Review: A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction

A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction by Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikaway, Murray Silverstein, with Max Jacobson, Ingrid Fiksdahl-King and Sclomo Angel. Published in 1977, ISBN: 0-19-501919-9

This is the second in a trilogy, and has been the basis for the current "patterns" craze in software engineering, which is why I picked it up. I feel a little weird reviewing it without having read at least the book before it, The Timeless Way of Building, because I have the feeling that that would fill in many of the gaps I found, but I haven't been excited about the book enough to go do that.

The book presents a series of patterns, short rule sets which can be applied to architecture, from the town planning level down to laying out rooms. My feeling was that they were largely hit or miss. While some of the patterns made for interesting spaces, many of them left me saying "So they're the bastards who started this whole keep your hallways unmanageably dark craze." And they've no respect for wilderness, if the rules are followed they seem content to plaster their spread-out developments from sea to shining.

If The Timeless Way of Building sums up the contents of the first book, then I guess A Pattern Language says what they wanted to say. The rules for towns seem to lead to a horribly static and structured culture, the houses all seem cozy, but perhaps confining, and the building methods seem to ignore some issues that I'd sure want resolved before I put tens if not hundreds of thousands into a house.

I'm not sorry I read the book, it was interesting for historical context, but I wouldn't recommend that anyone else read it end-to-end, it was meant as a reference. But even as a reference, while it gives good things to consider, I don't think that the recommendations are anything beyond hit or miss, and I'd have to look long and hard before moving into a house that conformed to this list.

Friday, October 16th, 1998