#notes from “A Pattern Language”

Alexander, C. & Ishikawa, S. & Silverstein, M. (1977). A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction. Oxford University Press, USA.

  • Nobody wants fast through (nonstop) traffic going by their homes.
  • How important it is to be in touch with water.
  • Each parking lot surrounded by garden walls, hedges, fences, slopes, trees so that from outside cars are almost invisible.
  • Place entrances and exits of the parking lots in such a way that they fit naturally into the pattern of pedestrian movement and lead directly, without confusion, to the major entrances to individual buildings.
  • An outdoor space is positive when it has a distinct and definite shape, as definite as the shape of a room. (Defined outer space!)
  • At present, people take for granted that it is possible to us indoor space which is lit by artificial light; and buildings therefore take on all kinds of shapes and depths.
  • Isolated buildings are symptoms of a disconnected sick society.
  • Try to form new building as continuations of the older buildings.
  • The shape of a buildings has a great effect on the relative degrees of privacy and overcrowding in it, and this in turn has a critical effect on people’s comfort and well-being. Long thin rectangles, branched shapes, tall narrow towers increase the separation between places inside the building and therefore increase the relative privacy people are able to get within a given area.
  • The entrance must be places in such a way that people who approach the building see the entrance or some hint of where entrance is, as soon as they see the building itself.
  • If a garden is too close to the street, people will not use it because it is not private enough. But if it is too far from the street, then it will not be used either, because it is too isolated. Do not place the garden fully in front of the house, nor fully to the back. Instead, place it in some kind of hall-way position, side-by-side with the house, in a position which is half hidden from the street and half-exposed. (Balance!).
  • You might create a transition by changing the texture of the path, so that you step off the sidewalk onto a grave path and then up a step or two and under trellis. (Make a transition space between the street and the front door). Bring the path which connects street and entrance through this transition space, and mark it with a change of light, a change of sound, a change of direction, a change of surface, a change of level, perhaps by gateways which make a change of enclosure, and above all with a change of view. (Approach!).
  • The entrance nearest the parking spot always becomes the “main” entrance, even if it was not planned that way. Secondary entrances: patio, garden door, teenager’s private entrance.
  • Place the parking place for the car and the main entrance, in such a relation to each other that the shortest route from the parked car into the house is always through the main entrance. Make the parking place for the car into an actual room which makes a positive and graceful place where the car stands, not just a gap in the terrain.
  • Lay out the spaces of a building so that they create a sequence which begins with the entrance and the most public parts of the building, then leads into the slightly more private areas, and finally to the most private domains.
  • If the rooms are facing south, a house is bright and sunny and cheerful. The building gets an orientation toward the south. The north facing shady back yards were used primarily for storing junk.
  • Always place the building to the north of the outdoor spaces that go with them, and keep the outdoor spaces to the south. Never leave a deep band of shade between the building and the sunny part of the outdoor. (A breakfast nook that looks directly into a garden which is sunny in the morning, a workshop that gets full southern exposure during the middle of the day.)
  • Place the most important rooms along the south edge of the building, and spread the building out along the east west axis. Arrange spaces along the south, southeast, and southwest of the building to capture the sun. For example; give the common area a full southern exposure, bedrooms southeast, porch southwest. For most climates, this means the shapes of the building elongated east-west.
  • As far as possible, avoid the use of corridors and passages. Instead, use public rooms and common rooms as rooms for movement and gathering. To do this, place the common rooms to form a chain, or loop, so that it becomes possible to walk from room to room – and so that private rooms open directly off these public rooms (generosity of movement). In every case, give this indoor circulation from room to room a feeling of great generosity, passing in a wide and ample loop around the house, with views of fires and great windows.
  • The passages are broad, sunlit, with seats in them, views into gardens, more or less continuous with rooms.
  • Treat the whole staircase as a room (or if it is outside, as a courtyard). Wide steps on bottom=people coming down the stairs become the part of the action in the room while they are on stair.
  • Create alternating areas of light and dark throughout the building to increase contrast.
  • Give those parts of the house where people sleep, an eastern orientation, so that they wake up with the sun and light.
  • Rooms which have “light on two sides”=two sided rooms (one sided rooms=uncomfortable). Locate each room so that it has outdoor space outside it on at least two sides, and then, place windows in these outdoor walls so that light falls into every room from more than one direction.
  • Make the north face of the building a cascade which slopes down to the ground, so that the sun which normally casts a long shadow to the north strikes the ground immediately besides the building.
  • On the first floor keep windows high enough to be private.
  • A house feels isolated from the nature around it, unless its floors are interleaved directly with the arch that is around the house. Connect the building to the earth around it by building a series of paths, terraces, steps around the edge. Place them deliberately to make the boundary ambiguous, so that it is impossible to say exactly where the building stops and earth begins.
  • Shape the nearby buildings in respond to trees, so that the trees themselves and the trees and buildings together form places which people can use.
  • Alcoves. Make small places at the edge of any common room. These alcoves should be large enough for two people to sit, chat or play and sometimes large enough to contain a desk or a table.
  • A building in which the ceiling heights are all the same is virtually incapable of making people comfortable. Raise the floor level with steps, instead of lowering the ceiling. Vary the ceiling height continuously throughout the building, especially between rooms which open into each other, so that the relative intimacy of different spaces can be felt. In particular, make ceilings high in rooms which are public or meant for large gatherings, and very low in rooms or alcoves for one or two people.
  • Amount of enclosure (half solid-half open). Right balance between open, flowing space and close cell-like space. No one room entirely closed. No space totally connected to another. Use combinations of columns, half-open walls, porches, indoor windows, sliding doors, low sills, French doors, sitting walls, and so on, to hit the right balance.
  • Anyone who has to work in noise, in offices with people all around, needs to be able to pause and refresh himself with quiet in a more natural situation (a beautiful case is the Cambridge: quiet court stretching down to the River Cam). To meet this need, we may conceive all buildings as having a front and back. If the front is given to the street life –cars, shopping paths, delivery- than the back can be reserved for quiet. Build a walk along this quiet back, far enough from the building so that it gets full sunlight, but protected from noise by walls and distance and buildings. If possible place the backs where there is water.
  • Make a clear distinction between 3 kinds of homes. Those on quiet backwaters (on twisting paths, these are themselves physically secluded). Those on busy streets (many people passing by all day long, these are relatively exposed to the passersby). Those that are more or less in between. The in between houses may then be located on the paths half-way between the other two.

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