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“A Pattern Language”–Poetry, Architecture, and Human Understanding

October 21, 2014


–from A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa, Murray Silverstein, with Max Jacobson, Ingrid Fikshdahl-King, Shlomo Angel (Oxford U Press, NY 1977)–

Social creatures that we are, we humans speak to each other in many languages, heard and unheard, with words spoken, written, implied yet understood. This concept of language can be applied to other realms of human interaction, expressed in repeated and interchangeable patterns. The book A Pattern Language applies it to architecture and urban planning, but there is much more to the book and its ideas, as seen below in a quote from its introduction.

“This language [that is, “a pattern language” applied to architectural design], like English, can be a medium for prose, or a medium for poetry. The difference between prose and poetry is not that different languages are used, but that the same language is used, differently. In an ordinary English sentence, each word has one meaning, and the sentence too, has one simple meaning. In a poem, the meaning is far more dense. Each word carries several meanings and the sentence as a whole carries an enormous density of interlocking meanings, which together illuminate the whole.

“The same is true for pattern languages. It is possible to make buildings by stringing together patterns, in a rather loose way. A building made like this, is an assembly of patterns. It is not dense. It is not profound. But it is also possible to put patterns together in such a way that many many patterns overlap in the same physical space: the building is very dense; it has many meanings captured in a small space; and through this density, it becomes profound.

“In a poem, this kind of density, creates illumination, by making identities between words, and meanings, whose identity we have not understood before. In ‘O Rose thou art sick,’ the rose is identified with many greater, and more personal things than any rose — and the poem illuminates the person, and the rose, because of this connection. The connection not only illuminates the words, but also illuminates our actual lives.

O Rose thou art sick.
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night
In the howling storm:

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

“The same exactly, happens in a building.”

One Comment leave one →
  1. October 21, 2014 8:21 am

    Well said.Well done. Q.) Worms fly?

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