14 October 2010

A pattern language

A friend who shares interest in container based houses, and modular housing design, recommended I get a copy of A Pattern Language. By Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa and Murray Silverstein, with Max Jacobson, Ingrid Fiksdahl-King and Shlomo Angel. 1977 Oxford University Press.

Although it is said to be vastly popular in architecture circles, my local city library is devoid of a copy, and the local universities, in their infinite wisdom, only give restricted access. So I ordered a copy through Amazon, and am thinking about how to bring a free adaptation to Wikibooks. No wait! Here's an online viewer for it already! Jeez the Internet is great! But once again, in the education sector, here is an example of highly relevant, radical and valuable thinking from the 70s somehow left forgotten these past 40 years.

100 pages into it, I can say I was made for this book. I am a child of the 70s after all. It is a clear and concrete manual for planning and building cities, towns, villages, houses, rooms, gardens, one's self. It is based around a list of 253 patterns we can use in any number of combinations to create spaces with meaning, much in the same way we mix words to create various densities of meaning. Like words we can use these patterns to create towns and buildings of mere pros, or brutal sentences (such as Canberra), or we can create poetry, song, and timelessness such as... well the documentary series currently screening on SBS only springs to mind: Welcome to Lagos.


After the thoroughly engaging introduction, I'm into the first of 3 parts - Towns (the other two are Buildings and Construction). In Towns is a chapter called Network of Learning, and it understandably cites Illich as the most penetrating proposal for an alternative framework for education. The chapter opens with:
In a society which emphasises teaching, children and students--and adults--become passive and unable to think or act for themselves. Creative, active individuals can only grow up in a society which emphasises learning instead of teaching.
It seems everywhere I look these days, I see reinforcement for Teaching is Dead, Long Live Learning - I'm thinking to shift the focus of my "PhD" to where it should be.

The chapter goes on to quote Illich, from his article, Education without Schools: How It Can Be Done New York Review of Books 1971.
New educational institutions would break apart this pyramid. Their purpose must be to facilitate access for the learner: to allow him to look into the windows of the control room or the parliament, if he cannot get in the door.
Sounds like online, open education, even Gov2au to me... and yet most of these movements almost never refer back to such previous authors and modelists.

Anyway, on to reading this 1170 page text. If not for the failed institutions, then to build myself a house with poetry.


davidtjones said...

G'day Leigh,

It's interesting timing for me that you've come across Alexander's work.

In terms of patterns being forgotten for 40 years, not so much. It heavily influenced quite a strong movement in the design of object-oriented programs and from there some folk even tried to apply it to e-learning (a poor example, much better exist).

It was during the late 90s that I purchased a copy, but then let work and other factors get in the way of appreciating it. It's well past time for me to revisit it.

This is interesting timing because I am currently starting a journey around our property and trying to establish a garden to feed the family.

But, in terms of your comments on teaching and learning, I'm also seriously considering a career change and becoming a high school teacher.

I wonder if this is another case of inside out versus outside in change. Either way, thanks for the food for thought.


Leigh Blackall said...

Thanks for the links David, nice to be having a willing dialog with another Australian at last! I've left a comment on your (not so poor example). And thanks for the reminder of our short exchange around BIM. As you can tell, nothing has drawn me to want to use Moodle yet, quite the opposite, my position of "there is only outside, inside was an illusion" has grown stronger :) Like the Illich quote in this post, I now devote my time creating cracks, windows, if not open doors for the outside to see just how hollow the inside really is.

rlubensky said...

I did some work on pattern langs at USyd a few years ago. Prof Peter Goodyear had written papers about expressing collaboration scripts as a pattern language. For example, nominal group technique, jig saw or even brainstorm. A team there built a prototype of an IMS Learning Design LD player that was designed on a pattern language (bit of a stretch). Now Tree Bresson is stewarding a group of facilitators to create a pattern language about F2F facilitative techniques. So there is a lot of activity about regarding pattern languages and collaboration.

Stanley Frielick said...

I heard Peter Goodyear at Ascilite a few years ago on application of pattern language to learning design - http://bit.ly/bk1ZMq. Got interested in Alexander again recently when my daughter (studying Architecture) was reading The Nature of Order... for me all related to Bateson's concept of the 'pattern that connects'.

Malcolm Lewis said...


I was in a group looking at co-housing in the early 90s, looking a module based building system plus permaculture and we found the pattern language book a key inspiration as well. I recall it was a bugger back then to get a copy of the book.

James Neill said...

Have ordered the book, mate, thanks - inspired by poking through the online pattern viewer - http://vasarhelyi.eu/books/A_pattern_language_book/apl.htm

Also note: http://www.patternlanguage.com

Tx 4 sharing.

Leigh Blackall said...

Malcom, what wisdom can you give me regarding, modular, (portable?) housing, in communal settings, arond permaculture principles? Did you go ahead? A few of us are talking and planning along these lines, being very cautious on the communal sharing ideas (it'll take a few generations yet to get us back to that way of life). With cost of shelter now 7.5 times the average income level here in ACT, perhaps the 'market' is more ready for such ideas...

Leigh Blackall said...

James, we should talk more about shelter, less about OpenUC hey! :)

Leigh Blackall said...

Ron, Stanely, thanks for the names and links. Its interesting to hear of such work around this particular text.

Leigh Blackall said...

Pardon me - Stanley