The Timeless Way of Building by Christopher Alexander
A building or a town will only be alive to the extent that it is governed by the timeless way.
It is a process which brigs order out of nothing but ourselves, it cannot be attained, but it will happen of its own accord, if we will only let it.
To seek the timeless way we must first know the quality without a name.
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 search which we make for this quality, in our own lives, is the central search of any person, and the crux of any individual person’s story. It is the search for those moments and situations when new are most alive.
In order to define this quality in buildings and in towns, we must begin by understanding that every place is given its character by certain patterns of events that keep o happening there.
These patterns of events are always interlocked with certain geometrics patterns inn the space. Indeed, as we shall see, each building and each town is ultimately made out of these patterns in the space, and out of nothing else: they are the atoms and the molecules from which a building or a town is made.
The specific patters out of which a building or a town is made may be alive or deal. 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.
The more living patterns there are inn a place—a room, a building, or a town—the more it comes to life as an entirety, the more it glows, the more it has that self-maintains fire which is the quality without a name.
And when a building has this fire, then it becomes a part of nature. Like ocean waves, or blades of grass, its parts are governed by the endless play of repetition and variety created in the presence of the fact that all things pass. This is the quality itself.
To reach the quality without a name we must then build a living pattern language as a gate.
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 cannot be made, but only generated from the seed.
The people can shape buildings for themselves, and have done it for centuries, by using languages which I call pattern languages. A pattern language gives each person who uses it the power to create an infinite variety of new and unique buildings, just as his ordinary languages gives him the power to create an infinite variety of sentences.
These pattern languages are not confined to villages and farm society. All acts of building are governed by a pattern language of some sort, and the patterns inn the world are these, entirely because they are created by the pattern languages which people use.
And, beyond that, it is not just the shape of towns and buildings which come from pattern languages—it is their quality as well. Even the life and beauty of the most awe-inspiring great religious buildings came from the languages their builders used.
But in our time the languages 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 inn our time, to make a building live.
To work our way towards a shared and living language once again, we must first learn how to discover patterns which are deep, and capable of generating life.
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.
Once we have understood how to discover individual patterns which are alive, we may then make a language for ourselves for any building task we face. The structure of the language is created by the network of connections among individual patterns; and the language lives, or not, as a totality, to the degree these patterns form a whole.
Then finally, from separate languages for different building tasks, we can create a larger structure still, a structure of structures, evolving constantly which is the common language for a town. This is the gate.
Once we have built the gate, we can pass through it to the practice of the timeless way.
Now we shall begin to see inn detail how the rich and complex order of a town can grow from thousands of creative acts. For once we have a common pattern language in our town, we shall all have the power to make our streets and buildings live, through our most ordinary acts. The language, like a seed, is the genetic system which gives our millions of small acts the power to form a whole.
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 preformed parts are combined to create a whole, but a process of unfolding, like the evolution of an embryo, in which the whole precedes the parts, and actually gives birth to them, by splitting.
The process of unfolding goes step by step, one pattern at a time. Each step brings just one pattern to life; and the intensity of the result depends one the intensity of each one of these individual step.
From a sequence of these individual patterns, whole buildings with the character of nature will form themselves within your thoughts, as easily as sentences.
In the same way, groups of people can conceive their larger public buildings, on the ground, by following a common pattern language, almost as if they had a single mind.
Once the buildings are conceived like this, they can be built, directly, from a few simple marks made in the ground—again within a common language, but directly, and without the use of drawings.
Next, several acts of building, each one done to repair and magnify the product of the previous acts, will slowly generate a larger and more complex whole than any single act can generate.
Finally, within the framework of a common language, millions of individual acts of building will together generate a town which is alive, and whole, and unpredictable, without control. This is the slow emergence of the quality without a name, as if from nothing.
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.
And yet the timeless way is not complete, and will not fully generate the quality without a name, until we leave the gate behind.
Indeed this ageless character has nothing, in the end, 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 new give up our ideas and opinions, and do exactly what emerges from ourselves.
Each one of us wants to be able to bring a building or part of a town to life like this. It is a fundamental human instinct, as much a part of our desire as the desire for children. It is, quite simply, the desire to make a part of nature, to complete a world which is already made of mountains, streams, snowdrops, and stones, with something made by us, as much a part of nature, and a part of our immediate surroundings.
Each one of us has, somewhere in his heart, the dream to make a living world, a universe. One day, somewhere, somehow, we shall build one building which is wonderful, beautiful, breathtaking, a place where people can walk and dream for centuries.
To purge ourselves of these illusions, to become free of all the artificial images of order which distort the nature that is in us, we must first learn a discipline which teaches us the true relationship between ourselves and our surroundings. Then, once this discipline has done its work, and pricked the bubbles of illusion which we cling to now, we will be ready to give up the discipline, and act as nature does. This is the timeless way of building; learning the discipline—and shedding it.
The fact is that the difference between a good building and a bad building, between a good town and a bad town, is an objective matter. It is the difference between health and sickness, wholeness and dividedness, self-maintenance and self-destruction. In a world which is healthy, whole, alive, and self-maintaining, people themselves can be alive and self-creating. In a world which is unwhole and self-destroying, people cannot be alive: they will inevitably themselves be self-destroying, and miserable. The single central quality which makes the difference cannot be named.
This quality is the most fundamental quality there is in anything. It is never twice the same, because it always takes its shape from the particular place inn which it occurs.
You already know this quality. The feeling for it is the most primitive feeling which an animal or a man can have. The feeling for it is as primitive as the feeling for our own well-being, for our own health, as primitive as the intuition which tells us the something is false or true. But to grasp it fully you must overcome the prejudice of physics which tells us that all things are equally alive and real.
The word which we most often use to talk about the quality without a name is the word “alive.” But the very beauty of the word “alive” is just its weakness.
Another word we often use to talk about the quality without a name is “whole.” A thing is whole according to how free it is of inner contradictions. When nit is at war with itself, and gives rise to forces which act to tear it down, it is unwhole. The more free it is of its own inner contradictions, the more whole and healthy and wholehearted it becomes.
Another facet of the quality which has no name is caught by the word “comfortable.”
A word which helps restore the balance is the word “exact.”
A word which goes much deeper than the word “exact” is “egoless.”
A last word which can help to catch the quality without a name is the word “eternal.”
Imagine the quality without a name as a point, and each of the words which we have tried as an ellipse. Each ellipse includes this point. But each ellipse also covers may other meanings, which as distant from this point,
The quality which has no name includes these simpler sweeter qualities. But it is so ordinary as well, that it somehow reminds us of the passing of our life. It is a slightly bitter quality.
The search which we make for this quality, in our own lives, is the central search of any person, and the crux of any individual person’s story. It is the search for those moments and situations when we are most alive.
In our lives, this quality without a name is the most precious thing we ever have.
This wild freedom, this passion, comes into our lives in the instant we let go. We are only free, and have the quality without a name in us, when we give up the images which guide our lives. Yet each of us faces the fear of letting go. The fear of being just exactly what one is, of letting the forces flow freely; of letting the configuration of one’s person adjust truly to these forces. Our letting go is stifled, all the time, so long as we have ideas and opinions about ourselves, which make us hug too tightly to our images of how to live, and bottle up these forces. So long as we are still bottled up, like this, there is a tightness about the mouth, a nervous tension i the eves, a stiffness and a brittleness in the way we walk, the way we move. And yet, until one does let go, it is impossible to be alive.
Each of us lives most fully “on the wire,” inn the face of death, daring to do the very thing which fear prevents us from.
The fear which prevents us from being ourselves, from being that one person unique in all the world, from going to life—that may mean noting greater than the fear of giving up the image of a certain job, an image of a certain kind of family life. One man can be as free inn lighting up a cigarette, as that old man dancing on the wire. Another traveling with the gypsies. A handkerchief around your head; a horse drawn yellow caravan, pulled up inn a field; a rabbit stew, simmering and bubbling on the fire outside the caravan; licking and sucking your fingers as you eat spoonfuls of stew.
It has above all to do with the elements. The wing, the soft rain. sitting one the back of an old truck moving clothes and baskets of possessions while the gentle rains is falling, lauding, crouching under a shawl to keep from getting wet, but getting wet. Eating a loaf of bread, torn in pieces, hunks of cheese cut crudely with a hatchet which is lying in the corner; red flowers glistening in the rain along the roadside; hanging on the window of the truck to shout some joke. Nothing to keep, nothing to lose. No possessions, no security, no concern about possessions, and no concern about security; in this mood it is possible to do exactly what makes sense, and nothing else; there are no hidden fears, no morals, no rules, no undercurrent of constraint, no subtle sense of concern for the form of what the people round about you are doing, and above all no concern for what you are yourself, no subtle fear of other people’s ridicule, no subtle train of fears which can connect the smallest triviality with bankruptcy and loss of love and loss of friends and each, no ties, no suits, o outward elements of majesty at all. Only the laughter and the rain.
And it happens when our inner forces are resolved. And when a person’s forces are resolved, it makes us feel at home, because we know, by some sixth sense, that there are no other unexpected forces lurking underground. He acts according to the nature of the situations he is in, without distorting them. There are no guiding images in his behavior, no hidden forces; he is simply free. And so, we feel relaxed and peaceful in his company.
When we know those moments, when we smile, when we let go, when we are to on guard at all— these are the moments when our most important forces show themselves; whatever you are doing at such a moment, hold on to it, repeat it—for that certain smile is the best knowledge that we ever have of what our hidden forces are, and where they lie, and how they can be looked.
Yet each of us knows from experience the feelings which this quality creates in us. It is the time when we are most right, most just, most sad, and most hilarious.
And for this reason, each one of us can also recognize this quality when it occurs in buildings. We can identify the towns and buildings, streets and gardens, flower beds, chairs, tables, tablecloths, wine bottles, garden seats, and kitchen sinks which have this quality—simply by asking whether they are like us when we are free. And the connection between the two—between this quality inn our own lives, and the same quality in our surroundings—is not just an analogy, or similarity. The fact is that each one creates the other.
Places which have this quality, invite this quality to come to life in us. And when we have this quality in us, we tend to make it comes to life in towns and buildings which we help to build. It is a self-supporting, self-maintaining, generating quality. It is the quality of life. And we must seek it, for our own sakes, in our surroundings, simply in order that we can ourselves become alive. That is the central scientific fact in all that follows.
In order to define this quality in buildings and in towns, we must begin by understanding that every place is given its character by certain patterns of events, that keep on happening there.
This quality can only come to life inn us when nit exists within the world that we are part of. We can come alive only to the extent the buildings and towns we live in are alive. The quality without a name is circular; it exists in us, the it exists inn our buildings; and it only exists inn our buildings, when we have it in ourselves. What a town or building is, is governed, above all, by what is happening there. The character of a place, then, is given to it by the episodes which happen there.
We know, then, that what matters inn 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 those events which keep on happening there most often. And just the same is true in any person’s individual life.
A person can modify his immediate situations. He can move, change his life, and so on. In exceptional cases he can even change them almost wholly.
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. Each one is almost completely defined by the spatial character of the place where it occurs. Each of these elements defines a pattern of events.
The mere list of elements which are typical in a given town tells us the way of life of people there.
This does not mean that space create events, or that it causes them. The people one the sidewalk, being culture-bound, know that the space which they are part of is a sidewalk, and, as part of their culture, they have the pattern of a sidewalk inn their minds. It is this pattern in their minds which cause them to behave the wya that people do behave one sidewalks, not the purely spatial aspect of the concrete and the walls and curbs.
It simply means that a pattern of events cannot be separated from the space where it occurs.
It is made up of certain concrete elements, with every element associated with a certain pattern of events.
What we want to know is just how the structure of the space supports the patterns of events it does, in such a way that if we change the structure of the space, we shall be able to predict what kinds of changes in the patterns of events this change will generate.
It is just the patterns of events in space which are repeating in the building or the town; and nothing else. For what the patterns do is at the same time seize the outward physical geometry, and also seize what happens there.
Each building gets its character from just the patterns which keep one repeating there.
The qualities in any environment which give it the character you like it for—are its patterns.
The fact is that a building is defined, in its essentials, by a few dozen patterns. And, a vast town like London or Paris, is defined, in its essence, by a few hundred patterns at the most.
The world, in all of its complexity, is made up from combinations of some 92 elements, or atoms.
Just so, we realize now, that at the larger scale of towns and buildings, the world is also made of certain fundamental “atoms”—that each place is made from a few hundred patterns—and that all of its incredible complexity comes, in the end, simply from the combinations of these few patterns.
The specific patterns out of which a building or 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.
Every building and every town is made of patterns which repeat themselves throughout its fabric, and that it gets its character from just those patterns of which it is made. If they all get their character from the patterns they are made of, then somehow the greater sense of life which fills one place, and which is missing from another, must be created by these patterns too. They create it in the first place, by liberating man. They create life, by allowing people to release their energy, by allowing people, themselves, to become alive. Or, in other places, they prevent it, they destroy the sense of life, they destroy the very possibility of life, by creating conditions under which people cannot possibly be free.
A man is alive when he is wholehearted, true to himself, true to his own inner forces, and able to act freely accordingly to the nature of the situation he is in.
The fact is, a person is so far formed by his surroundings, that his state of harmony depends entirely on his harmony with his surroundings.
In some towns, the pattern of relationships between workplaces and familiars helps us to come to life. The fact that family and play are part of one continuous stream, helps nourish everyone. Children see how work happens, they learn what it is that makes the adult world function, they get an overall coherent view of things; mean are able to connect the possibility of play and laughter, and attention to children, without having to separate them sharply inn their minds, from work. Men and women are able to work, and to pay attention to their familiars more or less equally, as they wish to; love and work are connected, able to be one, understood and felt as coherent by the people who are living there.
In other towns where work and family life are physically separate, people are harassed by inner conflicts which they can’t escape. A man wants to live in his work and he wants to be close to his family; but in a town where work and family are physically separate, he is forced to make impossible choices among these desires. He is exposed to the greatest emotional pressure from his family, at that moment when he is most tired—when he just comes home from work. He is confused by a subtle identification of his wife and children with “leisure,” “weekends,” and hence not the daily stuff of life. A woman wants to be a loving woman, sustaining to her children; and also to take part in the outer business of the world; to have relationships with “what is going on.” But, in a town where work and family are completely separate, she is forced to make another impossible choice. She either has to become a stereotyped “housewife,” or a stereotyped masculine “working woman.” The possibility of both realizing her feminine nature, and also having a place in the world beyond her family, is all but lost to her. A young boy wants to be close to his family, and to understand the workings of the world and to explore them. But, in a town where work and family are separated, he, too, is forced to make impossible choices. He has to choose to be either loving to his family, or to be a truant who can experience the world. There is no way he ca reconcile his two opposing needs; and he is likely to end up either as a juvenile delinquent, who has torn himself entirely from his family’s love, or as a child who clings too tightly to his mother’s skirts.
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 help generates a sense of habit there, the porch makes it easier to go out more often… and gradually the courtyard becomes a pleasant customary place to be.
A window with a “window place” helps a person come to life. In a room which has at lest one window that is a “place”—a window seat, a bay window, a window with a wide low windowsill that invites you to pull your favorite chair over to it because you can see out so easily, a special ledge next to the window, or a small alcove which is entirely glassed—in this room you can give in to both forces: you can resolve the conflict for yourself. In short, you can be comfortable.
The instinctive knowledge that a room is beautiful when nit has a window place in it, is thus not an aesthetic whim. It is an instinctive expression of the fact that a room without a window place is filled with actual, palpable organic tension; and that a room which has one lacks this tension, and is, from a simple organic point of view, a better place to live.
The corresponding “good” patterns, when they are correctly made, help us to be alive, because they allow us to resolve our conflicts for ourselves. As we encounter them, we are always fresh, in the face of new encounters, new problems . . . and we are continuously renewed, and made alive . . .
Good patterns are good because to some extent each one of them reaches the quality without a name itself. Certain patterns are simply resolved within themselves, without their proper contexts—inn these contexts they are intrinsically alive—and it is this which makes them good.
The life of the pattern does not depend one the fact that it does something for “us”—but simply on the self-sustaining harmony, in which each process helps sustain the other processes, and in which the whole system of forces and processes keeps itself going, over and again, without creating extra forces that will tear it town.
The patterns which are alive maintain themselves in the long run, because they do nothing to destroy their own immediate surroundings, and they do nothing drastic, in the short run, to destroy themselves. As far as it is ever possible, they are alive, because they are so much in harmony that they support themselves, and keep themselves alive, through their own inner structure.
In short, a pattern lives when it allows its own internal forces to resolve themselves. And a pattern dies when nit fails to provide a framework in which forces can resolve themselves, so that instead, the action of the forces, unresolved, works to destroy the pattern.
In our own lives, we have the quality without a name the new are most intense, most happy, most wholehearted. This comes about when we allow the forces we experience to run freely in us, to fly past each other, when new are bale to allow our forces to escape the locked-inn conflict which oppresses us. But this freedom, this limpidity, occurs inn us most easily when we are in a world whose patterns also let their forces . . . because, lust as we are free when our own forces run most freely within us, so the places we are in are also free when their own forces (which include the forces that arise inn us) themselves run free, and are themselves resolved . . .
The quality without a name inn us, our liveliness, our thirst for life, depends directly one the patterns in the world, and the extent to which they have this quality themselves. Patterns which live, release this quality in us. But they release this quality in us, essentially because they have it in themselves.
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.
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.
To be inn balance, each pattern must be supported by a situation in which both the larger patterns it belongs to, and the smaller patterns it is made of, are themselves alive.
And finally the quality without a name appears, not when an isolated pattern lives, but when an entire system of patterns, interdependent at many levels, is all stable and alive. A building or a town becomes alive when every pattern in nit is alive: when it allows each person in it, and each plant and animal, and every stream, and bridge, and wall and roof, and every human group and every road, to become alive in its own terms. And as that happens, the whole town reaches the state that individual people sometimes reach at their best and happiest moments, when they are most free.
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 same proportion of limbs to branches 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.
The fact is that the orbits of the electrons are influenced by the orbits of electrons in nearby atoms, and are therefore different in each atom, according to its position in the crystal. If we could examine every atom in very great detail indeed, we would find that no two atoms are exactly alike: each is subtly different, according to its position in the larger whole.
All those things which we loosely call nature—the grass, the trees, the winter wind, deep blue water, yellow crocuses, foxes, and the rain—in short the things which man has not made—are just those things which are true to their own nature. They are just those things which are perfectly reconciled with their own inner forces. And the things which are not “nature” are just those things which are at odds with their own inner forces. And any system which is whole must have this character of nature. The morphology of nature, the softness of its lines, the almost infinite variety and the lack of gaps—all this follows directly from the fact that nature is whole.
It follows that a building which is whole must always have the character of nature, too. It will have the same balance of repetition and variety that nature does.
And from the repetition of the patterns, and the uniqueness of the parts, it follows, as it does in nature, that buildings which are alive are fluid and released inn their geometry. A building in which angles are all perfectly right angles, in which all windows are exactly the same size, and in which all columns are perfectly vertical, and all floors perfectly horizontal, can only reach its false perfection by ignoring its surroundings utterly. The apparent imperfections of a place which is alive are not imperfections at all. They follow from the process which allows each part to be fitted carefully to its position,
This is the character of nature. But its fluidity, its roughness, its irregularity, will not be true, unless it is made in the knowledge that it is going to die. But to reach the quality without a name, a building must be made, at least inn part, of those materials which age and crumble. Soft tile and brick, soft plaster, fading coats of paint, canvas which has been bleached a little and torn by the 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 increase its comfort. . . . None of this can happen in a world which lasts forever.
The character of nature can’t arise without the presence and the consciousness of death.
The quality without a name cannot be made, but only generated by a process. It happens when it flows out from the process of creation of its own accord.
A system of simple rules, not complicated, patiently applied, until they gradually form a thing.
A pattern language gives each person who uses it, the power to create an infinite variety of new and unique buildings, just as his ordinary languages give him the power to create an infinite variety of sentences,
At this stage, we have defined the concept of a pattern language clearly. We know that it is a finite system of rules which a person can use to generate an infinite variety of different buildings—all members of a family—and that the use of language will allow the people of a village or a town to generate exactly that balance of uniformity and variety which brigs a place to life.
All acts of building are governed by a pattern language of some sort, and the patterns in the world are these, entirely because they are created by the languages which people use,
Your pattern language is the sum total of your knowledge of how to build.
Your creative power is entirely given by the power of these patterns. Your power to create a building is limited entirely by the rules you happen to have in your language now.
A pattern language is really nothing more than a precise way of describing someone’s experience of building. If a man has a great deal of experience of building houses, his language for houses is rich and complex; if he is a greenhorn, his language is naive and simple. A poet of houses, a master builder, couldn’t possibly work without his language—it would be as if he were a greenhorn.
The patterns, which repeat themselves, come simple from the fact that all the people have a common language, and that each one of them uses this common languages when he makes a thing.
The patterns are responsible not only for the specific shape a building has, but also for the extent to which the buildings comes to life.
A great architect’s creative power, his capacity to make something beautiful, lies in his capacity to observe correctly, and deeply. A pattern language which is deep is a collection of patterns which correspond to profound observations about what makes a building beautiful.
Consider the simple rule that every room must have daylight inn at least two sides (unless the room is less than 8 feet deep). This has the same character, exactly, as the rule about the colors.
If the rules are so simple to express—what is there that makes a builder great? Even though the rules are simple, by the time you have twenty, perhaps fifty rules like this in your mind, it takes almost inhuman singleness of purpose to insist on them—not to let go of them. It is so easy to say—oh well, it is too hard to have light on two sides of this room, and that room—at the same time as all other things we are trying to do, It will be alright if we allow this room to have light on just one side. The fact is that it will not be alright. But to insist, to keep all the rules which matter, freely in your mind, and not to let go of them—that does perhaps require unusual character of purpose.
The fact that these rules are simple does not mean that they are easy to observe, or easy to invent. Just as a great artist is one who observes very carefully the things which make the difference—so it does, indeed, take great powers of observation—great depth, great concentration, to formulate these simple rules. A man who knows how to build has observed hundreds of rooms, and has finally understood the “secret” of making a room with beautiful proportions say. . . . This knowledge exists, in this mind, in the form of a rudimentary pattern, which tells him, under such and such circumstances, create the following field of relationships. . . . for such and such reasons. It may have taken years of observations for him finally to understand this rule.
Your language generates the buildings which you make, and the buildings which you make, and the buildings live or not, accordingly to the life your language has.
The most beautiful houses and villages—the most touching paths and valleys—the most awe inspiring mosques and churches—attained the life they have in them because the languages their builders used were powerful and deep.
Either the people build for themselves, with their own hands, or else they talk directly to the craftsmen who build for them, with almost the same degree of control over the small details which are built. The whole emerges by itself and is continually repaired. Each person in town knows that his own small acts help to create and to maintain the whole. Each person feels tied into society, and proud because of it.
Each detail has meaning. Each detail is understood. Each detail is based on some person’s experience, and gets shaped right, because it is slowly thought out, and deeply felt. Because the adaptation is detailed and profound, each place takes on a unique character. Slowly, the variety of places and buildings begins to reflect the variety of human situations inn the town. This is what makes the town alive. The patterns stay alive, because the people who are using them are also testing them.
Instead of being widely shared, the pattern languages which determine how a town gets made become specialized and private. Roads are built by highway engineers; buildings by architects; parks by planners; hospitals by hospital consultants; school by educational specialists; gardens by gardeners; tract housing by developers. The people of the town themselves know hardly any of the languages which these specialists use. And if they want to find out what these languages contain, they can’t, because it is considered professional expertise. The professionals guard their language jealously to make themselves indispensable. Even within any one profession, professional jealously keeps people from sharing their pattern languages. Architects, like chefs, jealously guard their recipes, so that they can maintain a unique style to sell. The languages start out by being specialized, and hidden from the people; and then within the specialities, the languages become more private still, and hidden from one another, and fragmented.
Once people withdraw from the normal everyday experience of building, and lose their pattern languages, they are literally no longer able to make good decisions about their surroundings, because they no longer know what really matters, and what doesn’t.
Yet, architects themselves, have lost their intuitions too. Since they no longer have a widely shared languages which roots them in the ordinary feelings people have, they are also prisoners of the absurd and special language which they have made in private.
Users, whose direct experience once formed the languages, no longer have enough contact to influence them. This is almost bound to happen, as soon as the task of building passes out of the hands of the people who are most directly concerned, and into the hands of people who are not doing it for themselves, but instead for others. So long as I build for myself, the patterns I use will be simple, and human, and full of feeling, because I understand my situation. But as soon as a few people begin to build for “the many,” their patterns about what is needed become abstract; no matter how well meaning they are, their ideas gradually get out of touch with reality, because they are not faced daily with the living examples of what the patterns say. If I build a fireplace for other people—not for myself—then I never have to build a fire in the fireplaces I design. Gradually my ideas become more and more influenced by styled, and shape, and crazy notions—my feeling for the simple business of making fire leaves the fireplace altogether. So, it is inevitable that as the work of building passes into the hand of specialists, the patterns which they use become more and more banal, more willful, and less anchored in reality.
Each pattern is a three-part rule, which expresses a relation between a certain context, a problem, and a solution. As an element inn the world, each pattern is a relationship between a certain context, a certain system of forces which occurs repeatedly in that context,, and a certain spatial configuration which allows these forces to resolve themselves. As an element of language, a pattern is an instruction, which shows how this spatial configuration can be used, over and over again, to resolve the given system of forces, wherever the context makes it relevant. The pattern is, in short, at the same time a thing, which happens in the world, and the rule which tells us how to create that thing, and the new must create it. 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.
To make a pattern explicit, we merely have to make the inner structure of the pattern clear. There are always three essential things we must identify. What, exactly, is this something? Why, exactly, is this something helping to make the place alive? And when, or where, exactly, will this pattern work?
The discovery of a pattern which lives is not different from the discovery of any profound thing. It is a slow, deliberate process, tentative, in which we seek to discover something profound, and where we recognize that we shall usually be wrong to start with, and that we may only approach a proper formulation slowly.
A pattern defines a field of spatial relations, and it must therefore always be possible to draw a diagram for every pattern. In the diagram, each part will appear as a labeled or colored zone, and the layout of the parts expresses the relation which the pattern specifies. if you can’t draw it, it isn’t a pattern.
The search for a name is a fundamental part of the process of investing or discovering a pattern. So long as a pattern has a weak name, it means that it is not a clear concept, and you cannot clearly tell me to make “one.”
Every pattern is an instruction of the general form: context -> conflicting forces -> configuration. So we say that a pattern is good, whoever we can show that it meets the following two empirical conditions: (1) The problem is real. This means that we can express the problem as a conflict among forces which really do occur within the stated content, and cannot normally be resolved within that context. This is an empirical question. (2) The configuration solves the problem. This means that when the stated arrangement of parts is present in the stated content, the conflict can be resolved, without any side effects. This is an empirical question.
But a pattern is not alive just because its component statements are true, one by one.
A pattern only works, fully, when it deals with all the forces that are actually present in the situation.
The difficulty is that we have no reliable way of knowing just exactly what the forces in a situation are.
What we need is a way of understanding the forces which cuts through this intellectual difficulty and goes closer to the empirical core. To do this, we must rely one feelings more than intellect. The fact is that we feel good in the presence of a pattern which resolves its forces. And we feel ill at ease, uncomfortable, when a pattern leaves its forces unresolved.
This ocean of shared feeling is the place where we become one with one another—this is the source, in the end, of our agreement about pattern languages.
Agreement lies only inn peoples’ actual feelings, not in their opinions.
Ay preconception about the way things “ought to be” always interferes with your sense of reality; 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.
Attention to reality goes far beyond the realm of values.
The structure of the language is created by the network of connections amongst individual patterns; and the language lives, or not, as a totality, to the degree these patterns form a whole.
Each pattern then, depends both one the smaller patterns it contains, and one the larger patterns within which it is contained.
The language for a garden is morphologically complete the nI can visualize the garden clearly, as a global structure, even if I don’t yet have any specific garden in mind.
First, to be living as a language, it must be the shared vision of a group of people, very specific to their culture, able to capture their hopes and dreams, containing many childhood memories, and special local ways of doing things. And further, a living language must be personal.
A language is a living language only when each person in society, or in the town, has his own version of this language. A living language must constantly be re-created in each person’s mind. Then, as each person makes up his own language for himself, the language begins to be a living one.
A living pattern language is even more. It shows each person his connection to the world in terms so powerful that he can re-affirm it daily by using it to create new life in all the places round about him.
It is essential that the people do shape their surroundings for themselves. A town is a living thing. Its patterns are both patterns of action and patterns of space. And in the process of making itself, it is the patterns of activity and space, not space along, which are continuously built, and destroyed, and rebuilt. For this reason, it is essential, once again, that people do it for themselves. But since the patterns are patterns of action, and the action will not happen unless the patterns are felt, and created, and maintained by the people whose action goes into the patterns, there is no way the living town can be built by professionals, for other people to live in. The living town can only be created by a process in which patterns are created and maintained by the people who are a part of them.
Only in the fluidity of your mind can you conceive a whole.
The quality that makes a building feel as though it has been there for a thousand years, the quality that makes it feel that it has flowed like writing from a pen, comes almost automatically when I relax my mind, and let the language generate the building freely there.
The life, pulse, substance, subtlety of the building can only be retained, if it is built, in the same way that it has been designed—by a sequential and linguistic process, which gives birth to the building slowly, in which the building gets its final form during the actual process of construction: where the details, known in advance as patterns, get their substance from the process of creating them, right there, exactly where the building stands.
In this new use of the word repair, we assume, instead, that every entity is changing constantly; and that at every moment we use the defects of the present state as the starting point for the definition of the new state.
When we repair something in this new sense, we assume that we are going to transform it, that new wholes will be born, that, indeed, the entire whole which is being repaired will become a different whole as the result of the repair.
Finally, within the framework of a common language, millions of individual acts of building will together generate a town which is alive, and whole, and unpredictable, without control—this is the slow emergence of the quality without a name, as if from nothing.
The timeless character of buildings is as much a part of nature as the character of rivers, trees, hills, flames, and stars.
The essence of this kernel is the fact that we can only make a building live when we are egoless.
This innocences will only come about when people honestly forget themselves.
The people who made them simply 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 to be defiant—and it is still a posture. 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 building egoless, like this, 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 which the patterns themselves are trying to do in your mind. Instead you must start with nothing in your mind. You are able to do this only when you no longer fear that nothing will happen, and you can therefore afford to let go of your image. Once a person can relax, and let the forces of the situation act through him as if he were a medium, then he sees that the language, with very little help, is able to do almost all the work, and that the building shapes itself. This is the importance of the void. A person who is free, and egoless, starts with a void, and lets the language generate the necessary forms, out of this void. He overcomes the need to hold onto an image, the need to control the design, and he is comfortable with the void, and confident that the laws of nature, formulated as patterns, acting in his mind, will together create all that is required.
A man who is not afraid to die, is free to live because hs is open to what happens next, and is not always killing it by trying to control it.
The language frees you to be yourself, because it gives you permission to do what is natural, and shows you your innermost feelings about building while the world is trying to suppress them.
To act as nature does is the most ordinary thing in the world. It is as ordinary as a simple act of slicing strawberries. It is so ordinary, that it is hard to explain what is so deep about it. Animal almost, nothing superfluous, each thing that is done, done totally. To live like that, it is the easiest thing in the world; but for a man whose head is full of images, it is ht hardest.
When we are as ordinary as that, with nothing left in any of our actions, except what is required—then we can make towns and buildings which are as infinitely various, and as peaceful, and as wild and living, as the fields of windblown grass. Almost everybody feels at peace with nature: listening to the ocean waves against the shore, by a still lake, in a field of grass, on a windblown heath. One day, when we have learned the timeless way again, we shall feel the same about our towns, and we shall feel as much at peace in them, as we do today walking by the ocean, or stretched out in the long grass of a meadow.