A Pattern Language

A Pattern Language’ is an absolutely fascinating tome from the 1970s, intended to be a ‘working document’ for architecture.

Instead of coming at it from a highly technical perspective, the book is instead of composed of chapters which take on an oddly beautiful abstraction.

Some examples:

Magic of the City (10). “There are few people who do not enjoy the magic of a great city. But urban sprawl takes it away from everyone except the few who are lucky enough, or rich enough, to live close to the largest centers.”

Every aspect of the city (from its whole structure down to each storefront) should be considered to provide the magic to all.

Old People Everywhere (40). “Old people are so often forgotten and left alone is modern society, that it is necessary to formulate a special pattern which underlines their needs. Old people need old people, but they also need the young, and young people need contact with the old.”

A city that forgets to connect generations and provide for each, then, is a failure.

Holy Ground (66). “What is a church or temple? It is a place of worship, spirit, contemplation, of course. But above all, from a human point of view, it is a gateway. A person comes into the world through the church. He leaves it through the church. And, at each of the important thresholds of his life, he once again steps through the church.”

I love this concept of what a church is in modern society. Where we have turned it into a place to attend a weekly service, this book wisely understands that it is a holy place to mark life’s most important moments.

Sleeping in Public (94). “It is a mark of success in a park, public lobby or a porch, when people can come there and fall asleep. In a society which nurtures people and fosters trust, the fact that people sometimes want to sleep in public is the most natural thing in the world. But our society does not invite this kind of behavior. In our society, sleeping in public, like loitering, is thought of as an act for criminals and destitute. The fact is, these attitudes are largely shaped by the environment itself.”

It’s fascinating to see a city planner see the homeless not as a problem, but an opportunity to provide goodwill.

Secret Place (204). “Where can the need for concealment be expressed; the need to hide; the need for something precious to be lost, and then revealed? Make a place in the house, perhaps only a few feet square, which is kept locked and secret; a place which is virtually impossible to discover—until you have been shown where it is; a place where the archives of the house, or other more potent secrets, might be kept.”

The appeal of this book is the secret places that it encourages, the secret places that it reveals. I will always think of this pattern language whenever I create or design a space going forward.

Reminds me of: ‘Walkable City‘ by Jeff Speck, ‘The Past and Future City‘ by Stephanie Meeks, Gretchen Rubin’s episode on The Tim Ferriss Show (where I heard about this book)