Reading List: A Pattern Language

Charlotte@Living Well on the Cheap  —  August 5, 2014 — 1 Comment

A Pattern Language

This book was full of answers to questions I didn’t even know to ask. I’ve always been interested in the design of spaces indoors and out, but the actual science of design is so technical that it’s difficult for me to wrap my head around. A Pattern Language is written in laymen’s terms and is as much rooted in psychology and sociology as it is in the study of architecture. The “language” is comprised of 253 “patterns” that anyone can use to create a space that feels comfortable. I think the term patterns is misleading. They’re really just basic principles of design, and I suppose the authors chose to call them patterns because they occur again and again in a wide variety of spaces. The authors acknowledge that not every pattern will apply to every project or even suit the tastes of every reader, but taken one by one I found many of them quite interesting. For example (paraphrased from the book):

114. Hierarchy of open space. People always try to find a spot where they can have their backs protected, looking out toward some larger opening, beyond the space immediately in front of them.

134. Zen view. If there is a beautiful view, don’t spoil it by building huge windows that gape incessantly at it. Instead, put the windows which look onto the view at places of transition-along paths, in hallways, in entryways, on stairs, between rooms. If people are able to sit and stare at the view without effort it will lose interest, but if they catch only glimpses in passing it will remain beautiful forever. Optionally, provide a special spot to sit so that enjoyment of the view becomes a definite act in its own right.

140. Private terrace on the street. Let the common rooms open onto a wide terrace or porch which looks onto the street. Raise it slightly above street level and protect it with a low wall, which you can see over if you sit near it, but which provides a sense of enclosure. The wall can double as seating or table space.

159. Light on two sides of every room. If this is impossible it can be helped by high ceilings, white walls, large windows, and deep reveals.

180. Window place. In every room where you spend any length of time during the day, make at least one window into a “window place.” Build a window seat, or provide an armchair, or surround the space with windows on three sides.

185. Sitting circle. Place each sitting space in a position which is protected, not cut by paths or movement, roughly circular, with paths and activities around it so that people naturally gravitate toward the chairs when they get into the mood to sit. Place the chairs and cushions loosely in the circle, and have a few too many.

191. The shape of indoor space. With occasional exceptions, make each indoor space or each position of space a rough rectangle, with roughly straight walls, near right angles in the corners, and a roughly symmetrical vault over each room.

249. Small panes. Windows which are broken up into small panes afford more interesting views. They also provide a greater sense of protection and help to create filtered light.

251. Different chairs. People are different sizes. They sit in different ways. Never furnish any place with chairs that are identical. Choose a variety-some big, some small, some softer than others, some rockers, some very old, some new, some with arms and some without, some wicker, some wood, some upholstered.

252. Pools of light. Place lights low and apart to form individual pools of light which encompass chairs and tables like bubbles to reinforce the social character of the spaces which they form. Remember that you can’t have pools of light without the darker places in between.

I focused mostly on the patterns relating to residential design, but nearly half of the book relates more directly to public or commercial spaces. Even those that I don’t think I’ll ever have occasion to use were FASCINATING. If you’ve got even a passing interest in architecture or design I highly recommend A Pattern Language. It’s easy to skim over the patterns which don’t interest you-heck, I skipped the first 100 because I wanted to get to the residential stuff. It’s pricey, so I recommend checking it out from your local library unless you think you’ll be referencing it often.


Charlotte@Living Well on the Cheap


One response to Reading List: A Pattern Language

  1. Bridget from Cali August 14, 2014 at 4:19 pm

    This book does seem rather intriguing. Principle #114 resonates with me. I grew up with a brother that loved to attack from hidden nooks, so between that and all the horror films I grew up watching, I am a decided scaredy cat. Familiarizing myself with all possible points of entry and protecting my back has always been kinda critical to my comfort.

    RE #251. Excellent recommendation to have different chairs or choice of seating surfaces. It’s lovely to snuggle on a soft couch to watch a film, but some people have problems rising from extra cushy seats. It’s even more difficult when those surfaces are intended for considerably shorter individuals. After my dad had hip replacements, he could only sit in chairs with arms to be able to get in and out. They also had to be soft enough for him to rest in. I got so used to arm chairs with extra cushions, it’s spoiled me for ones without.

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