A Pattern Language Revisited
We’ve come to a stage in our journey foretold in the ancient scrolls …. Way back in 2009, I wrote an essay about Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language. The book lists a multitude of patterns, each a way of thinking about design when making human-habitable spaces. The patterns are applied on a grand scale: from laying out a city to laying out the furniture in a living room. Alexander’s brilliant madness is that he builds a case that anybody can make their own spaces. From design to build, we’re qualified, and he will show the way.
One pattern in particular struck me (and inspired the essay). He instructs us on how to design our own house by spending time on our plot of land, enjoying it with family and friends, and after we’ve discerned the shape of the space we want to live in, simply to hammer in stakes where the corners will be. Outside expertise is not needed, and may be counter productive at this stage. The organo-hippie simplicity of this really appealed to me, and has been at the core of my philosophy of how to build anything (like this here community thing we’re doing), but it isn’t the end of the story. Because Alexander follows the chapter with an essay centered on a technical formula intended to make sure your columns are properly spaced, ensuring that the structure will withstand the test of time.
This is where we’ve come to. We have spent ample time discerning the shape of the thing we are building, and we have a sense of the life that it will contain. Now, the task is to build it well, perhaps to seek expert opinion from those who have experience and knowledge about such things. We want our project to last as long as it needs to, to survive storms, and to be here when people need it.
See the original essay on (Low) Tech Writer. It’s worth reading because it is one way of describing what we have been doing all this time, and what might be next.
“If technology is the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, then there is a time and a place for it in all aspects of our lives. Technology can be a lifesaver. However, apply it too early in a design process and it cripples our products and projects, our homes and communities. They become cold and rigid–we fear any imperfection in them. They will be impersonal and homogeneous, ill-suited to our unique context or environment. You can see the results of an overly technological architecture everywhere you turn in suburbia: homes built according to some remote architect’s bland, marketable standard of what a beautiful home should look like … and when such “homes” are planted on a typical suburban half-lot, these mini-mansions look like part of a demonic plot to destroy a neighborhood. The best thing you can say about them is that they won’t fall down in a storm ….
“Let’s adopt this as a (low) tech writer principle: let individual or community wisdom, forged-in-context, dictate the unique shape of your house, project, product, or organization. Take time to listen for, intuit, and live with the implications of the designs you are working on. Only after organically discerning the shape and scale of a new project should you consult outside “experts” (or formulas). These may aid in developing levels of structure efficiently, but such expert witnesses will seldom have your local, contextual perspective, and so should not under any circumstances be allowed to dictate design.”