowered me to think practically about architecture at all scales. No appraisal or brainstorm on anything architecture, houses or buildings goes by without these patterns popping up in my mind.

I now understand why the author himself hated that his 'pattern' approach was appropriated by folks turning it into something abstract (programming patterns) whereas he meant them as an easy, democratic tool for everyday people to make their own neighbourhoods and houses. This book is a po
Howard Mansfield
May 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 07, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
Faith Reidenbach
Jun 20, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-nonfiction
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
Anne Bogel
Jan 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Taylor Pearson
Oct 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy
I went to an architecture conference about two years ago, not because I knew anything about architecture, but just because I wanted to see one speaker. However, all the speakers ended up being fascinating and it made me reconsider how significant architecture and design is to my everyday life. A door handle that is inconvenient to turn can set the mood for everyone walking into an office (or vice versa).

When I asked what book I should start with to better understand architecture, A Pattern Langu
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 an
Jul 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: urban-studies
If A New Theory of Urban Design is the summation of the theoretical developments in Christopher Alexander's work, this is the practical how-to guidebook vision of building integrated and human centred spaces, of building spaces that blend internal and external physical environments. I was introduced to this by an architect friend and neighbour when I was doing some writing about topography and (our) community: it is an inspirational and exciting book, although at 1200 pages of architectural and ...more
Laura Narbutaite Marbach
Mar 24, 2021 rated it it was amazing
It's not often that I read a non-fiction book that is 45 years old and still feels very relevant. Definitely a nerdy read about what makes cities and homes (the more easily actionable part which I enjoyed the most) amazing spaces to live in. The architects of the grandiose "Line" in Saudi Arabia or even Elon Musk with his Mars plans would benefit from checking out the book too! ...more
Alexandra Cross
Apr 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book changed my outlook on my environment and made me more cautious of that 'why do I feel cozier, more comfortable here but not there' awareness.

I was able to download a free copy of this book to my phone. It's a long book, over one thousand pages, but it's split into 3-10 page topics so it's easy to pick up and read. I did this as an alternative to scrolling through social media. Good fix.

I heard of A Pattern Language from a Tim Ferris episode with Gretchen Rubin.

Anyway, this book is re
Hal O'Brien
Apr 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Alexis Petrounias
Nov 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This text was invaluable to my understanding of three things: first, how to approach the programming language concepts of Lisp macros, generic types, and code generation; second, why the "design patterns" concept in software construction is misguided; and third, the aesthetics of Middle Eastern rugs. ...more
Joni Baboci
"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
Godo Stoyke
Oct 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A timeless classic, that should be in every household, especially of those in design, construction, and community and city planning. Alexander and his team have uncovered the mathematical and human patterns underneath many important design decisions.
Oct 29, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I’ve been dipping in and out of this book for months and every single page is a gem and I am convinced that everyone needs to read this to understand not architecture but how our society should world.
Erika RS
Finished A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa, and Murray Silverstein. For anyone interested in urban design, place making, or the design of interior spaces, this book is a must read, or at least a must skim.

A Pattern Language is a catalog of 253 patterns that cover everything from the layout of cities down to the layout of rooms. Some of the patterns have been criticized, particularly those dealing with the layout of cities and towns, but overall, the patterns provide a ri
Oct 28, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 1read_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. ...more
Jan 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
Again, I have Skipped a LOT of stuff ... I could say that I've covered 65% of the book.

I highly recommend it for students and professionals as well.

The reason why I rated it 4 stars is because there are some ideas that I did not agree with.

But rather than that the book is very useful, very informative and interesting. It opened my mind to many possibilities and ideas.
Aug 13, 2021 rated it really liked it
A reference book with 1170 pages that is both wildly ambitious, unrealistic, preachy and dated…but it has me seeing buildings and gardens and spaces in new ways. I’m inspired for what I may be able to create with my own home and depressed by how little wise planning has gone into cities and suburbs around us.
Jan 04, 2008 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. ...more
Sep 29, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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.
Aug 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Comprehensive and enjoyable, despite carrying unsound or statistically questionable “evidence” to support Eurocentric claims (e.g., high buildings drive people crazy). Reminds one of Fengshui.
Jan 18, 2021 rated it it was ok
Shelves: art, zzz
Thousands of fancy architects read this idealistic, utopian book. Then they go out there and throw up a bunch of filthy concrete slab art buildings and ugly gentrification condos.
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Christopher Wolfgang John Alexander (4 October 1936 – 17 March 2022) was an Austrian-born British-American architect and design theorist. He was an emeritus professor at the University of California, Berkeley. His theories about the nature of human-centered design have affected fields beyond architecture, including urban design, software, and sociology. Alexander designed and personally built over ...more

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35 likes · 5 comments
“fundamental view of the world. It says that when you build a thing you cannot merely build that thing in isolation, but must also repair the world around it, and within it, so that the larger world at that one place becomes more coherent, and more whole; and the thing which you make takes its place in the web of nature, as you make it.” 5 likes
“In short, no pattern is an isolated entity. Each pattern can exist in the world, only to the extent that is supported by other patterns: the larger patterns in which it is embedded, the patterns of the same size that surround it, and the smaller patterns which are embedded in it.” 3 likes
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