Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language: analysing, mapping and classifying the critical response

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Abstract

A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander is renowned for providing simple, conveniently formatted, humanist solutions to complex design problems ranging in scale from urban planning through to interior design. This text is also believed to be the most widely read architectural treatise ever published. Despite this, there is also little acknowledgement in its popular reception that it is only one part of a trilogy of works documenting Alexander’s ‘second theory’ of architecture. Thus, while A Pattern Language is widely referenced in architectural scholarship, most of these references simply acknowledge its existence and fail to engage with its content. Furthermore, the literature that does critically engage with Alexander’s theory, challenging its ideas and assumptions, is often difficult to find, and the criticisms are diverse and complex. The intent of this paper is to facilitate a deeper understanding of these criticisms and the relationships between them. The 28 criticisms identified in past research are organised hierarchically in this paper into three tiers representing those associated with the: (i) conceptualisation, (ii) development and documentation and, (iii) implementation and outcomes of Alexander’s theory. The relationships between these criticisms are then mapped diagrammatically thereby forming the basis for thematic groupings within each hierarchical tier. This organisation reveals that only two criticisms relate to the concept of pattern languages in isolation, while the remainder arise, directly or indirectly, from Alexander’s idiosyncratic ontological and epistemological positions. The conclusion analyses the relationships between the criticisms to develop a holistic and understanding of where the problems in Alexander’s theory might lie.

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Dawes, M. J., & Ostwald, M. J. (2017). Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language: analysing, mapping and classifying the critical response. City, Territory and Architecture, 4(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40410-017-0073-1

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