A Pattern Language : Towns, Buildings, Construction
by Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa, Murray Silverstein

Hardcover - (1977) 1171 pages

Customer Reviews
Avg. Customer Review: 5 out of 5 stars ; Number of Reviews: 24

5 out of 5 stars Why did my teachers never tell me about it... ?
Reviewer: Rene Ariza from Bogota, Colombia      March 13, 2000
When I knew a "A Pattern Language" and "The Timeless Way of Building", I thought... Why did my teachers never tell me about it when I was a student... ? It was almost seven years ago. Fortunately, now I’m a teacher and I’m committed my self to do as much as possible in order to encourage my students to read and put into practice those wonderful books. Rene Ariza, architect, Bogotá, Colombia, South America (

5 out of 5 stars A Must Read for City Planners
Reviewer: waukegan   from Waukegan, IL      February 9, 2000
Alexander's work is an invaluable resource for any city planner. I find myself referring to the book on a regular basis.


Don't build home without it
Reviewer: Gene GeRue, author, How To Find Your Ideal Country Home   from Zanoni, Missouri      January 29, 2000
There are certain design principles that are self-evident truths, commonsense but uncommonly applied to modern towns and buildings, painfully evident in characterless and cheerless houses. Most of us have these evolved truths deep within us but we rarely think of them. Given here are 253 patterns, each consisting of a design challenge, discussion, illustration, and solution. Your knowledge of these patterns can help you to create a home that is a pleasure to live in, one that is imaginative, inspiring, healthful, and psychologically satisfying as well as fully functional. I cannot imagine designing any building without refreshing my memory of these wonderful patterns. First published in 1977, this book has already attained the status of classic.

5 out of 5 stars this book inspired Wil Wright to create "the sims"
Reviewer: A reader from USA      January 27, 2000
Wil Wright was asked recently what inspired him to create his "sim" games (simCity, theSims, etc.) and he mentioned that it was after reading this book.

5 out of 5 stars Cool ideas
Reviewer: A reader from US      December 7, 1999
This book will push you to think about the spaces you live in and how they affect you, and what you can do about it. It's a must read for anyone interested in designing liveable space. Yes, it's dated and utopian, but that doesn't make the ideas any less important.... Read Susanka's "The Not So Big House" to see how an architecture firm is applying Alexander's ideas today.

4 out of 5 stars Excellent ideas though a little political and outspoken
Reviewer: A reader from New York, New York      August 13, 1999
This is a wonderful resource for any project. The authors present good ideas on how to improve any design but the political and direct tone sometimes question the validy. Overall, a must have for any planner, architect, or home-improver!

5 out of 5 stars A must read!
Reviewer: A reader from Berkeley, CA      May 20, 1999
This and Catherine Dunne's "Interior Designing For All Five Senses" are no less than must reads for people wanting to stay a step ahead going into the next millenium.

5 out of 5 stars Required reading for designers, planners and architects
Reviewer: Charles M. Barnard ( from Menomonie, Wisconsin, USA      January 25, 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.

4 out of 5 stars Very Good and yet ....
Reviewer: A reader from Vienna, Austria      August 22, 1998
At the time of this writing, there are 14 jubilant reviews of this book, so there is hardly any point in my adding to that part. While I agree that 4 stars are the absolute minimum for the book, there are some caveats to it.

FIRST of all, the book is dated. This is not only a problem as far as the quoted works and the statistics are concerned, all of which have probably changed massivly since 1977, but esp. as far as the whole philosophical attitude of the book is concerned. While this is probably not as much an issue with the parts concerned with building the own home, it is a grande issue with the city stuff. The suggestions made here too often reek of '68 and have in fact -- in all the cases I could find -- where Alexander and his coworkers tried to peek into the future not materialized. (Esp. the network of learning pattern seems meaningless to me.)

SECONDLY, while this book is recommended reading for all Object--Oriented--Programmers, I am not quite sure why this is the case. Alexander teaches his pattern language by doing rather than by a consistent theory. So, if you are a programmer, go ahead and buy "Design Patterns" by Gamma, Helm, Johnson and Vlissides first. The fact that "Design Patterns", which sees itself as a desciple of Alexander, restricts its discussion of him to two pages (p356-7) in the concluding chapter of the book should be some indication. This is not to say that Alexander's book aint great -- only that its NEED for OOP is somewhat overrated in my opinion.

THIRDLY, hardly any of the texts perusing Alexander make it clear enough that to him this book is part of a three-volume effort. It is in fact PART TWO (nobody tells you this), and the accompagning volumes are "The Timeless Way of Building" (Part ONE) and "The Oregon Experiment" (Part THREE). So if you are seriously interested in understanding Alexander and don's just want to peruse "A pattern Language" as a quarry for your own problems, you should be aware that HE considers the project not understood until you've read these as well.

Reviewer: A reader from CARBONDALE,IL      July 19, 1998

5 out of 5 stars A life-enhancing book!
Reviewer: A reader from Worthing, England      July 7, 1998
I bought this book after an Object-Oriented Software training course, and ended up building a pergola with climbing plants and low walls in my garden.

Once you know about the Waist High Shelf pattern you start spotting them everywhere! Pattern languages are the way to go!

5 out of 5 stars Required reading for anyone who wants to build!
Reviewer: A reader from Chicago      June 8, 1998
This book is quite simply The Rules for architectural common sense - how to design useful and appealing spaces for people. (For example: "Don't make a balcony less than six feet deep, or it won't get used much". "People walking on the sidewalk feel threatened by cars whizzing past a few feet away". "If the roof appears to be supported only by spindly little posts it'll make people nervous")(I'm paraphrasing these). It's truly shocking to see how such simple and indubitable factors are ignored in modern design, in favor of cost-cutting and fashion. Please check out the hundreds of patterns given here, with photos, diagrams, examples, and most importantly, the "language" of how they coordinate together into a whole.

(Also take a look at Hildebrand's THE WRIGHT SPACE for another great look at "what makes a building feel good")

5 out of 5 stars One of the great books of the century
Reviewer: Dr. Nikos Salingarosesge from San Antonio, Texas USA      May 28, 1998
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.

5 out of 5 stars A classic,rich source of ideas on building human habitats.
Reviewer: from Dallas, Texas      May 9, 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

5 out of 5 stars methodical view of social utopia through architecture
Reviewer: 1_stripes from Montpelier, Vermont      November 7, 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.

5 out of 5 stars Invaluable for anyone planning anything
Reviewer: Alastair Dallas from Los Gatos, CA      October 9, 1997
I just bought a copy for my town's Planning Director.

5 out of 5 stars An inspiration for practical work.
Reviewer: A reader      June 11, 1997
Useless, if you want to build a souless spec house in a faceless suburb, invaluable, if you want to construct a living space that works for genus homo sapiens. Many times I have stopped in mid hammerswing and climbed down a ladder to consult this bible. I will ask myself what Christopher Alexander meant by. "The feeling of overcrowding is largely created by the mean point to point distances inside a building" (chapter 109) How can I learn from this and incorporate that understanding into the next hammerswing. More important than accurate plans, more important than sharp sawblades, This is the one book I most value on my construction sites.

5 out of 5 stars just like a bible
Reviewer: A reader      March 12, 1997
A pattern language just like a bible when u dealing with a design project. It allow everyone who is sensitive to the envirnment to build by his or her own style. Just carry this light book to your site and start to form the image of the site by using patterns. You do not have to be trained like a professional designer, because it is you that really involved in this lovly sites

5 out of 5 stars A set of truths that will confirm may of your instincts
Reviewer: A reader      February 25, 1997
A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Constructions is a book for people who are sensitive to their environment. This does not mean the rainforest or garbage dumps, but the world around us: Our homes, the sun, our green spaces, our rooms, our "nests", our streets, our towns, and our cities. You will say "hey, I knew that!" many times as you discover truths and more truths among the interlinked patterns in this book. A guide that will help you plan your environment for healthier, more fulling day-to-day living. Discover the "patterns" you instinctively knew existed in your world! - Paul Kurucz

5 out of 5 stars Wonderful and succinct ideas for building design.
Reviewer: A reader      December 28, 1996
The chapters on "zen view" and "sleeping to the east" remain with me long after reading the book

Alexander and object-oriented computer programming
Reviewer: A reader      December 1, 1996
This book and author have become somewhat an icon for the object-oriented programming and design movement in computer science. See, for example:

5 out of 5 stars Enormous value to home builders and designers
Reviewer: A reader      October 7, 1996

We design and build houses and buildings professionally and are always interested in new ideas which contribute to a better final product. This book is for anyone who has an interest in achieving the highest level of good design in terms of placement, workability of all parts--inside and out--of their house. Its insights are on a par with what you would expect from the authors, and go so much further than a normal architect's communications with a client. The errors alone that this book will help avoid make it worth ten times the cost. Highly readable, very clearly organised, logical and to the point. For real estate developers as well as homebuilders, too, since it has a lengthy section of the elements of good city planning.An excellent philosophy of good design.

4 out of 5 stars
Reviewer: A reader      August 8, 1996
Not really about language but rather the evolution of architecture, how "what works" has been retained (and lost, and rediscovered).

"If there is a beautiful view, don't spoil it by building huge windows that gape incessantly at it. Instead, put the windows which look onto the view at places of transition--along paths, in hallways, in entry ways, on stairs, between rooms."

"When they have a choice, people will always gravitate to those rooms which have light on two sides, and leave the rooms which are lit only from one side unused and empty."

4 out of 5 stars Excellent.
Reviewer: A reader      December 30, 1995
The sections on designing houses are wonderful and should be of interest to anyone planning a home of their own (although the construction methods suggested here are fairly impractical.) The town planning parts are thought-provoking but seem somewhat utopian