By 'patterns,' I don't mean checks, plaids, and herringbones,
are nice too--I mean pattern
, a way of describing good design practices invented by the architect
and theorist Christopher
and taken up by all
of other disciplines. Alexander's book A
Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction
and the later opus The
Nature of Order
attempt to lay out a system of thinking about how small
and large spaces can be built in ways that are full of life, harmony, and plain
good sense. Each pattern describes a problem and presents guidlines for its
resolution while leaving flexible the details of implementation.
Here, for instance, is a pattern for enabling a smooth transition from public
to private space:
Unless the spaces in a building are arranged in a sequence which corresponds
to their degrees of privateness, the visits made by strangers, friends, guests,
clients, family, will always be a little awkward.
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.
I find it relaxing to explore Alexander's patterns, and useful too: even when
I don't have control over every detail of my space, I can investigate what makes
certain elements work and try to apply the characterisitics of successful spaces
to less successful ones. This morning, for instance, I started with a vague
feeling of dissatisfaction with my desk, read a couple of patterns, went into
the kitchen and sliced an apple, came back to my desk, and realized that the
kitchen Hoosier was designed at the right height for slicing, while my desk
was designed for a shorter person. A couple of encyclopedia volumes under the
laptop brings the computer to a more usable height--not an ideal solution, perhaps,
but an improvement.
Photo credit: Center for
Environmental Structure via NPR