A Pattern Language Approach to Design

A Pattern Language approach is a pre-schematic design service which bridges the gap between the programming and schematic design. It convenes a group of varied stakeholders in the project, confirms the program and through an interview and visioning process draws out the qualitative aspirations of the end users. The process culminates in a written document, a collection of Patterns which together create a holistic word picture of the project. Consensus is built and a means exists to evaluate and discuss the schematic designs before pen is put to paper. This creates a clearer understanding of the project, for both the design team and the client. The approach streamlines the schematic design phase by establishing expectations up front which saves time and ultimately money.

The language is composed of individual patterns. These patterns are written to articulate to the building committee, the users, the owner and the design professionals “mini scenarios” -- tangible snippets that capture the essence of recurring problems along with a vision of how these problems may be addressed in the environment. They go beyond a description of spatial features and dimensions by articulating the use, the basis, and a general field of solutions.

An analogy is to think about musical composition and performance. A selection of musical notes forms chords. Sequences of notes and chords, with some recurring themes and patterns, create the overall piece of music. The score is interpreted by the performers using different instruments. Over time composers, performers and listeners have evolved rules and principles about effective and satisfying relationships. While notes or chords may be identified separately, in the long run we experience the music as an integrated whole – and it is this whole that matters. So it is with a project pattern language and the environment it seeks to describe. The patterns are the notes and chords that the design professionals use to compose the environment.

Gary Black, President of ISI has successfully used this approach since 1980.¹ It is applicable to projects at a variety of scales. To learn more read selected patterns from the three projects below.

Landscape Patterns for the Galatea Estate Winery
Kernals – Interior office landscapes for Herman Miller Furniture
Boise State University, College of Business and Economics

Click here for a Pattern Language Approach Brochure.

¹ Before becoming president of ISI, Gary Black was Vice President of CES a Berkeley design firm directed by Christopher Alexander, principal author of A Pattern Language, Oxford University Press, New York, 1977.

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