Pattern Language? A concept invented by Christopher Alexander, award-winning, renegade architect despised by most other architects, but wildly popular among designers and software authors.
Alexander used to live in my neighborhood. I wrote up a little presentation on his Pepto-Bismol colored house. Neighbors complained his house was so ugly it lowered the value of each house nearby by $15,000.
When Uta and I moved into our current house 17 years ago, Alexander was completing the house across the street. A rag-tag group of students put together this concrete monstrosity.
Here’s the view from my front deck:
You can see a little bit of my rooftop in this picture from Alexander’s The Nature of Order.
Alexander’s The Nature of Order and his website tout my neighbor’s house as an example of a successful owner-designed home. The owners loath him. For example, with our first rainstorm, water blew right through the walls into their daughter’s bedroom.
During construction, Alexander had asked, “What sort of windows would you like?” The owners didn’t understand the economics of custom-shaped windows until it cost them $30,000 to replace them with windows that didn’t leak. The project went over budget; last time I visited, there were still bare wires in the kitchen where fixtures were supposed to go.
That said, I’ve read Alexander’s A Timeless Way of Being and A Pattern Language twice. They are classics of design.
Close of Part 1 of 2
Patterns at Christopher Alexander’s house.
The devil made me do it.
A couple of days back I had a very enjoyable lunch with my friend Bob Horn at Greens, my first time back at this vegetarian Mecca in ten years. I asked Bob if he knew the menu; he replied, “This is my company canteen.” Absolutely wonderful food, attentive service, and a great view of the Golden Gate. Bob is a fascinating guy, the inventor of Information Mapping and author of Visual Language. Currently he’s helping governments and organizations solve “wicked problems” through visualization and argumentation mapping.
I’ve started reading Christopher Alexander’s four-book series, The Nature of Life, An Essay on the Art of Building and the Nature of the Universe. I wouldn’t be doing this, at least not now, were it not for a small reading group of very bright and interesting people who are going to dig through the books together.
The story so far: Everything in the universe is alive. Don’t get Cartesian about this; just accept it. Comfortable ordinariness and lack of “image” quality are the main things which produce life in our current situation. Our Western, reductionist thinking assumes the whole is the sum of the parts. This is dead wrong. The Whole is what lives; it creates its own parts. Just look at the world without your cognitive prejudice, and you’ll start to see it.
I’m only a quarter of the way into this volume because I only read it during lunch on my front deck. From where I sit at our redwood table, one other house is clearly visible.
When we moved into our place a dozen years ago, workmen were putting the finishing touches on this raw concrete number. Christopher Alexander built the place.
If you could see the first floor in my photo, you’d be looking right over the sink that appears on page 409 of this first volume. I’ll share a few stories from the neighbors when Alexandrian theory bumps up against Berkeley reality.