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am 25. Januar 1999
Part 2 of 3 part series.
This book is the dictionary for A Timeless Way of Building. The Oregon Experiment is a case study of the use of these ideas to plan a college campus.
This book is about functional design for humans rather than design for design's sake. It directly refutes the real estate industry's insistence on neutral design for quick sale (which is the industry's goal - not the goal of a homeowner!) It promotes design which fits the needs and desires of the user, not the developer or architect. The philosophy involves the users heavily in the process of design, permitting integrated design without requiring comprehensive knowledge of all interacting factors on the part of the designers, it is a way of modularizing the design process into smaller, comprehensible units which can be understood and discussed in a useful way.
You will not be disappointed in reading these books.
Yes, it's dated a bit, especially in it's language approach to social issues.
Yes, it's Utopian, but not impractical.
No, all of the patterns do not apply to all people in all places, but then, they are not intended to.
What is important is the basic premise: That physical environment design can either promote community or divide people. That there exist basic patterns of interaction between people, buildings, roads and environment.
No, you cannot just change your entire community overnight into a utopia (mores the shame) however, these books can help to redefine how your community grows and develops to improve the quality of life for everyone in the community.
All of the research is fairly old, but it is research into basic human actions and reactions to their surroundings - not something which is subject to a great deal of change - examples cover several thousand years.
If you're tired of strip malls, rampant development for development's sake, neighborhoods without character or community, irritating traffic patterns, multiple hour commutes, buildings which are uncomfortable to live and work in or just interested in improving your corner of the world, read these books and apply some of the principles wherever you feel they will fit your life.
I own multiple copies and recommend it highly.
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Alexander tried to show that architecture connects people to their surroundings in an infinite number of ways, most of which are subconscious. For this reason, it was important to discover what works; what feels pleasant; what is psychologically nourishing; what attracts rather than repels. These solutions, found in much of vernacular architecture, were abstracted and synthesized into the "Pattern Language" about 20 years ago.
Unfortunately, although he did not say it then, it was obvious that contemporary architecture was pursuing design goals that are almost the opposite of what was discovered in the pattern language. For this reason, anyone could immediately see that Alexander's findings invalidated most of what practicing architects were doing at that time. The Pattern Language was identified as a serious threat to the architectural community. It was consequently suppressed. Attacking it in public would only give it more publicity, so it was carefully and off-handedly dismissed as irrelevant in architecture schools, professional conferences and publications.
Now, 20 years later, computer scientists have discovered that the connections underlying the Pattern Language are indeed universal, as Alexander had originally claimed. His work has achieved the highest esteem in computer science. Alexander himself has spent the last twenty years in providing scientific support for his findings, in a way that silences all criticism. He will publish this in the forthcoming four-volume work entitled "The Nature of Order". His new results draw support from complexity theory, fractals, neural networks, and many other disciplines on the cutting edge of science.
After the publication of this new work, our civilization has to seriously question why it has ignored the Pattern Language for so long, and to face the blame for the damage that it has done to our cities, neighborhoods, buildings, and psyche by doing so.
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am 13. Juni 2000
Do take the time to peruse all reader reviews. This is a valuable book.
It is a bit enormous, though, and there is no index. This means that if the reader has to hunt for some little reference or fact, he or she is in for a long trek through these pages. Although it is designed with many short chapters, each devoted to a design element, the sheer amount of data is somewhat daunting. Alexander does write clearly, and in an informal, second or first-person manner. But there is little summarizing. Probably an excellent book to read cover-to-cover as part of a large study project. So read this book and know it well BEFORE you talk to your architect, contractor, designer... don't do as I did and start speed reading it when the architect hands over the blue prints.
Note: Whereas feng shui is a little more mystical, Alexander's suggested design tactics make practical sense. (I gently encourage any reader trying to choose between feng shui and this book to go with the latter). Very useful concepts for anyone who wants to make the most of their living space.
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am 9. Mai 1998
In an effort to build a philosophy of the human use of space, Berkeley professor of Architecture Alexander and his colleagues also managed to set down many of the big ideas of the 1960's in this magisterial book-- proclaiming in their careful observation of human settlements, a "timeless way of building" accessible to everyman.
The core idea is the elaboration of a series of patterns inherent in the way we build any habitation--from a garden bench, to a sleeping room, to a house, to a university, town, or region. The patterns; written, concrete and specific, can be interlocked and extended--like a language--in unlimited ways. These patterns are not blueprints for construction. They are more about behavior than about decoration, more about relationships than about dimensions. Thus, the pattern, "Sunny Window", when joined to another pattern, Thickened Walls" leads to just the right arrangements for a window seat-- a fitting place to sew, or read, or day-dream. When we build aright, says he, we inevitably follow these patterns, and enjoy the fullness of our humanity as we inhabit them.
Alexander is a radical, an anti-architect. He says that the best buildings are vernacular structures; the ordinary furnishings, gardens, rooms and houses that evolved slowly as ordinary people built what they needed and repeated what worked. What one might call "right building", as opposed to architecture, is not about style or the individuality of the professional designer, but the discovery of transcendent and inherently beautiful supports for the human functions of work, play, intimacy, and family living. Then you build it yourself. When we remodeled our own small urban house, we wove many of the patterns (there are hundreds) into the new space we built, and were happy with the results.
Twenty years after publication, it's a scandal that there are architects and designers who have never heard of this work. (ours--a professor of Architecture, hadn't). Alexander's ideas are reflected today in Stewart Brand's recently popular "How Buildings Learn", and there's surely a vast underground following out there, people who have, or want to build or renovate their homes, or landscapes with an eye to more sociable and spiritually nourishing places. Perhaps as more and more of us work at home, we will turn to this kind of resource to help us enrich our sterile, enfenced suburban environments(Alexander found a lot of his patterns in pre-industrial villages of Scotland and Wales).
Yes, Alexander will be back! This book is one of two that sits out on our reading table constantly. I cherish it and recommend it to anyone who wants to take a more active role in the design of their lives as well as their homes and gardens. END
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am 4. Mai 2000
In California, mall developers finally used a different floor plan. They built an outside mall with a porch-like cafe, looking out over a meandering shopping area below. A reporter interviewed a dozen people, all of whom said they found themselves spending all day at the mall. "Why", he asked,"is it the shops? The stuff? And why this mall?" "We just like hanging out especially over there on the porch", they said - pointing to the porch-like cafe, where there were no shops.
Yeah, 'hippie-type' architecture, like the Romans built a couple thousand years ago! A 'touchy-feely' book about architecture, about spaces that people gravitate to. Alexander points out that there are places that humans naturally gravitate towards, and designs based on these places are repeated in many cultures and many eras. When we try to ignore our feelings and live in an economical box shell, we start to wonder why all our knickknacks don't make us feel at home. When they try to make an antiseptic mall- or city- that way, developers wonder why no one hangs out there.
Read this before you move into a mistake that no "feng shwee" mirror can fix!
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am 31. Juli 2000
I'm a "big developer" who believes in letting people alone to build what they think they want.
Nonetheless I intervene a bit- I buy every client, and every friend who is thinking about building, a copy of this book to raise their sights- to get them thinking about what it is they really want.
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am 18. Mai 2000
:) I can't believe noone has mentioned that this book was the inspiration for the latest fashion in computer science: "Patterns" The idea is to look at what kind of solutions work, and then when you have a problem to solve, you think what kind of pattern this is like. Then you have the benefit of collective wisdom as you go about crafting your solution.
At any rate, this book is more than Architecture.
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am 30. April 2000
Nominally about architecture and urban planning, this book has more wisdom about psychology, anthropology, and sociology than any other that I've read. Nearly every one of this volume's 1170 pages will make you question an assumption that you probably didn't realize you were making. In a section entitled "Four-Story Limit", Alexander notes that "there is abundant evidence to show that high buildings make people crazy." Underneath is a photo of San Franisco's Transamerica tower, captioned with a quote from Orwell's 1984:
"The Ministry of Truth--Minitrue, in Newspeak--was startlingly different from any other object in sight. It was an enormous pyramidal structure of glittering white concrete, soaring up terrace after terrace 300 metres in the air."
Alexander backs up this polemic with convincing arguments that high-rise living removes people too far from the casual society of the street, from children playing in the yard, and that apartment-dwellers therefore become isolated.
Alexander spends a lot of time in this book trying to figure out how to restore the damage to our communities that have been done by automobiles. He argues for better public spaces and for more integration of children, old people, and workers. He argues for more access to water by more people.
Many of Alexander's arguments are against the scale of modern systems. Public schools spend a fortune on building and administration precisely because they are so physically large [I've seen statistics showing that our cities spend only about one-third of their budgets on classrooms and teachers]. If we had shopfront schools and fired all the school system personnel who don't teach, we might be able to get student-teacher ratios down to 8 or 10:1 without an increase in cost. Similarly, Alexander argues for smaller retail shops, smaller factories (or at least identifiable small workgroups within factories rather than hundreds of faceless cogs) and more master/apprentice instruction.
What if you like the depredations of modernity and aren't interested in a utopian world where basic human needs are met? Can you learn anything about architecture from this guy? Absolutely. You'll learn that light is everything. Your bedroom has to have eastern light so that the sun wakes you up. Your best living quarters should have southern light. All the rooms should have light from at least two sides, otherwise there will be too much contrast and you'll just have to draw the shades. If you've got kids, make them sleep and play in their own wing of the house. Build a realm for yourself and your wife on a different floor. Meet the kids in the kitchen.
To avoid cluttering my apartment, I give away virtually all the books that I buy these days. I'm keeping this one and plan to re-read it every year.
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am 7. November 1997
A Pattern Language presents a compelling case for the influence of space, buildings, and landscape on human endeavors. We often overlook this force, accustomed as we are to accommodating spatial limitations and design flaws. But try entering any room and ignoring the cues of memory and social constraints-you will doubtless be drawn to the window in the room.
Alexander and his contributing editors present a series of patterns that operate universally on the mood and activities of people using spaces. "Light on Two Sides," for example, is a pattern describing the impact of light entering a room from two directions. Functionally, this arrangement softens light by cancelling the harsh shadows that arise from a single light direction. Emotionally, this makes a room more pleasant to live and work in, and may of its own accord encourage certain activities.
Alexander's huge study of over 200 patterns is at once modest and sweeping. He details patterns with care, and offers sketches and photographs to illustrate them, along with an unassuming voice. Above all, he demystifies architecture itself, calling upon any reader to assume a role in the design process. Despite this humility, the significance of Alexander's vision is always present. In the end, he is constructing a formula for social utopia-an architectural prescription for living well and wisely. From integrating children and senior citizens into the daily life of a community to revealing the advantages of mixed use commercial and residential zoning, Alexander proposes ideas that can successfully animate any town's master planning efforts.
Read this book if you're designing house, working with an architect, looking for a new house, or contributing to your city's planning commission. You will doubtless come away with a heightened appreciation for the influence of space on your choices and activities.
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am 22. April 2000
I was so excited when I stumbled across this book in 1986-87. The first house I owned has two rooms with lights from two walls and a third room with one window. It's so true, we almost never go to that room, even though it has a very large window that looks out to the beautiful backyard. Indeed, the light is not balanced and it creates uncomfortable shadow.
After reading the book, we started building our own house in 1988 incorporating many of the ideas from the book. We could not afford a contractor, so we became owner-builder even though we had no knowledge in construction. We bought other books to teach us building foundation and framing. The house was completed about 1 1/2 years later. It has a south facing bright kitchen and family room. Four bedrooms have lights from two walls. Two of them have eastern exposure that gives that gentle morning sunlights. There's a separate living quarter for guest or renting out. Our yard has paths that lead to discoveries. ......
Looking back, we achieved something that seemed impossible among our friends and relatives. This book has changed our lives and given us confidence in everything else we do.
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