a pattern language

A Pattern Language.jpg

…this is my latest book acquisition. Rather than waxing lyrical about its amazingness, I will share with you an excerpt.

First, some context. You should know that A Pattern Language was an attempt by a group of people in the 1970s to define just what it is that differentiates between a “bad” built environment, or one that seems to repel life, community, and balance, like many modern cities and architectures do; and a “good” built environment, like in many old European cities, villages throughout the world, grand old railway stations, and humble hand-built homes that “feel” right. They identified more than 250 common themes (“patterns”) that make up a common way (“language”) that has been expressed by people for ages to develop these “feel right” places. The patterns comprise a way of thinking and are not specific designs. The specific designs are best imagined by the creator to fit his situation.

Here is one example (continuing along the topic of beds), complete with original pictures. Where there is CAPITALIZED TEXT and a number (188) this refers to one of the patterns. As summary of each pattern, there is a paragraph at the end with references to several other patterns related to this one…so if, say, you were redesigning a bedroom and you liked this pattern, the summary would link you to other patterns that may also spark your imagination.

A summary of each of the patterns can be found at this website. The book itself contains many more details and photos.

Bedrooms make no sense.

The valuable space around the bed is good for nothing except access to the bed. And all the other functions – dressing, working, and storage of personal belongings which people stuff uncomfortably into the corners of their bedrooms – in fact, need their own space, and are not at all well met by the left over areas around the bed.

In BED CLUSTERS (143), we have already argued that each child in a family should have a bed alcove of his own, opening off a common play-space. This is based purely on the balance between community and privacy. We shall now try to establish the fact that, for everyone in the house, isolated beds, not only those in clusters, are better off in alcoves than in bedrooms. There are two reasons.

First, the bed in a bedroom creates awkward spaces around it; dressing, working, watching television, sitting, are all rather foreign to the side spaces left over around a bed. We have found that people have a hard time adapting the space around the bed to their needs for bedroom space.

Second, the bed itself seems more comfortable in a space that is adjusted to it. In our design experiments, where lay people have used these patterns to design their own houses, we have noticed a rather strong urge to give the bed a nook of its own, some kind of enclosure.  Apparently this particular pattern strikes a chord in people.

Once the bed has been built into a space that is right for it, then the rest of the bedroom space is free to shape itself around the needs for sitting space, play areas, dressing, and storage.

What are the issues at stake in making a good bed alcove?

Spaciousness. Don’t make it too tight. It must be comfortable to get in and out and to make the bed. If the alcove is going to function as A ROOM OF ONE’S OWN (141) for a child, then it needs to be almost a tiny room, with one wall missing.

 Ventilation. Bed alcoves need fresh air; at least a vent of some kind that is adjustable, and better still a window.

Privacy. People will want to draw into the alcove and be private. The opening of th alcove needs a curtain or some other kind of enclosure.

Ceiling. According to the arguments developed with the pattern CEILING HEIGHT VARIETY (190), the bed, as an intimate social space for one or two, needs a ceiling height somewhat lower than the room beside it. 


Don’t put single beds in empty rooms called bedrooms, but instead put individual bed alcoves off rooms with other nonsleeping functions, so the bed itself becomes a tiny private haven.

If you are building a very small house of no more than 300 or 400 square feet – perhaps with the idea of adding to it gradually – this pattern plays an essential role. It will probably be best then to put the alcoves off the family room.

 Build the ceiling low – CEILING HEIGHT VARIETY (190); add some storage in the walls around the alcove – THICK WALLS (197), OPEN SHELVES (200), and a window, in a natural position – NATURAL DOORS AND WINDOWS (221). Perhaps HALF-OPEN WALL (193) will help to give the alcove the right enclosure. Where space is very tight, combine the bed alcove with DRESSING ROOM (189). And finally, give each alcove, no matter how small, the characteristics of any indoor space – THE SHAPE OF INDOOR SPACE (191)…


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