A Pattern for our times

An upside, or at least an outcome for many in lockdown is a heightened awareness and reconsideration of the detail of our home and immediate environments. Whether it be the world outside the window of seasonal change or the walls wrapping around you, small adaptations can have large impacts on health and wellbeing. I’ve found it a time to return to a classic urban design text ‘A Pattern Language’, Christopher Alexander et al, my copy is never far from reach, living on top of the medicine cabinet in the downstairs loo!

First published in the late 1970s the combined language of 253 patterns withstand the test of time. As the Wikipedia entry quotes “Patterns describe a problem and then offer a solution. In doing so the authors intend to give ordinary people, not only professionals, a way to work with their neighbors to improve a town or neighborhood, design a house for themselves or work with colleagues to design an office, workshop, or public building such as a school.”


Design guidance and coding is an important part of what we do, we want to leave places better than we found them and we want to ensure all the good things we’ve described in our master plans, have carefully crafted within our skilled project teams and promised to our clients, come to life. We use these documents to regulate and control -to deliver ‘high quality’, ‘sustainable’ and ‘beautiful’ places.

The joy of this book is the spectrum of scales and topics interwoven and cross- referenced between patterns. With so many I may never read them all, but it is the ultimate dip-in read. From ‘The Distribution of Towns (2) through ‘Web of Public Transportation’ (16) and ‘Old People Everywhere’ (40) to ‘Six-Foot Balcony’ (167) opening at a random page never fails to spark interest.

‘Vegetable Garden’ (177) cross-referenced to patterns encompassing ‘Fruit Trees’ (170), ‘Common Land’ (67), ‘Half-Hidden (provision of private) Garden’ (111), ‘Compost’ (178) and Bathing Room (using grey water) (144) describes the essential impact growing spaces have on human life and their value to placemaking, not only in times of crisis.

But perhaps my favourite for many years has been ‘Sunny Place’ (161); “The area immediately outside the building, to the south – that angle between its walls and the earth where the sun falls – must be developed and made into a place which lets people bask in it”. Yes please, that works with my social distancing too.


Title: A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction

Author: Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa, Murray Silverstein

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Publication date: 1977

ISBN: 0-19-501919-9