Introduction to www.patternlanguage.com
Bologna, March 10th, 2000
www.patternlanguage.com is an internet startup, intended to put the world wide web to more constructive use than has so far been the case.
I have long combined a concern for traditional urbanism with an interest in community participation processes – and have been a little disappointed by the shortcomings and scope for manipulation evident in most of the participation techniques currently available.
“Pattern Language” refers, of course, to the work of Christopher Alexander and his colleagues at the University of California at Berkeley, whose Center for Environmental Structure (CES) was founded in 1967. For over 30 years they have sought to define and apply patterns and sequences by which the qualities of traditional environments can be retrieved. The book, A Pattern Language, of 1978, contained 253 patterns. These have been applied in 200 projects in 20 countries, from the scale of furniture to that of the city, and have been the subject of a number of influential books.
I have myself tried to combine a Pattern Language approach with more conventional approaches to traditional urbanism in various Prince of Wales’s Urban Design Task Forces – for example in Lebanon in 1997.
Initially patternlanguage.com will be of interest to self-builders, to those wanting to participate in planning decisions, and for communities looking to have a more constructive engagement with their environment. It will deliver powerful TOOLS into the hands of such people.
Even those who are aware of the influence that Pattern Language theory has had on architecture and planning may not know the profound impression it had made on a large number of software designers over the past decade. The theory, and the insights it gives, are recognised and respected by very senior figures in the industry, and it is estimated that about 300,000 software designers now use it as a tool.
We think, therefore, that patternlanguage.com represents one of the best “fits” between content and medium of any web-based architecture/building operation. Indeed, many others do little more than use the web as a glorified noticeboard.
Pattern Language, and the sequences which control the application of the language, have long been regarded by their promoters as a kind of “genetic code” for good environments, by which order can be created out of more-or-less spontaneous actions. The new delivery mechanism offered by the internet makes this metaphor far more powerful.
At the “Vision of Europe” conference I have heard a number of encouraging things: Jean-François Lejeune, of the University of Miami, spoke of how people’s sense of the value of “everyday” architecture led them, in the 1960’s, to challenge modernist orthodoxy; Audun Engh, of the Norwegian Foundation for Urban Renewal, urged us to exploit the market, and democratic processes, to further the cause of good cities; and HRH The Prince of Wales warned us in his opening message not to become formalists, but to pay attention to “those manifold processes which go on at a grassroots level, and which make and remake cities day after day”, despite us. Patternlanguage.com will offer support to these very processes, and give people access once again to the tools by which they can fashion their “everyday” world.
The current website is well worth a visit, but it is at an early stage, and is not yet representative of the full scope of the enterprise. Research & Development is proceeding, and trials will follow in the US and UK, with individuals and communities. A demo will soon be on-line, setting out the sequence for the creation of a traditional Japanese tea house.
Further down the line there will be a builders’ network – already taking shape – so that those who utilise this new way of designing can find sympathetic tradespeople able to build to their designs, and software to give users a rough sketching tool, and then translate their sketches into working drawings.
Keep tuning in, because I think that the future of this project will be exciting.