Christopher Alexander, S. Ishikawa
1987; 1171 pages
A BOOK OF ARCHITECTURAL THEORY and practice, and an improved model of theory and practice itself. What a following it has developed since
There is abundant evidence to show that high buildings make people crazy.
its publication in 1977. Peter Gabriel gives the book to friends as a wedding present. Brian Eno stopped a lecture in mid-sentence to rave about it. Once, in wrath, I gave a copy to every member of my town's city council; (the only member who thanked me, I note, is the only one still in office 12 years later). Every year some 10,000 copies of this $50 biblical tome are bought, and the number increases yearly.
People say the book changes their life, by which I think they mean it changes the way they physically organize their life, and maybe the way they perceive as well. What Alexander and his co-authors set out to do was collect and organize the elements that make buildings loved, that make buildings "live." Freed from modernity, they teased out the deep-dwelling "pattern language" that people understand buildings with. (No wonder that "vernacular buildings" so command our respect--they are framed to pattern language forms.)
Being a friend and neighbor in Berkeley, Chris kindly signed the copies GBN is sending out. If this book appeals, I suggest getting its conceptual and philosophical prequel, The Timeless Way of Building (Oxford University Press, 1979). It explains how to think this way about anything.
Quoted from the text
A building cannot be a human building unless it is a complex of still smaller buildings or smaller parts which manifest its own internal social facts.
If there is a beautiful view, don't spoil it by building huge windows that gape incessantly at it. Instead, put the windows which look onto the view at places of transition--along paths, in hallways, in entry ways, on stairs, between rooms.
When they have a choice, people will always gravitate to those rooms which have light on two sides, and leave the rooms which are lit only from one side unused and empty.
Balconies and porches which are less than six feet deep are hardly ever used.
Vary the ceiling heights continuously throughout the building.... In particular, make ceilings high in rooms which are public or meant for large gatherings (10 to 12 feet), lower in rooms for smaller gatherings (7 to 9 feet), and very low in rooms or alcoves for one or two people (6 to 7 feet).