A Pattern Language: DIY architecture to make your home come alive

2013-07-02 PatternLanguageAt some point you will get the urge to move. It might be the incessant barking dogs next door driving you to the edge of despair. It might be an underlying feeling of loneliness, or it might simply be that you’ve outgrown your house.

Before you abandon it for another (and pay some overly supportive Realtor a bunch of money), consider modifying it instead. A Pattern Language can help you think creatively about ways to change your home to fit your needs.

Even if you’re not doing the work yourself it can open doors of possibility.

A resource for making dead places live

A Pattern Language is not just a book. It’s an approach to building and design that understands the human person as being both communal and individual in nature.

It sees any building project as an unfolding of patterns that must include the people living in that place:

“Towns and buildings will not be able to become alive, unless they are made by all the people in society, and unless these people share a common pattern language…” –A Pattern Language

The book contains 253 patterns ranging from: how to distribute towns in a region preserving the balance between man and nature, to the window position in a room enhancing or damaging the quality of conversation. It also addresses meta issues like the difference between learning and education, and how neighborhood design affects them.

No pattern exists apart from the whole. Every pattern maintains connection to the others by listing related one’s at the beginning and end of each entry. You can start anywhere in the book, and eventually end up reading the whole thing–it’s ALL connected. Even though it was written in the 1970’s it reads like a modern day Blog post/Wikipedia choose-your-own adventure. You can seriously get lost in this book.

How to apply

Take any project you’re working on, like say a front porch, and choose 5-10 related patterns:

  • SIX-FOOT BALCONY (Pattern 167)
  • OUTDOOR ROOM (Pattern 163)
  • OPENING TO THE STREET (Pattern 165)
  • GRADUAL STIFFENING (Pattern 208)
  • SOFT TILE AND BRICK (Pattern 248)
  • INTIMACY GRADIENT (Pattern 127)
  • SITTING WALL (Pattern 243)

Sit where your front porch will go and read each pattern imagining how they might harmonize into a cohesive whole. If you share the space with others read and discuss them out loud together–the quality and usefulness of your design is magnified by participation.

Draw your design to scale applying the patterns. If you have a contractor consider including him in the conversation.

Each pattern is easy to read (one to four pages max). They all contain: A) a problem statement in bold  B) An in-depth discussion and  C) the best found solution.

Sneak Peak

Here is one pattern I applied to my own front porch


Problem statement: “Balconies and porches which are less than six feet deep are hardly ever used.”

Explanation: “A balcony is first used properly when there is enough room for two or three people to sit in a small group with room to stretch their legs, and room for a small table where they can set down glasses, cups, and the newspaper. No balcony works if it is so narrow that people have to sit in a row facing outward…”

Solution: “Therefore: Whenever you build a balcony, a porch, a gallery, or a terrace always make it at least six feet deep. If possible recess at least a part of it into the building….”

2013-08-17 A pattern language 167 (300x300)

(The above diagram is just one of many by the hand of Christopher Alexander.)

When I finish my porch I will write in detail about how I applied the patterns…so stay tuned. In the meantime I would love to hear how your projects are going and what patterns work for you.

You can purchase A Pattern Language at your local bookstore for around $75.00, or used on Amazon.com for $35.00 (as of 2013). It’s pricey, but totally worth it!*

Please Subscribe to my blog for continued ways to build community and make beauty where you live.

*I apologize for two product reviews in a row, but once again I am not getting paid here–I merely drank the Kool-aid and have a low tolerance. Thank you for your patience.


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