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The Timeless Way of Building

by Christopher Alexander 1979 ISBN 0-19-502248-3

Reading Notes via Cocky Eek (still needs some formatting..)

Christopher Alexander released his 1977 manifesto A Pattern Language, he argued that good architecture is simply a matter of applying core principles. The book inspired a movement in software: Programmers, tired of reinventing the wheel, began compiling libraries of solutions for common coding problems. In recent years, the pattern method has influenced interface designers, usability engineers, and game developers.

a summary

There is a timeless way of building , it's a process through which the order of a building or a town grows out directly from the inner nature of the people, and the animals, and plants, and matter which are in it. Without the help of architects or planners , if you are working in the timeless way's town will grow under your hands, as steady as the flowers in your garden. When we have seen deep into the process to make a building or a town alive, it turns out that this knowledge brings us back to that part of ourselves which is forgotten.

The Quality

There is a central quality which is the root criterion of life and spirit in a man, a town, a building, or a wilderness. This quality is objective and precise, but it cannot be named.

The quality of places is never twice the same, because it always takes its shape from the particular place in which it occurs. It is not simple beauty of form and color. Man can make that without making nature. It is not only fitness to purpose. Man can make that too, without making nature. And it is not only the spiritual quality of beautiful music or a quiet mosque, that comes from faith. Man can make that too, without making nature. The quality which has no name includes these simpler sweeter qualities. But it is so ordinary as well, that it somehow reminds of the passing of our life. It is a slightly bitter quality.

Being alive

First to how to understand the quality without a name in ourselves ; its, for instance, the wild smile of the gypsies dancing in the road.

This wild freedom, this passion is there when all our forces move freelly in us. In nature, this quality is almost automatic, because there are no images to interfere with natural processses of making things. But in all our creations, the possibility occurs that images can interfere with the natural, necessary order of a thing. And most of all this way that images distort the things we make is familiar in ourselves.

Each of us lives most fully 'on the wire', in the face of death, daring to do the very thing which fear prevents us from. A few years ago a family of high wire artists had a terrible fall from the high wire, in the middle of their performance. All of them were killed or maimed, except the father, who escaped with broken legs. But even after losing his children in the fall, a few months later he was back to the work, in the circus, on the wire again.

Someone asked him in an interview, how he could bring himself to do it, after such a terrible accident. He answered; “On the wire, that's living”.all the rest is waiting.

Places which have the quality of being alive, invite this quality to come to life in us. And when we have this quality in us, we tend to make it come to life in towns and buildings which we help to build. It is a selfsupporting, selfmaintaining, generating quality. It is the quality of life. And we must seek it, for our own sakes, in our own surroundings, simply in order that we can ourselves become alive.

Patterns of events

We can come alive only to the extent the buildings and towns we live in are alive. The quality without a name is circulair; it exists in us, when it exists in our buildings; and it only exists in our buildings, when we have it in ourselves. To understand this clearly , we must first recognize that what a town or a buiding is, is governed, above all, by what is happening there. Those of us who are concerned with buildings tend to forget to easily that all the life and soul of a place, all of our experiences there, depend not simply on the physical environment, but on the patterns of events which we experience there. These patterns of events which create the character of a place are not necessarily human events.

The sunshine shining on the windowsill, the wind blowing in the grass are events too-they effect us just as much as social events. Or suppose that there is a stream outside your room, with a small rowing boat on it, where you can go, to row, lie on the water, struggle aginst the stream, tipp over“

Compare the power and importance of these events with the other purely geometrical aspects of the environment, which architects concern themselves with. its about (to alter) the entirely experience of a building. The life af a house, or a town, is not given to it directly, by the shape of its builings, or by the ornament and plan- it is given to them by the quality of events and situations we encounter there.

We know, then, that what matters in a building or a town is not its outward shape, its physical geometry alone, but the events that happen there.

A building or a town is given its character, essentially, by thhose events which keep on happening there most often.

A field of grass is given its character, essentialy, by those eevents which happen over and over again- millions upon millions of times. The germination of the grass seed, the blowing wind, the flowering of the grass, the movement of the worms, the hatching of the insects…

A car is given its character by the events which keep on happening there-the rolling of the wheels , the movements of the pistons in the cylinders, the limited to and fro of the stiring wheel and axle, as he changes direction.

A family is given its character by the particular events which keeps on happening there- the small affections, breakfast, the particular kinds of arguments which keep on happening , the way these arguments resolve themselves, the idiosyncrasies of people, both together and alone, which makes us love them.

You can look at the pattern of events in your personal life which keep on happening from day to day; being in bed, having a shower, having breakfast, sitting at your desk writing, walking in the garden, cooking and eating commen dinner.

Of course the standard patterns of events vary very much from person to person, and from culture to culture. But each town, each neighbourhood, each building, has a particular set of these patterns of events according to its prevailing culture.

For a teenage boy, at highschool in Los Angeles, his situations include hanging out in the corridor with other boys; watching television; sitting in a car with his girlfriend at a drive-in restaurant eating coke and hamburgers. For an old woman, in a European mountain village, her situations include scrubbing her frintdoorstep, lighting a candle in the local church, stopping at the market to buy fresh vegetables, walkig five miles across the mountains to

visit her grandson.

The world does have a structure, just because these patterns of events which repeat themselves are always anchored in the space..

The action and the space are indivisible. The action is supported by this kind of space. The space supports this kind of action. The two form a unit, a pattern of events in space.

A culture always defines its pattern of events by referring to the names of the physical elements of space which are “standard' in that culture. And the mere list of elements which are typical in a given town tells us the way of life of people there.

It does not mean that space create events, or that it causes them, it simply means that a pattern of events cannot be separated from the space where it occurs.

Patterns of space

The pattern of events are always interlocked with certain geometric patterns in the space.

We know now that any town and any building gets its character from those events and patterns of events which keep on happening there the most; and that the patterns of events are linked, somehow, to space. Of course the pattern of space, does not “cause' the pattern of events. Neighter does the pattern events ” cause ” the pattern in space. The total pattern, space and events together, is an element of people's culture. It is invented by culture, transmitteds by culture, and merely anchored in space. But there is a fundamental inner connection between each pattern of events, and the pattern of space in which it happens. It is the bundle of realtionships which is essential, because these are the ones which are directly congruent with the patterns of events.

Isn't it true that the features which you remember in a place are not so much pecularities, but rather the typical, the recurrent, the characteristic features; the canals of venice, the flat roofs of a Maroccan town, the event spacing of the fruit trees in an orchard, the slope of a beach towards the sea, the umbrellas of an Italian beach, the wide sidewalks, sidewalkscafes, cylindrical poster boardings and pissoirs of Paris. The qualities which make Paris a special place, which make Broadway and

exicting, the qualities which make Venice special, the qualities which make an eighteenth century London Square to peaceful and refreshing- the qualities in any environment which give it the character you like it for- are its patterns.

A barn gets its structure from its patterns.

Is has a certain overall shape, roughly a long rectangle; there is a central position where the hay is stored, with aisles along the sides wher the cows stand; there is a row of columns between the centre and the aisle; along these colums are the feeding through where the cows feed; there are great doors or double doors at one end; perhaps smaller doors at the other end, in the aisle, for cattle to pass in and out”

The number of patterns out of which a building or a town is made is rather small. A buiding is defined, in its essentials , by a few dozen patterns. An a vast town like London by a few hundred patterns at the most.

You have to see a pattern as something in 'in the world'- a unitary pattern of activity and space, which repeats itself over and over again, in any given place, always appearing each time in a slightly different manifestation. Like the a flow; of een stroom; [geeft plaats en actie aan.]

The patterns which are alive

The specific patterns out of which a building or a town is made may be alive or dead. To the extent they are alive, they let our inner forces loose, and set us free; but when they are dead they keep us locked in inner conflict.

For instance, a courtyard which is properly formed, helps people come to life in it. For instance when a courtyard is too tighly enclosed, has no view out, people feel uncomfortable and tend to stay away“they need to see out into some larger and more distant space. Or again, people are creatures of habit. If they pass in and out of the courtyard, every day, in the course of there normal lives, the courtyard becomes familiar, a natural place to go”and it is used. But a courtyard with only one way in, a place you only go when you “ want' to go there, is an unfamiliar place, tends to stay unused”people go more often to places which are familiar. Or again, there is a certain abruptness about suddenly stepping out, from the inside, directly to the outside“it is subtle, but enough to inhibit you. If there is a transitional place, a porch or a veranda, under cover, but open to the air, this is psycologically half way between indoors and outdoors, and makes is much easier, more simple to take each of the smaller steps that brings you into the courtyard”when a courtyard has a view out to a larger space, has crossing paths from different rooms, and has a veranda or a porch, these forces can resolve themselves. The view out makes it comfortable, the crossing paths helps to generate a sence of habit there, the porch makes it easier to go out more often“and gradually the courtyard becomes a plaesant customary place to be. But in a courtyard where the pattern of the opening and veranda and crossing paths is missing, there are forces which conflict in such a way that no one can resolve them for himself.

A pattern which prevent us from resovling our conflicting forces, leaves us almost perpetually in a state of tension. Patterns play a concrete and objective role in determing the extent to which we come to life in any given place. But beyond that, patterns are not merely instruments which help us live; they are themselves alive or dead.

Consider two human patterns. On the one hand, consider the fact that certain Greek village streets have a band of whitewash, for or five feet wide, outside every house, so that people can pulll their chairs out into; the street, into a realm which is half theirs, half street, and so contribute to the life around them. And on the other hand, consider the fact that cafes in Los Angeles are indoors, away from the sidewalk, in order to prevent the food from being contaminated.

One sustains itself and heals itself because it is in harmony with its own forces. The other can only be maintained by force of law. The whitewashed band is so congruent with the forces in peoples lives and with their feelings that it sustains itself- when the whitwash gets dirty or worn peopele take care of it themselves, because the pattern is deeply connected to their own experience. From outside, it seems as though the whitewash maintains itself almost as if by magic.

The indoor cafes in Los Angeles are almost opposite; it has no such congruence with people's inner forces. It has to be maintained by force- by force of law-because under impact of its own forces , it would graduallly deteriorate and disappear. People want to be outdoors on a spring day, want to drink their beer and coffee in the open, to watch the world go by, but they are imprisoned in the caffee by the laws of public health. The situation is self-distroying, not only it will change as soon as the law which upholds it will disappear, but also in the more suble sense that it is continiously creating an inner conflict. In short a pattern lives when it alows its own internal forces to resolve themselves.

It is the self-sustaining character the living courtyard has, which is the essence of its life.

As time goes on, the courtyard which lives is also growing. More and more happens there. Because people enjoy being there, they palnt flowers there, and look after them; they keep the garden furniture painted; and even when no one else is there, you can “feel' the presence of life there, because you can sense that people are taking care of it. The courtyard which is whole, becomes richer and more whole; the courtyard which is unwhole slowly fades away and dies.

The multilicity of living patterns

The more living patterns there are in a thing-a room, a building, or a town-the more it comes to life as an entirety, the more it glows, the more it has this self-maintaining fire, which is the quality without a name.

When one pattern is alive, it resolves its own forces, it is self-sustaining, self-creating, and its internal forces continiously support themselves. Consider that a certain building is made up from fifty patterns and that several of these pattrns are dead. And that these bad patterns are unable to contain the forces which occur in them. As a result, these forces spill over into other nearby systems (or patterns). By contrast assume now that each one of the fifty patterns out of which the building is made is alive and self-resolving then each pattern helps to sustain other patterns. The quality without a name occurs not when an isolated pattern occurs, but when an entire system of patterns, interdependent, at many levels, is all stable and alive.

A building in which all the pattterns are alive has no disturbing forces in it. The people are relaxed; the plants are comfortable; the animals purue their natural paths; the forces of erosion are in balance with the natural process of repair which the configuration of the building encourages; the forces of gravity are in balance with the configuration of te beams and vaults, and columns, and the blowing of the wind; the rainwater flows naturally inssuch a way that it helps to grow the plants which are in balance with themselves to grow in between the cracks in the paving stones, the veaury of the entrance, the smell of the roses in the evening in the outdoor room”

The quality itself

And when a building has this fire, then it becomes part of nature, its parts are governed by the endless play of repetitions and variety, created of the fact that all things pass. This is the quality self. The most important thing of a building or a town in which the patterns have a quality without a name, is that every part of it, at every level, becomes unique. The patterns which control the world are themselves fairly simple. But when they interact, they create slightly different overall configurations at every place. This happens because no two places on eath are alike in their conditions. And each small difference, itself contributes to the difference in conditions which the other patterns face. This is the character of nature.

The idea that a building can-and ought- to be made of modular units is one of the most pervasive assumptions of twentieth-century architecture. Nature is never modular. Nature is full of almost similar units (waves, raindrops, blades of grass- but though the units of one kind are all alike in their broad structure, no two are ever alike in detail.

1. the same broad features keep recurring over and over again.

2. in their detail appearance these broad features are never twice the same.

On the one hand all oak trees have the same overall shape, the same thickened twisted trunk, the same crinkled bark, the same shaped leaves, the proportions of limbs to branches of twigs. On the other hand, no two trees are quite the same. The exact combination of height and width and curvature never repeats itself; we cannot even find two leaves which are the same.

Or for instance waves; the actual concrete waves themselves are always different. This happens because the patterns interact differently at every spot. They ineract differently with one another. And they interact differently with the details of their surroundings. So every actual wave is different, at the same time that all its patterns are the same precisely as the patterns in the other waves.

In such a system there is endless variety; and yet at the same time there is endless sameness. No wonder we can watch the waves for hours; no wonder that a blade of grass is still fascinating, even after we have seen a million of them. In all thos sameness, we never feel opressed by sameness. In all this variety, we never feel lost, as we do in the presence of variety we cannot understand.

For from the play of repetition and variety at ever level, it follows that the overall geometry is always loosse and fluid. There is an indefinable roughness, a looseness, a relaxedness, ehich nature always has; and this relaxed geometry comes directly from the balance of the repetitions and variety.

If the patterns out of which a thing is made are alive, then we shall see them over and ove again, just because they make sense; if the way tiles are hung make sense, weshall see allmost alll the tiles hung in this way; is the arrangement of the kitchen in the house makes sense, it will be repeated in the neigbourhood, just like the ceilings, the same aproximate roofshape, colours repeated, gardens, paving stones, In short, we shall find the same elements, repeating over and over again-and we shall see the rhythms of their repetion.

The repetition of patterns is quite a different thing from the repetition of parts. When two physical windows are identical the relationship which they have to their surroundings are different, because their surroundings are different. But when the relationships of their surroundings-their patterns- are the same, the windows themselves will all be different, because the sameness of the patterns, interacting with the difference of the contexts, makes the windows different.

In a place which is alive, the right angles are rarely exact; the spacing of parts is hardly ever perfectly even. One column is a little thicker than another, one angle is a little larger than a right angle, one doorway is just a little smaller then next, each roof line departs just an inch or two from the horizontal. They follow from the process which allows each part to be fitted carefully to its position. A building in which angles are all perfectly right angles, in which all windows are exactly the dame size, andf in which all columns are perfectly vertical, and all floors perfectlly horizontal, can only reach its false perfection by ignouring its surrounding utterlly.

The character of nature is fluid, rough, irregular, but it will not be true, unless it is made in the knowledge that it is going to die.

No matter how much the person who makes a building is able to understand the rhythm of regularity, it will mean noting so long as he creates it with the idea that it must be preserved because it is so precious. If you want to preserve a building, you will try to make it in materials which last forever. You will try to make sure that this creation can be preserved intact, in just its present state, forever. Canvas must be ruled out because it has to be replaced; tiles must be so hard that they will not crack, and set in concrete, so that they cannot move, and so the weed will not grow up to split the paving; trees must be nice to look at, but not bear fruit, becauses the dropped fruit might offend someone.

But to reach the quality without a name, a building must be made, at least in part, of those materials which age and crumble. Soft tile and brick, soft palster, fading caots of paint, canvas which has been bleached a little and torn by wind, ”.fruit dropping on the paths, and being crushed by people walking over it, grass growing in the cracks between the stones, an old chair patched and painted, to increade its comfort“

The charactur of nature can't arise without the presence and the consiousness of death.

The gate

To reach the quality without a name we must then build a living pattern language as a gate.

The quality without a name can not be made, but only genrated by a process. It can flow from your actions; it can flow woth the greatest ease; but it can not be made. It can not be contrived, thought out, designed. It happens when it flows out from the process of creation on its own accord. But we must give up altoghether the idea that it is something we can capture, consiously, by working over drawings at the drawing board. The mastery of what is made does not lie ind the depths of some impenetrable ego; it lies, instead , in the simple mastery of the steps in the process, and in the definition of these steps.

The QWN , like all forms of organic wholeness, depends essentially on the degree of adaptation of the parts in the whole.

If there a process which is alive, and is there indeed a process which is so simple too, that all the people in society can use it, it turn out that there is. It takes the form of a language.

This quality in buildings and in towns cannot be made, but only generated, indirectly, by the ordinary actions of the people, just as a flower can not be made, but only generated from the seed.

Our pattern languages

How was it possible that any simple farmer could make a house or a barn , a thousand times more beautifull than all the strugling architects of the last fifty yeaers would do. Well they simply copying the other barns wich they already know. And the image the farmer has in mind when building a barn, is not an image like a drawing or a photograph. It is a system of patterns which functions like a language. These patterns are expressed as rules of thumb, which any farmer can combine and re-combine to make an infinite variety of unique barns.

Each pattern is a rule which describes what you have to do to generate the entity which it defines. The patterns solves a problem and is is a desirable pattern, you want to create in order to maintain a stable and healthy world. Pattern language are finite combinatory systems which allow us ot create an infinite variety of unique combinations, appropiate to different circumstances, at will.

A pattern language consits of patterns, patterns which specify connections bewteen patterns, buidings and places. Here is the pattern language for a farmhouse in the Bernee Oberland.

Nort south axis, west facing entrance down the slope, two floors, hay loft at the back, bedrooms in the front, garden to the south, pitched roof, half-hipped end, balcony toward the garden, carved ornaments. A PL not only helps the people shape their houses, but also helps them shpe their streets and town collectively. For instance they to include larger patterns like; narrow streets, street branching, front door terraces, connected buildings, public wells at intersections, stepps in the street. These lager patterns create the structure of a town. If every person who makes an individual house, at the same time follow these larger patterns too, then the town slowly gets its structure from the incrementel aggregation of their individual acts. Each person uses the language a little differently. But overall, throughout the differences, there is a constancy, a harmony created by the repetition of the underlying patterns. So the use of APL allow the people of a village or a town to generate exactly that balance of uniformity and variety which brings a place to life. Now we have found a kind of code which at certain time play just the role in buildings and in towns that the genetic code plays in a living organism.

The creative power of language

We imagine, because of the distorted view of archtiecture we habe learnt, thet some great architect created thede buildings, with a few marks of the pencil, worked out laboriously at the drawing board. The fact is that Chartres , no less then the simple farmhouse, was built by a group of men, acting with a common pattern language, deeply streeped in it of cource. The same process which the simple farmer used to make his house, the same process exactly, was the process which allowed people to generate these greater buildings.

The builders were those man who spent their whole lives with that same language, deepening it, understanding more about its patterns, practicing, building over and over agin, until they knew exacly how to realize these patterns.

Each pattern is a field, not a fixed but a bundle of realtionships, capable of being different each time that it occurs, yet deeply enough to bestow life wherever it occurs. A collection of these deep patterns, each one a fluid field, capable of being combined, and overlapping in entirely unpredictable ways, and capable of generating an entirely unpredictable system of new and unforseen relationships.

The breakdown of language

But in our time the langauges have broken down. Since they are no longer shared, the processes which keep them deep have broken down; and it is therefore virtually impossible for anybody, in our time, to make a building alive.

In the PL every facet of human experience was covered, in one way or another, by the patterns in the language. The stages of ages of man are all covered, and the variety of all possible acts is covered. The entire culture, and the environment which suppports it, form a single unbroken fabric. But by contrast in the early phases of industrial society which we have experienced recently, the pattern language die.

All the experts as raodplanners and architects and planners do have PL's but they guard their language jealously to make themselves indispensable. Architects guard their recipes, so that they can maintain a unique style to sell. Once people withdraw from the normal everyday experience of building, and loose their pattern languages, they are liturally no longer able to make good decisions about their surroundings, because they no longer know what really matters. And what doesn't. Specific patterns like for instance; THE LIGHT ON TWO SIDES pattern, vanish from peoples knowledge about building. At one time it was unthinkable to build any room, execpt a stable or a workshed, without windows on two side. Now most rooms have light from one side only. As soon as people start to build for “the many', their patterns about what is needed become abstract, theire ideas gradually get out of touch with reallity, because they are ot faced daily with the lliving examples of the paterns say. It is impossible , utterly impossible, to make a building or a town which is alive by control from above. And it is impossible to make the town for themselves with the ashes of the dead language which they now have.

Patterns which can be shared

To work our way toward a shared and living language once again, we must first learn how to discover patterns which are deep, and capable of generating life.

Each pattern is a three part rule, which expresses a relation between a certain context, a problem, and a solution. It is both a process and a thing; both a description of a thing which is alive, and a description of the process which will generate that thing.

Patterns do excist at all scale; for instances;

ENTRANCE TRANSITION resolves a confllict among inner psychic forces.

MOSAIC OF SUBCULTURES resolves a conflict among social and psychological forces

WEB OF SHOPPING relsolves a conflict among econonic forces.

Suppose we are in a place. And we have a general sense that something is 'right'there, something feels good; and we want to identify this “something' concretely so that we can share it with someone else, and use it over and over again. There are three essential things we must identify.

What, exactly is his something

Why, exactly, is this something helping to make the place alive

And When, or Where, exactly, will this pattern work

You first have to define some physical feature of the plale, which seems worth abstracting

Next , you must define the problem, or the field of forces which this patterns brings into balance. Finally, we must define the range of contexts where this system of forces exists and where this pattern of physical relationships will indeed actually bring it into balance.

We see in summary, that very pattern we define must be formulated in the form of a rule which establishes a relationship beteeen a context, a system of forces which arises in that context, and a configuration (onderlinge verhoudingen) which allows these forces to resolve themselves in that context. It has the following generic form:

Context —(arrow) –System of forces—(arrow) Configuration

For instance:

Communual —-(arrow) Conflicts between—–(arrow) Alcove opening

 rooms		     privacy and room                   off communual room

The statement that the pattern is alive, is not a matter of taste, or culture, or point of view. It establishes, instead, a definite empirical relationship between a limited context, a set of forces which occurs there, and the patttern which resolves those forces.

The statement of the problem and the forces helps us to sharpen the pattern which is responsible for making the system of forces come to equilibrium.

A pattern is a discovery in the sense that it is a discovery of a relationship between context, forces, and relationships in space. A pattern is open to debate, that makes it ready to be shared. gradually, by hard work, it is possible to discover many patterns which are deep, and which can help to bring a building or a town to life. They vary from culture to culture; sometimes they are very different, sometimes there are versions of the same pattern, slightly different, in different cultures. But it is possible to discover them, and to write them down so that they can be shared.

The reality of patterns

Each pattern should be a source of life, a geneative, selfsustaining pattern, and be worth copying. by defining patterns we must rely more on our feelings than intellect. The pattern ALCOVE feels good to us, because we feel the wholeness of the system here. And MOSAIC OF SUBCULTURES makes us feel good, because, again , we feel the wholeness of the system there. By contrast, patterns made from thought, without feeling, lack empirical reality entirely. Some designs from architects may exite our intellect, or our imagination; but when we ask ourselves how we shall feel in a place which is really built like this we know that it will not make us feel wonderful.

It comes about because our feelings always deel with the totality of any system. If there are hidden forces, hidden conflicts, lurking in a pattern, we can fell them there. And when a pattern feels good to us, it is because it is a genuinely wolesome thing, and we know that there are no hidden forces lurking there.

When you see a pattern, you will be able to tell almost at once, by intuition, whether it makes you feel good or not; whether, you want to live in a world which has that patttern in it, because it helps you to feel more alive. Imagine someone who proposes that modular aluminium wall panels are of great imortance in the construction of houses. Simply ask him how he feels in rooms built out of them. He will be able to do dozens of critical experimetns which “prove' that they are better, cleaner, healthier”but the one thing he will not be able to do, if he is honest with himself, is to claim that the presence of modular panels is a distinguishing feature of the places in which he feels good. His actual feeling is direct, and unequivocal.

It is not the same as asking someone his opinion, someones taste or what a person thinks of an idea. In short, the scientific accuracy of the patterns can only come from direct assessment of people's feelings, not from arguments or discussions.

It is reality itself which makes the difference. Fot instance the pattern NETWORK OF PATHS AND CARS, is based on reality. So long as the context remains in which we have cars in the world, this is the pattern which takes the forces as they are and resolves them, without bias, by threating them exactly as they are. And in here it is sometimes hard to give up preconceptions of what things “ought to be,' and recognize things as they really are.

And preconception about the way things “ought te be' always interferes with your sense of reallity; it prevents you from seeing what is actually going on-and this will always prevent you from making the environment alive. It will prevent you from inventing or discovering new patterns when you see them-and, most of all- it will prevent you from using such patterns properly, to create a whole environment. The only way that a pattern can actually help to make a situation genuinely more alive is by recognizing all the forces which actually exist, and then finding a world in which these forces can slide past each other.

We may then gradually improve these patterns which we share, by testing them against experience: we can determine, very simply, whether these patterns make our surroundings live, or not, by recognizing how they make us feel.

The structue of a language

Each pattern itself is a part of some larger pattern-it is born out of these larger patterns through the forces which occur there, and the conditions which allow these fores to be in ahrmony. And each pattern itself gives birth to smaller patterns which, once again, through forces which must also be in harmony, gives birth to smaller patterns again created by the conditions which put the lower level forces into harmony.

So the real work of any process of design lies in this task of making up the language, from which you can later generate the one particular design. You must make the language first, because it is the structure and the content of the language which determine the design. The individual buildings which you make, will llive, or not. Acoording to the depth and wholeness of the language which you use to make them with. But of course, once you have it, this language is general. If it has the power to make a single building live, it can be used a thousand times, to make a thousand buildings live.

The structure of the language is created bu the network of connections among individual patterns; and the language lives, or not, as a totality, to the degree these patterns form a whole. the structure of a pattern language is created by the fact that individual patterns are not isolated. Each pattern sits at the center of a network of connections which connect it to certain other patterns that help to complete it. And it is the network between the patterns which creates the language. Consider for example, PRIVATE TERRRACE ON THE STREET and ENTRANCE TRANSITIONS, I can imagine an enormous number of differenr possible relationships between the patterns. But suppose, now, that they are connected in the language, and that PRIVATE TERRACE ON THE STREET is a part of ENTRANCE TRANSITION. Suddendy I imagine people sipping drinks on the terrace, while arriving guests pass the terrrace, pass through the people who are sitting there. The language is morphologically complete when I can visualize the kind of buildings which it generates very conctretely. The language is complete only when every individual pattern in te language is complete.

When every pattern has it principal components given by the smaller patterns which lie immediately below it in the language, then the language is complete. Essentially, this means that the lanuage which you have prepared must be judged as if it were itself a finished garden or building.

Evolustion of a common language

First to be living as a language, it must be the shared vision of a group of people.,very spasific to their culture, able to captures their hopes and dreams. A language is a living language only when each person in society, or in the town, has its own version of this language. A living language just constantly be re-created in each person's mind.

Gradualtely, as people modify these published languages, add to them, erase from them, a pool of common languages, unique to different places, unique to individuals, and yet broadly shared, will evolve of its own accord. And this evolution will never end. We must accept that there is no final equilibrium in this process of evolution.

The way

The language like a seed, is the genetic system which gives our millions of small acts the power to form a whole.

For groworld:

A person with a pattern language can design any part of the environment.

In a town where the common language has vanished, the acts of construction and design are in few hands, and are large and clumsy. But once each person in the town can shape a building for himself, or a part of the street, or help to shape a public building-then, at this stage, the growth and rebirth of the town is the concrescense of a millon acts.

A town or a building is a constant flux of processes.

Differentiating space

Within this process, every individual act of building is a process in which space gets differentiated. It is not a process of addition, in which pre-formed parts are combined to create a whole: but a process of unfolding, like the evolution of an embryo, in which the whole predcedes in parts, and actually gives birth to them, by splitting

(become different in the process of growth or development)

Start by rembering the fundamental truth about the parts of any system which is alive.

Each part is slightly different, according to its position in the whole. Each brance of a tree has a slightly different shape, according to its position in the tree. Each leaf on the branch is given its detailed form by its position on the branch.

The patterns in a language have a certain order, so you have to understand which features are dominant, and which are secondary, and so the sequence of the patterns will become clear. It is not a sequence of putting parts together, but a whole, which expands, crinkles, differentiates itself. When the order of the patterns in the language is correct, the differentiating process allows the design to unfold as smootly as an opening flower.

Only a process of differentiation, cecuse it defines the parts within the whole , can generate a natural thing; because this kind of process can shape parts individually, according to their position in the whole.

One patterns at a time

Get rid of the ideas which come into your mind. Get rid of the pictures you have seen in magazines. Insist on the pattern, and nothing else. The pattern and the real situation, together, will create the proper form, within your mind, without you trying to do it, if you allow it to happen. This is the power of the lanaguage, and the reason why the language is creative. There is no reason to be afraid of giving up your control over the design. If the patterns make sense, you do not need to control the design.

Shaping one building

A sequence of patterns can create a building in our mind. It happens with surprising ease. The building almost “makes itself' just as a sentence seems to when we speak. Everone, a builder or not, can do this for himself, to make a building live”

Assume we have a language for a house. Look at the patterns in the order they come in, one at the time. Add nothing, except just what the pattern demand. Slowly you will find that an image of a house is growing in your mind.

As the design unfolds, and the new patterns our brought into play, according to the order of the language, the entire design has to shift and resettle itself in your mind with every new pattern. Each new pattern in the sequence transforms the whole design created by the previous patterns- it transforms it as a whole, it shakes it up, and realigns it. This can only happen if the design is represented in an utterly fluid medium; it cannot happen in any medium where there is the slightest resistance to change. A drawing, even a rough drawing, is very rigid-it embodies a commitment to details of arrangement far beyond what the design itself actually calls while it is in an embryonic state. The only medium which is truly fluid, which allows the design to grow and change as new patterns enter it, is the mind.

Shaping a group of buidings

Even in building a actual place you can start wih for example the main entrance which is connected with the main gateway (a bigger pattern in the whole) you can together physically fix the main entrance on the spot in the ground by a stick. And grow outward from this decision. A few sticks in the ground, or stones are enough to bring the image to mind. And then the building can be built directly from these marks.

(long corridors frightens people, a reception which welcomes you with comfortable chairs and cofee, make people feel at ease. A kitchen with a big table is one of the most comfortable places for communal discussions)

when a group of people try to do something together, they usually fail, because their assumptions are different at every stage. But with a language, the assumptions are almost completely explicit from the start. Once they agree about a language, the actual emergence of the form is simple and fluid. In the building stage the group uses the site “out here in front of them' as the medium in which the design takes its shape. People walk around, wave their arms, gradually build up a common picture of the building as it takes it shape –and all still without making a drawing.

The process of shaping a building, simply by walking in and out, waving t heir arms, thinking together, placing stakes in the ground, will always touch people deeply, theywill feel alive.

The process of construction

Once the building are conceived like this, they can be built, directly, from a few marks made in the ground-again within a common language, but directly, and without the use of drawings.

Again the patterns operate upon the whole:they are not parts, which can be added-but ralationships, which get imposed upon the previous ones, in order to make more detail, more structure, and more substance-so the substance of the building emerges gradually, but always as a whole, at each stage of its growth.

The person who draws a working drawing , cannot draw each windo, or brick, differently, because he has no basis for knowing the suble differencs which will be required. So he draws them the same, because he has no reason, sitting at the drawing board, to make the different. But if the builder build acoording to a detailed drawing, and is constrained by his contract to make the building exactly like the drawing, he then makes the the deatil identical, and in the actual building this becomes dead and artificial.

To make the building live, its patterns must be generated on the site, so that each one takes its wom shape accoring to its context.

It is essential that the builder works only from rough drawings: and that he carry out the detailed patterns from the drawings according to the processes given by the pattern language in his mind. This is commonplace in nature. When the spider builds its web, the process is standarized; but the parts which are created are all different. Each web is beautifull, unique, perfectly adapted to its situation. Yet it is created by a standard process; and there is just one process. It is very simple. Yet this simple process interacts in an infinite variety of ways with different circumstances to produce different particular webs.

The process of repair

No building is ever perfect. It is therefore necessary to keep changing the buildings, according to the real events which actually happen there.

When things are first built, the gaps between the parts are often left unwhole. But these gaps most be healed and made as whole as the parts on wither side of them.

Every entity is changing constantly , and we use the defects of the present state, as the starting point for the definition of the new state. To transform it, sot hst new wholes will be born, the netire whole which is being repaired will becoem a different whole as the result of the repair.

The slow emergence of a town

An organism is formed by the interaction of its cells, guided by the genetic code.

The patterns of a town are not generated, suddenly, completely, but each larger pattern comes into being as the end product of a long sequence of tiny acts-and these tiny acts themselves have the power to create the pattern, if they are repeated often enough.

A town which is whole, must be unpredictable also. The fine details cannot be knon ahead of time. We may know, from the pattern language which is shared, what kind of town it will be. But it is impossible to predict its detailed plan: and it is not possible to make it grow according to some plan. It must be unpredictable, so that the individual acts of building can be free to fit themselves to all the local forces which they meet.

If we compare the buildings of today with former times, is that the last one has much more variety, and more detail: there are ore internal didderences among the parts; they are marked by greater differentiation.. there are rooms of different sizes, doors of different widths, colums of different thickness according to their place in the building, ornaments of different kinds in different places, gradients of window size from floor to floor.

The character arises of the old buildings is not because of the history, or because the process which built them were so primitive. These buildings have this character because they are so deep, because they were made by a process which allowed each part to be enrirely one with its surroundings, in which there is no ego left, only the gentle persuation of the necessities.

In fact, the principles which make a building good, are simple and direct- they follow directly from the nature of human beings, and the laws of nature.

The timeless character of buildings is as much a part of nature as the character of rivers, trees, hills, flames, and stars. Each class of phenomena in nature has its own characteristic morphology. Stars have their character; oceans have their cahracter; rivers have their character; mountains have their character; forests have theirs; trees , flowers, insects, all have theirs. And when buildings are made properly, and true to all the forces in them, then they do too will always have their own specific character created by the timeless way. It is the physical embodiment, in towns and buildings, of the quality without a name.

The kernel (core) of the way

Indeed this ageless character has nothing, in the end, to do with languages. The language, and the process which stem from it, merely release the fundamental order which is native to us. They do not teach us, they only remind us of what we know already, and of what we shall discover time and time again, when we give up our ideas and opinion, and do exactly what emerges from ourselves.

The essence of this kernel is the fact that we can only make a building live when we are egoless. The author of the book mentions two places from the twentieth century which have this innocence;

One is a fruit stand, on a country road, not far from here. It is a simle shelter, made of corrugated iron and ply-wood it has no purpose whatsoever, exept to protect the fruit. The other is the deck of a fishing boat, perhaps a 40-foot boat. Three danish brothers fish from it. In one corner there is always a huge pile of empty beer bottles, perhaps 3 or 4 feet high: they drink continiously while they are at sea, and while they are in port. These two places have a little of the innnocencee and egolessness which is necessary to the quality without a name. And why. Because the people who made them simple do not care what people think of them. I don't mean that they are defiant: people who defiantly don't care what other people think of them, they still care at least enough ot be defiant-and it is still a posture. But in these two cases, the fruit stand, and the deck of that fishing boat, the people did not care what other people thought; and they also do not care about the fact that they don't care. It means nothing to them. They only do exactly what they have to do to take care of their situation.

To make a buiding egoless, the builder must let go of all his willful images, and start with a void. If you have an idea-and try to add the patterns to it, the idea controls, distorts, makes artificial, the work wich the patterns themselves are trying to do in your mind. Instaed you must start with nothing in your head. You are only able to do this when you no longer fear that nothing will happen, and you can therefore afford to let go of your images.

You cannot make a building live, even with the help of a pattern language, unless you are first egoless and free; and if it is also true that once you have reached this state of freedom, you will be able to make a living thing, no matter how you do it; it seems to follow then that the pattern language is useless. But it is just your pattern language which helps you become egoless. The patterns in a living language are based on fundamental realities, which everyone already knows, in his innermost self. You know that small alcoves, arcades, low ceilings, opening windows, sheltering roofs, make fundamental sense- and you forget it only because our society had filled your mind with other distorting images. The language frees you to be yourself, because it gives you permission to do what is natural, and shows yuo your innnermost feelings about building while the world is trying to suppress them. There is no skill required. It is only a question of whether you will allow yourself to be ordinary, and to do what comes naturally to you, ans what seems most sensible, to your heart, always to your heart, not to the images which false learning has coated on your mind.

The act as nature does is the most orfinary thing in the world. It is as ordinary as a simple act of slicing bread.

And as the whole emerges, we shall see it take that ageless character which gives the timeless way its name. This character is a specific, morphological character, sharp and precise, which must come into being any time a building or a town becomes alive: it is the physical embodiment, in buildings, of the quality without a name.

Morphology: sthe study of the forms of a living organism and the relationships between their structures.

In the end the ageless character has nothing, to do with languages. The language, and the processes which stem from it, merely release the fundamental order which is native to us. They do not teach us, they only remind us of what we know already and of what we shall discover time and time again, when we give up our own ideas and opinions, and do exactly what emerges from ourselves.

Local Symmetries

Organic, small-scale symmetry works better than precise, overall symmetry.

the_timeless_way_of_building.txt · Last modified: 2016/06/28 17:20 by