“Every place is given its character by certain patterns of events that keep on happening there… The more living patterns there are in a place—a room, a building, or a town—the more it comes to life as an entirety, the more it glows, the more it has that self-maintaining fire…
But there is a fundamental inner connection between each pattern of events, and the pattern of space in which it happens. For the pattern in the space is, precisely, the precondition, the requirement, which allows the pattern of events to happen. In this sense, it plays the fundamental role in making sure that just this pattern of events keeps on repeating over and over again, throughout the space…”
Christopher Alexander, The Timeless Way of Building
A home is not only where the next generation is initiated into human life. It is also where each of us must find a space congenial to every-day life.
A house is where humans live; a home is where they truly come alive.
Christoper Alexander, an architect, is keenly aware of the deep connection between patterns in space and patterns of living. The connection is reciprocal. How we live in a certain space, the patterns of our actions, will affect the physical structure of that space. Likewise, the physical structure of a space–and this includes everything from size of the room, furniture arrangement, window placement, color schemes, and much more–will affect the quality of actions in that space.
Alexander paints a picture of a ‘living pattern’: “And what of a party around a kitchen table, people drinking together, cooking together, drinking wine, eating grapes, together preparing a stew of beef and wine and garlic and tomatoes which takes four hours to cook–and while it cooks, we drink, and then, at last we eat it.”
Such a pattern of behavior, we might say, gives life to a room. And likewise, a room can be well-designed and arranged so as to encourage such a pattern of behavior. This does not require great financial resources; it does require attention to what patterns of living we want to foster, and how to foster them.
In view of Alexander’s insight into the connection between ‘architecture’ and action, we can look at the various rooms in our house, and consider two things: first, what actions do we most want to foster in this room, and second, does the very structure of this room in fact foster such action. We thereby can take concrete steps in shaping our house into a home.
Over the next several weeks I will use the writings of Christopher Alexander to take a thoughtful tour through a house, room by room.
Christopher Alexander (born 1936) was born in Austria and is currently an emeritus professor of architecture at the University of California, where he taught for almost forty years. He has been widely influential through his theories of architecture, and is especially known for his 1977 book A Pattern Language.
Image: Carl Larsson (1853-1919)
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