Pattern Languages and Christopher Alexander

Helmut Leitner

Dr. Helmut Leitner

June 17, Helmut Leitner – a specialist on pattern language – will give a talk at Danube University Krems (DUK) on Pattern Languages and Christopher Alexander.  These introductory talk should not only provide a basis for the understanding of  the theories of  Christopher Alexander but also create awareness to the pattern community, that we at Krems are putting forward a new research focus. Starting with a 2-day workshop from 14-15th of November 2014, we will organise a world conference in PURsuit of Pattern Languages for SOcietal Change (PURPLSOC) from 3rd to 5th of July 2015.

Pattern Languages and Christopher Alexander
(Leaflet PDF, 395kB)

The „classical works“ of Christopher Alexander

The Vienna-born architect Alexander is well known in architecture especially for his two books on pattern published in the late seventies:

  • Alexander, C. (1979). The Timeless Way of Building. Oxford University Press.

    The theory of architecture implicit in our world today, Christopher Alexander believes, is bankrupt. More and more people are aware that something is deeply wrong. Yet the power of present-day ideas is so great that many feel uncomfortable, even afraid, to say openly that they dislike what is happening, because they are afraid to seem foolish, afraid perhaps that they will be laughed at. Now, at last, here is a coherent theory which describes in modern terms an architecture as ancient as human society itself.

  • Alexander, C., Ishikawa, S., & Silverstein, M. (1977). A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction. Oxford University Press.

    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 Center for Environmental Structure are now publishing a major statement in the form of three books which will, in their words, „lay the basis for an entirely new approach to architecture, building and planning, which will we hope replace existing ideas and practices entirely.“ The three books are The Timeless Way of Building, The Oregon Experiment, and this book, A Pattern Language. At the core of these books is the idea that people should design for themselves their own houses, streets, and communities. This idea may be radical (it implies a radical transformation of the architectural profession) but it comes simply from the observation that most of the wonderful places of the world were not made by architects but by the people. At the core of the books, too, is the point 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 forma system which gives them coherence. This book provides a language of this kind. It will enable a person to make a design for almost any kind of building, or any part of the built environment. „Patterns,“ the units of this language, are answers to design problems (How high should a window sill be? How many stories should a building have? How much space in a neighborhood should be devoted to grass and trees?). More than 250 of the patterns in this pattern language are given: each consists of a problem statement, a discussion of the problem with an illustration, and a solution. As the authors say in their introduction, many of the patterns are archetypal, so deeply rooted in the nature of things that it seemly likely that they will be a part of human nature, and human action, as much in five hundred years as they are today.

But there is much more hidden in his theory of the „Quality without a Name“ (QWAN), a notion he used in his first books to describe holistic properties we could feel intersubjectively but not describe verbally and point out directly. This is of major interest for my personal research focus on tacit knowledge. My hypothesis is that the Alexandrian approach could be taken for the analyses and transfer of tacit knowledge in every subject area, thus in pedagogy as well. The focus of my department therefore will be the application of Christopher Alexander’s approach to education. In his full elaboration we hope to find structures and procedure where we could help young teachers to learn from the experiences of expert teachers through the formulation of a pattern language for education.

The Nature of Order

Starting from 2002 Christopher Alexander published four volumes to the Nature of Order – which can be seen as his magnum opus – where he summarised his scientific findings over the last 40 years in a more abstract and philosophical manner. Still he draws heavily on examples from architecture, but his structural properties can be applied to different domains. He found trough investigation into many natural phenomena 15 living properties  which – in his opinion – are essential for liveliness, a holistic principle of (architectural) designs, which can be felt by humans. With the parenthesis I want to point out, that this holism (this gestalt) can be developed in other design as well, for instance in educational designs. This is the rational for me and my department to learn more about the pattern language approach.

  1. Alexander, C. (2004a). The Nature of Order, Vol I: The Phenomenon of Life: An Essay on the Art of Building and the Nature of the Universe. Berkeley, Calif: Center for Environmental Structure.

    In Book One of this four-volume work, Alexander describes a scientific view of the world in which all space-matter has perceptible degrees of life, and establishes this understanding of living structures as an intellectual basis for a new architecture.He identifies fifteen geometric properties which tend to accompany the presence of life in nature, and also in the buildings and cities we make. These properties are seen over and over in nature and in the cities and streets of the past, but they have almost disappeared in the impersonal developments and buildings of the last hundred years.This book shows that living structures depend on features which make a close connection with the human self, and that only living structure has the capacity to support human well-being.

  2. Alexander, C. (2004b). The Nature of Order, Vol II.:The Process of Creating Life: An Essay on the Art of Building and the Nature of the Universe. Berkeley, Calif: Center for Environmental Structure.

    Christopher Alexander’s masterwork, the result of 27 years of research, considers three vital perspectives: a scientific perspective; a perspective based on beauty and grace; a commonsense perspective based on our intuitions and everyday life.

  3. Alexander, C. (2004c). The Nature of Order, Vol III: A Vision of a Living World: An Essay on the Art of Building and the Nature of the Universe. Berkeley, Calif: Center for Environmental Structure.

    In Book Three of this four-volume work, Alexander presents hundreds of his own buildings and those of his contemporaries who have used methods consistent with the theory of living process.Containing nearly seven hundred pages of projects which have been built and planned in a number of countries over a thirty-year period, this book amply illustrates the impact of living process on the world. The book provides the reader with an intuitive feel for the kind of world which is needed to generate living structure in the world and its communities; its style and geometry and its ecological and natural character.The projects include public buildings, neighbourhoods, housing built by people for themselves, public urban space, rooms, gardens, ornament, colours, details of construction and construction innovation. These buildings, and the methods needed to design and build them, define living structure in a practical way that can be re-applied across a range of other projects.

  4. Alexander, C. (2004d). The Nature of Order, Vol IV: The Luminous Ground: An Essay on the Art of Building and the Nature of the Universe. Berkeley, Calif: Center for Environmental Structure.

    Book Four presents a new cosmology that arises from the careful study of architecture and art, and above all from the practice of the arts. It is a cosmology which places the I, our experience of self, as the linking stem that unites each individual with the whole, connecting consciousness and matter.

It is very inspiring for me that we are not alone at DUK with this new research focus as other people like the architect Richard Sickinger will join us in this new enterprise.  Other colleagues all over the world

 The goal of the upcoming talk is to help interested people to get started with pattern languages and topics related to Christopher Alexander. No admission fee, no prerequisite knowledge necessary. Join us at 6pm, Seminar room third floor (SE 3.4), Trakt J.


Invitation and Abstract for
Titel: Pattern Languages and Christopher Alexander (323 clicks)
Beschriftung: Invitation and Abstract for "Pattern Languages and Christopher Alexander" Talk by Helmut Leitner. June 17, 2014, 6pm, SE 3.4, Trakt J
Dateiname: helmut_leitner_patterns_lecture.pdf
Dateigröße: 380 KB

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