Pattern Language

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Book: A Pattern Language. Christopher Alexander



"his unique approach to thinking about how we create and use space has spawned a kind of minor cult, of which I’d say I’m a fringe member. Which is only to say that when I first came across Alexander’s book many years ago I was deeply affected by his approach to structuring knowledge via patterns, and it has remained an inspiration ever since, though somehow I keep giving away the copies I obtain and never have one of my own (sigh).

Alexander’s ‘pattern languages’ are sort of worlds within worlds, a way of expressing networked relations between objects so that when you think one you necessarily engage the others. In many ways his book entirely accidentally foresaw the basic structure of the hypertextual web, and has proven useful in devising and managing database taxonomies too (just learned this through a quick google search…google is all about pattern languages too I suppose). When I look at this very blog with its categories and trackbacks and various hierarchies, it too is a kind of pattern language." (


Nikos Salingaros:

"Identifying any type of pattern follows the same criteria in architecture as in hardware or software.

  1. A repeating solution to the same or similar set of problems, discovered by independent researchers and users at different times.
  2. More or less universal solution across distinct topical applications, rather than being heavily dependent upon local and specific conditions.
  3. That makes a pattern a simple general statement that addresses only one of many aspects of a complex system. Part of the pattern methodology is to isolate factors of complex situations so as to solve each one in an independent manner if possible.
  4. A pattern may be discovered or "mined" by "excavating" successful practices developed by trial-and-error already in use, but which are not consciously treated as a pattern by those who use it. A successful pattern is already in use somewhere, perhaps not verywhere, but it does not represent a utopian or untried situation. Nor does it represent someone's opinion of what "should" occur.
  5. A pattern must have a higher level of abstraction that makes it useful on a more general level, otherwise we are overwhelmed with solutions that are too specific, and thus useless for any other situation. A pattern will have an essential area of vagueness that guarantees its universality."


Nikos Salingaros:

“One of the great books of the century. Alexander tried to show that architecture connects people to their surroundings in an infinite number of ways, most of which are subconscious. For this reason, it was important to discover what works; what feels pleasant; what is psychologically nourishing; what attracts rather than repels. These solutions, found in much of vernacular architecture, were abstracted and synthesized into the Pattern Language about 20 years ago. Unfortunately, although he did not say it then, it was obvious that contemporary architecture was pursuing design goals that are almost the opposite of what was discovered in the pattern language. For this reason, anyone could immediately see that Alexander’s findings invalidated most of what practicing architects were doing at that time. The Pattern Language was identified as a serious threat to the architectural community. It was consequently suppressed. Attacking it in public would only give it more publicity, so it was carefully and off-handedly dismissed as irrelevant in architecture schools, professional conferences and publications.

Now, 20 years later, computer scientists have discovered that the connections underlying the Pattern Language are indeed universal, as Alexander had originally claimed. His work has achieved the highest esteem in computer science. Alexander himself has spent the last twenty years in providing scientific support for his findings, in a way that silences all criticism. He published this in the four-volume work entitled The Nature of Order. His new results draw support from complexity theory, fractals, neural networks, and many other disciplines on the cutting edge of science. After the publication of this new work, our civilization has to seriously question why it has ignored the Pattern Language for so long, and to face the blame for the damage that it has done to our cities, neighborhoods, buildings, and psyche by doing so.”


Christopher Alexander:


" The specific patterns out of which a community is made may be alive or dead. To the extent they are alive, they let our inner forces loose, and set us free; but when they are dead, they keep us locked in inner conflict.

The more living patterns there are in a place, the more it comes to life as an entirety, the more it glows, the more it has that self-maintaining fire which is the quality without a name.

And when a community has this fire, then it becomes a part of nature. Like ocean waves, or blades of grass, its parts are governed by the endless play of repetition and variety created in the presence of the fact that all things pass. This is the quality itself—the quality that cannot be named.

To work our way towards a shared and living language once again, we must first learn how to discover patterns which are deep, and capable of generating life.

We may then gradually improve these patterns which we share, by testing them against experience: we can determine, very simply, whether these patterns make our communities live, or not, by recognizing how they make us feel…" (


"Let us consider what kind of process might be needed to let a community become gradually whole.

In nature, the inner laws which make a growing whole are, of course, profound and intricate…

What happens in the community, happens to us. If the process fails to produce wholeness, we suffer right away. So, somehow, we must overcome our ignorance, and learn to understand the community as a product of a huge network of processes, and learn just what features might make the cooperation of these processes produce a whole.

We must therefore learn to understand the laws which produce wholeness in the community…

The process is a single process because it has only one aim: quite simply, to produce wholeness, everywhere…" (

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