Wednesday 20 June 2012

A Pattern Language

Another ingredient in designing a sustainable building is for it to remain wanted. It must be loved and cherished for then it will be looked after, changed and improved over the years. Given that I am only now in my retirement years able to embark on such a project this is particularly appropriate as I want to leave what I create to be enjoyed by all those that survive me.

Looking down the site
I also realised that all this research, soul searching and thinking through alternatives had emphasised the importance a one step at a time  building approach that can make adjustments to take account of unforeseen factors.

Undoubtedly the most influential work to emerge from my research in designing the house was that of Christopher Alexander who has developed a way of thinking about such a quality that makes places cared for and makes them come to life.

Alexander says "It is easy to understand why people believe so firmly that there is no single solid basis for the difference between good building and bad. It happens because the single central quality that makes the difference cannot be named." In his book "The Timeless Way of Building" he devotes himself to identifying that nameless quality and at the end the reader realises that they knew all along but were afraid to say so.
Sun bleached olive tree

Alexander and his team spent years researching and tabulating the universally recognised features that are common to the buildings we love. Most significantly they uncovered a language of patterns from which these buildings were assembled. His next book, "A Pattern Language" identifies and describes 253 such patterns. Most importantly this is not all since the language grows as you use it and more patterns suggest themselves. It is an open way of thinking not a closed system.

The Alexander books proved to be a wonderful way of ordering my thoughts and deepening my insights but were not a set of formulae to produce a design solution since having considered the appropriate patterns I still needed to use my knowledge and experience of good design to produce my own particular design. What Alexander did was to help me recognise things I already knew.

View toward existing orchard
With the overall concept of my project delineated in this I felt more confident in embarking on the long and torturous path of discussions with Greek architects and engineers, the whole Greek planning process and the eventual build.

Thus a job thought out in the "Timeless Way" could be a happy blend of careful planning and last minute improvisation.

True freedom!