pattern language

Pattern Language — Different Chairs

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Different Chairs

May be part of Sequence of Sitting Spaces (142)Sitting Circle (185)Built-In Seats (202)


People are different sizes; they sit in different ways. And yet there is a tendency in modern times to make all chairs alike.


Never furnish any place with chairs that are identically the same. Choose a variety of different chairs, some big, some small, some softer than others, some with rockers, some very old, some with arms, some wicker, some wood, some cloth.

May contain Pools of Light (252).



Or chairs, period.

Starbucks tried something like this, but generally public places avoid catering to the natural desire to have a place to sit. Down the block glass started to fall from the high rise and the sitting area has been closed ever since.  A block sourh they had tables and chairs and then took them away. We could make thousands of jobs just taking care of tables and chairs.

There is hope. On the street below me traffic has been zapped and there are tables and chairs. It;’s a party every night. One day public space will improve. It has to. As to inside the places where we dwell, the above is apposite.

pattern language, politics

How To Get The Jobs Back

I have more than once insisted that things are working reasonably well considering. I assume the untold story now is the number of entrepreneurial and visionary sorts who are completely content with the fact that the jobs that are vanishing need not come back.

The first things they think about are values. What in god’s name will people pay for these days? People will pay for comfort and health but these are no longer to be identified with houses and cars. They are identified with new forms of dwelling and new forms of transportation. It will be hit or miss for a while but a transition from ownership to renting is a hint in the right direction.

Values — what people want is a chance to enjoy public space without being placed in an interminable line, subject to mayhem and hassling and feeling lost in a crowd. Where are the visionaries and entrepreneurs who will put this value into practice by advocating for and creating decent new public spaces where people can sit in some security and enjoy the passing scene?

I have pattern language posts here with tons of specific ideas that suggest new products and economies, but all I am hearing is restarting so we can have more of the same — cars and single homes scattered from here to the far reaches of Mongolia. We are not in a credit crisis. We are in an idea crisis.


We get the jobs back by letting go and putting our minds to work. We acknowledge that there are already people working to create a new way of living. We give up cautious capitalism for adventurous investment in real things that are on the ground. We acknowledge that the market is working fine. When we say no, it means that we want something else. People cannot spend for what is not being offered. Where there is no vision people perish.

We give up on the idea that we just need to get credit flowing. What we need to get flowing is ideas and visions. Let’s stop living on credit and live on new values that raise us from lemming status to something a trifle more dignified.

Please read Our Crisis Is Not Economic for context.

pattern language, politics

Obama Pattern Language Primer — 14

Continuing a series of looks at Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language.

Please read Our Crisis Is Not Economic as a starting point.



This section considers amenities in a viable, integral human settlement.

The local shops and gathering places.

  • Individually Owned Shops
  • Street Cafe
  • Corner Grocery
  • Beer Hall
  • Traveller’s Inn
  • Bus Stop
  • Food Stands
  • Sleeping in Public
  • Individually Owned Shops [May be part of Shopping Street, Market of Many Shops]

    Alexander states: “When shops are too large, or controlled by absentee owners, they become plastic, bland and abstract.”

    Clearly this sets up a conflict and even a debate. Mall culture and Wal-Mart hangar-sized boxes are the seeming default. But there may well be an argument for precisely the smaller.more niche-type outlets that Alexander wants. I use “outlets” with some care because I see storage and home delivery as the future of much if not most shopping. This enables a store to be more a node where someone places an order. Perhaps it has tables and chairs and is social. The proprieter in knowledgable in the niche area. And so forth. Clearly there is no room for huge stores in a settlement that is car free within its perimeter.

    Street Cafes [May be part of Identifiable Neighbourhood , Activity Nodes, Small Public Squares]

    Alexander states the obvious: “The street cafe provides a unique setting , special to cities: a place where people can sit lazily, legitimately, be on view, and watch the world go by.”

    I would ideally place such nodes ever 300 feet or so and make them places where people could both gather and schmooze. And also where they might be able to get enough to eat to count as a viable meal. I am convinced that the kitchen’s days are numbered and that the pedestrian settlement would pretty much make eating out cost effective.

    Corner Grocery [May be part of Market of Many Shops, Web of Shopping, Identifiable Neighbourhood]

    Alexander: “It has lately been assumed that people no longer want to walk to local stores. This assumption is mistaken.”

    Alexander’s right and one should be able to meet basic grocery needs within 800 yards max of one’s residence. These communities should also have a kid business for elderly folk, where they carry the groceries for a small honorarium.

    Beer Hall [May be part of Neighbourhood Boundary, Promenade, Night Life]

    Alexander asks: “Where can people sing, and drink, and shout and drink, and let go of their sorrows?”

    And answers: “Somewhere in a community at least one big place where a few hundred people can gather, with beer and wine, music, and perhaps a half-dozen activities, so that people are continuously crossing from one to another.”

    In Capri there are such spots including some that are, cleverly, underground, diminishing intrusive sound.

    My ideal is a community built on a futuristic matrix shere there is a good deal underground, including the mechanism needed to recycle everything in the community onsite. The matrix would include wind turbines and extensive solar paneling and operate as a shell for the community. In some cases even collecting and processing rain water.

    “Traveller’s Inn [May be part of Magic of the City, Activity Nodes, Promenade, Night Life, Work Community]

    Akexander makes a cool point: “A man (sic) who stays the night in a strange place is still a member of the human community, and still needs company. There is no reason why he should creep into a hole, and watch TV alone, the way he does in a roadside motel.”

    And elaborates: “Make the traveler’s inn a place where travelers can take rooms for the night, but where- unlike most hotels and motels- the inn draws all its energy from the community of travelers that are there any given evening. The scale is small 30 or 40 guests to an inn; meals are offered communally; there is even a large space ringed round with beds in alcoves.”

    Bus Stop [May be part of Mini-Buses]

    Alexander argues: “Bus stops must be easy to recognize, and pleasant, with enough activity around them to make people comfortable and safe.”

    Adding: “Build bus stops so that they form tiny centers of public life. Build them as part of the gateways into neighbourhoods, work communities, parts of town….”

    In my ideal settlement there would be “rides”. I can see a default vehicle of some sort that simply goes through the various promenades and picks people up and drops them off. They could be operated at modest speed by persons trained to ensure safe movement. They would not be frequent enough to discourage walking and not infrequent enough to cause impatience. Five minute intervals comes to mind. They could also double as security vehicles as they would in effect be patrolling the community.

    Food Stands [May be part of Activity Nodes, Road Crossing, Raised Walk, Small Public Squares, Bus Stop]

    Fine: “Many of our habits and institutions are bolstered by the fact that we can get simple, inexpensive food on the street, on the way to shopping, work, and friends.”

    Sleeping in Public [May be part of Interchange, Small Public Squares, Public Outdoor Room, Street Cafes, Pedestrian Street]

    Says Alexander: “It is a mark of success in a park, public lobby or a porch, when people can come there and fall asleep.”

    Indeed but we are far from being the trusting community that we need to become to enable this prescription:

    “Keep the environment filled with ample benches, comfortable places, corners to sit on the ground, or lie in comfort in the sand. Make these places relatively sheltered, protected from circulation, perhaps up a step, with seats and grass to slump down upon, read the paper and doze off.”

    I would call this change I could believe in.

    NOTE: I am making an effort to find some visual basis for suggesting the structure of settlements I am trying to convey. So far I have found only the following:



    More on Pattern Language:

    See the brief at and then read in sequence:

    Part OnePart TwoPart ThreePart Four,, Part FivePart SixPart SevenPart EightPart NinePart TenPart ElevenPart TwelvePart ThirteenPart Fourteen

    pattern language

    Obama Pattern Language Primer — 13

    I am acutely aware, as I continue this series of looks at Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language, that it is presumptuous to imply that the ideas I am developing could constitute a primer for our President. And yet, that is exactly what I intend them to be.

    A primer is something that primes. It is also an introduction, not a finished product. I intend, and devoutly hope, that our President will read Our Crisis Is Not Economic and agree that we need to move not merely beyond the tyranny of oil but beyond the entire design that was spawned by an automotive economy.

    Then I hope he will open and bookmark this handy online summary of Alexander’s classic work, realizing that, like Robert Pirsig’s Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Alexander’s work is the special product of a rare being. Its resulting honesty — and even it’s offense to the status quo — is to be respected and even honored.


    Then, I hope the President will at least ask someone on his staff to wade through all the posts in this series. I have been at pains to collate Alexander’s timely ideas about human settlements with my own vision of what is desperately needed as at least one element in the work that will be done over the next few years. That is:

    1. To create the principles we can agree need to inform all future human settlements and

    2. To actually design and develop models of human community that are car-free, eco-sufficient and integral, that place near at hand all of the elements needed to live a rounded life within walking distance, not within thirty or sixty miles.


    In this post, we note that Alexander is basically pertinent to a car-free, new community and that his ideas become more relevant the more we concede the need to simply replace metrosprawl with viable new settlements.

    The workgroups, including all kinds of workshops and offices and even children’s learning groups.

  • Self-Governing Workshops and Offices
  • Small Services without Red Tape
  • Office Connections
  • Master and Apprentices
  • Teenage Society
  • Shopfront Schools
  • Children’s Home
  • Self-Governing Workshops and Offices [May be part of Scattered Work, Industrial Ribbon, Work Community]

    Alexander says: “No one enjoys his work if he is a cog in a machine.”

    But he does not directly relate this to the automotive root of our design and its articulation in the world. We are in a great warp of history in which Alexander’s ideas are actually consider-able. From now on we are in the realm of the seismic changes that could occur if the initial premises of these notes are accepted — car-free, eco-sufficient, integral.

    Instead of Alexander’s conclusion which you can read at the relevant link above I want to argue that we can maintain some version of the work reality we now have, but by doing two things. First, creating settlements where it will be natural for those who work there to live there. That is impilicit in all that I am posting. Furthermore I am assuming that those whose livelihood is connected to some other locality will have the capacity to do much if not all of the needed work via the Internet. I believe that it is a choice whether one works at home or has an office to go to. In my proposed settlements, internet cafe’s would evolve to the point of being able to rent secure office space to persons needing them.

    Note that I am not eliminating cars from the mix. I am merely eliminating them from within the area where people live.. Anyone could have a vehicle outside the perimeter and this would enable transportation to work beyond one’s own settlement. But the need for this would be radically reduced.

    Small Services without Red Tape [May be part of Work Community, University as a marketplace, Local Town Hall, Health Center, Teenage Society]

    Says Alexander: “Departments and public services don’t work if they are too large. When they are large, their human qualities vanish; they become bureaucratic; red tape takes over.”

    I can quote his solution exactly as he wrote it and subscribe to it. And anyone who can envision the sort of settlement I am proposing will see that it is precisely what I mean by having nodes all through the settlement that are offering the services and commercial options that people want and need.


    In any institution whose departments provide public service:

    1. Make each service or department autonomous as far as possible.
    2. Allow no one service more that 12 staff members total.
    3. House each one in an identifiable piece of the building.
    4. Give each one direct access to a public thoroughfare.

    I would not require anything but I would give each institution a place. All would be accessable to a public thoroughfare which in this case would be a promenade, a pedestrian way.

    Office Connections [May be part of Work Community, Self-Governing Workshops and Offices, Small Services without Red Tape]

    Alexander: “If two parts of an office are too far apart, people will not move between them as often as they need to; and if they are more than one floor apart, there will be almost no communication between the two.”

    This implies that there might be organizations with hundreds of persons. If that is the case I should mention that I do not envision floors in the settlement I propose. While I would make it possible to stack my lego blocks two to a level, this would work out to a two story max for a larger office. In my view the structure I am proposing would offer maximum flexibility to planners of work space, even to the point of having various parts of the office across from each other so that one would walk outside to reach them.

    Master and Apprentices [May be part of Network of Learning, Self-Governing Workshops and Offices}

    Alexander says: “The fundamental learning situation is one in which a person learns by helping someone who really knows what he is doing.” Adding: “Organise work around a tradition of masters and apprentices.”

    This is an ideal and a good one. So too, I believe, is a notion of schooling as apprenticeship, fanning out from home schooling, with the passage of decent, standard examinations the basis for certification in one or another line of work. Essentially I am assuming that the downside of the collapse of the current means of doing things will create the rising up of better alternatives for the future.

    Teenage Society [May be part of Life Cycle, Network of Learning, Master and Apprentices]

    Alexander: :Teenage is the time of passage between childhood and adulthood. In traditional societies, this passage is accompanied by rites which suit the psychological demands of the transition. But in modern society the “high school” fails entirely to provide the passage.”

    Alexander’s solution: “Replace the “high school” with an institution which is actually a model of adult society, in which the students take on most of the responsibility for learning and social life, with clearly defined roles and forms of discipline. Provide adult guidance, both for the learning, and the social structure of the society; but keep them as far as feasible, in the hands of the students.”

    Again I see a mentoring environment in my human settlements so that a teen could be drawn to playing guitar and work with a good player and get credit for same. And so forth and so on. There could be satellite mentoring nodes.

    I definitely do not see huge high schools in a commmunity of 5-10,000. I would break up any educational operation into nodes that would serve no more than 50.

    Shopfront Schools [May be part of Children’s Home, Network of Learning]

    Alexander’s premise: “Around the age of 6 or 7, children develop a great need to learn by doing, to make their mark on a community outside the home. If the setting is right, these needs lead children directly to basic skills and habits of learning.”

    Here it is almost as though Alexander had envisioned the matrix needed to make the following possible — a car free, safe community, condensed enough to make walking anywhere a reasonable expectation. [Yes, the ways would also be disability-friendly.]

    “Instead of building large public schools for children 7 to 12, set up tiny independent schools, one school at a time. Keep the school small, so that its overheads are low and a teacher-student ration of 1:10 can be maintained. Locate it in the public part of the community, with a shopfront and tree or four rooms.”

    Children’s Home [May be part of Children in the City, Connected Play, Network of Learning]

    Says Alexander: “The task of looking after little children is a much deeper and more fundamental social issue than the phrases “baby-sitting” and “child care” suggest.”

    And again his solution is pertinent to the sort of settlement I am advocating:

    “In every neighbourhood, build a children’s home- a second home for children- a large rambling house or workplace- a place where children can stay for an hour or two, or for a week. At least one of the people who run it must live on the premises; it must be clear, from the way that it is run, that it is a second family for the children- not just a place where baby-sitting is available.”

    You will ask how this will all be supported. It should be obvious at this point that we will be transferring the money that we used to spend on extraneous and needless things and things of inflated value with huge profit margins to the creation of a people-infrastructure, an entire new class of occupations requiring skills needed to master every phase of an enhanced living experience in a viable human settlement.

    NOTE: I am making an effort to find some visual basis for suggesting the structure of settlements I am trying to convey. So far I have found only the following:



    More on Pattern Language:

    See the brief at and then read in sequence:

    Part OnePart TwoPart ThreePart Four,, Part FivePart SixPart SevenPart EightPart NinePart TenPart ElevenPart TwelvePart ThirteenPart Fourteen

    pattern language, politics

    Obama Pattern Language Primer –12

    The 12th in this series of posts built around Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language continues my attempt to interest the Obama Administration in creating new human settlements that are actually able to realize the basics of change we can believe in.

    I am using the online condensation of A Pattern Language and appending my own ideas about what is needed. These ideas are summarized in a post I wrote in March, 2008, anticipating just what has been happening. Please begin by reading Our Crisis Is Not Economic.

    Then open:


    Then, at your leisure, peruse posts in this the series at the link below:


    The deeper transformations sought by Alexander open up now as we move to issues what homes would actually look like.

    Within the framework of the common land, the clusters, and the work communities encourage transformation of the smallest independent social institutions: the families, workgroups, and gathering places. the family, in all its forms.

  • The Family
  • House for a Small Family
  • House for a Couple
  • House for One Person
  • Your Own Home
  • The Family (May be part of House Cluster, Row Houses, Housing Hill, Housing Inbetween, Life Cycle)

    Alexander says: “The nuclear family is not by itself a viable social form.”

    So important is this issue that I will quote his condensed remarks in full before offering my comment.

    Set up processes which encourage groups of 8 to 12 people to come together and establish communal households. Morphologically, the important things are:

    1) Private realms for the groups and individuals that make up the extended family: couples’ realms, private rooms, sub-households for small families.

    2) Common space for shared functions: cooking, working, gardening, child care.

    3) At the important crossroads of the site, a place where the entire group can meet and sit together.

    So moralistic is our society that this discussion is almost impossible. What I want to say is that it is immaterial in the idea that I am seeking traction for. I have lived in larger-than-nuclear settings and in tightly-bound nuclear settings and both are a spectrum from horrendous to sublime. Let’s leave it that.

    The huge sin of design, of course, is to make the nuclear model the gold standard of our detached home, automotive metrosprawl culture. And the prevalence of this model, whatever its provenance or durability, is at odds with reality. Our society is a melange of differing relational units and neither Alexander nor I can anticipate the shape or composition of a family or communal living of the future.

    The clear need in a human settlement is the capacity to freely create and change living arrangements. This is why I believe the basic unit of design for any community is one’s own room. I see this as meeting the need of individuals for space. One’s own room could be small if it was merely an office sort of thing. If one lived alone it could encompass one’s whole private existence. In family settings a child’s own room could be quite small, mainly a place to sleep. but such spaces could be tied to a common play area. In essence the elements of a dwelling in my notion would be easily placed, easily moved, easily tied in to other elements. They would be the lego blocks of human settlement. They would be strong. They would have built in the ledges and storage areas that would otherwise require all manner of micro-work on-site in a custom built home.

    Food and cooking is an interesting issue. We are moving toward a world in which the cost of buying food out of the home is about equal to the cost of buying and preparing food from scratch in a kitchen. In the customized mix of my lego-blogks I could see dwellings with nothing but a cooling unit and a small heating unit for food and dwellings with a Julia Child-worthy cooking area. If the economic parity is maintained, it might well make for communal dining because neighborhoods would be far more integrated in my proposed settlements than they are in today’s sprawl.

    We need to remember that Alexander has not eliminated the car from the mix. I have. We can have no move to change we can believe in until the deleterious dictatorship of the automobile is ended. Happily it can be ended from place to place by simply building such communities or adapting existing areas.

    House for a Small Family (May be part of The Family, House Cluster)

    Alexander says: “In a house for a small family, it is the relationship between children and adults which is most critical.”

    He adds: “Give the house three distinct parts: a realm for parents, a realm for the children, and a common area. Conceive these three realms as roughly similar in size, with the commons the largest.”

    This is reasonable. Three lego blocks. But none of the benefits to children compares with having a settlement where you can walk out the front and be on a promenade and not get run down by a car. And have a whole world within walking distance.

    I can hear people asking about security in this idyllic setting. The dwellings would be inherently secure as their manufacturers would be under obligation to make them so, both from a safety and incursion point of view. The area within the perimeter of a human settlement would have inherent security in that it would have a secure border — not as in a gated community, but access would be a checkpoint of sorts. Since much that is insecure is the result of conflicts in the privacy of a home, I think the probability is that security would extend to the ability of anyone under attack to communicate with help that would very close at hand. We are talking up to 10K persons living within an area a mile across in any direction. I think the safety of communities could become a matter of common interest and common awareness. To the extent that safety is present, security needs diminish.

    House for a Couple (May be part of The Family, House Cluster)

    Alexander: “In a small household shared by two, the most important problem which arises is the possibility that each may have to little opportunity for solitude or privacy.”

    He elaborates: “Conceive a house for a couple as being made up of two kinds of places — a shared couple’s realm and individual private worlds. Imagine the shared realm as half-public and half-intimate; and the private worlds as entirely individual and private.”

    I think two spaces does it with one being used by one but containing the sleeping area and the other being understood as a living area and a place where guests might be welcomed. But with my lego blocks you could have two small areas and a larger area or any combination you liked.

    How, you might ask, are these going to be brought into the settlement and moved and changed once there. Quite simple. There would be a designated time for general recalibration in the settlement or in parts of it. Let us assume that there are three sizes of “property” which could contain respectively five, four and three less lego block rectangles similar in shape to bricks, only a bit taller and a bit squarer. These blocks would either be full or half size. The options would be 3-2, 2-2, 1-2 with the removal of a small block creating room for a private outdoor space where one might have a garden or sitting area. They could be moved in and out by vehicles on a specified weekly basis. People who moved from settlement to settlement could move their rooms or sell or pass them on to new residents. Any of these blocks could be slid into place with ease. They would have retractable rollers built in. For ventilation they would all be built with a 18′ crawlspace area under the floor and fitted with vents on the edges to enable circulation of cool and warm air.

    House for One Person (May be part of The Family, House for a Small Family, House for a Couple)

    Alexander contends: “Once a household for one person is part of some larger group, the most critical problem which arises is the need for simplicity.”

    He proposes: “Conceive a house for one person as a place of the utmost simplicity: essentially a one-room cottage or studio, with large and small alcoves around it. When it is most intense, the entire house may be no more than 300 to 400 square feet.”

    This opens up a simple possibility in my proposed settlement. A half a lego block fits the Alexander proposal. Everyone can design and order up their own room. Any one of the proposed configurations could contain rooms of the sort Alexander suggests.

    Your Own Home (May be part of The Family)

    Alexander: “People cannot be genuinely comfortable and healthy in a house which is not theirs. All forms of rental- whether from private landlords or public housing agencies- work against the natural processes which allow people to form stable, self-healing communities.”

    My solution to this is to completely end the notion of property tied to a particular plot of ground and move toward the replacement of the car as one’s significant space to “one’s own room”. One can always change one’s room but it does present itself as an ownership option.

    NOTE: I am making an effort to find some visual basis for suggesting the structure of settlements I am trying to convey. So far I have found only the following:



    More on Pattern Language:

    See the brief at and then read in sequence:

    Part OnePart TwoPart ThreePart Four,, Part FivePart SixPart SevenPart EightPart NinePart TenPart ElevenPart TwelvePart ThirteenPart Fourteen