May 242014

Today the American architect Christopher Alexander is paradoxically best known for the applicability of his “Pattern Language” to the description and construction of computer programs. Basically he developed a hierarchical system for the description of patterns. A pattern is something like an archetypical solution for an archetypical problem in a certain problem domain and a given context.

Patterns are related to other patterns, and a certain situation can match more than one pattern. Patterns can also be contained within other, higher level patterns. That sounds pretty abstract and that’s right, but this kind of abstraction makes patterns so useful. Christopher Alexander for instance used patterns to describe how Good Architecture according to his best knowledge and individual style and taste should work.

In his Pattern Language he described how cities should be distributed across regions or how living and working areas should be intermingled with common spaces to create neighborhoods worth living within. The next step was the distribution of buildings and negative space, how that can create living or dead places. The pattern language is nothing more than a formal notation, usable in any field, but what Alexander used it for, was the blueprint for a beautiful world adapted to the needs of people, instead of the other way round, as is so often seen in modern architecture.

One of his smaller patterns is that we should build our homes piece by piece, including things from our past, things that mean something to us.

Recently I saw a house that perfectly fits Alexander’s patterns. It is full of things that have grown over time, have been made by their owners, and you immediately feel at home in such a place. It has character and it is above design. Sure, you can employ an interior designer and although someone really good (and most likely really expensive) can create something similar, something more refined, polished and maybe even more balanced, probably even a piece of art, it will always be just something bought. It won’t be the same thing. There is a “quality without a name” that money can’t buy.

The Song of the Day is “Money Can’t Buy It” from Annie Lennox’ 1992 album “Diva”. Hear it on YouTube.