The Pattern That Connects: Practicing Sustainability At Many Scales David M. Foley Holland & Foley Building Design, LLC Northport, Maine
Dedicated ToChristopher Alexander • Architect • Builder • Author • Teacher
Alexander’s Thesis: • The world isn’t made of things, it’s generated from relationships. • Relationships that repeat are called “Patterns”. A “Pattern” is a set of relationships that solves a recurring problem. • Patterns are like seeds. A flower isn’t manufactured; it’s generated from a seed. Our built world isn’t manufactured; it’s generated by processes that reflect the Patterns in our minds. • Individual Patterns can be combined to form Pattern Languages. Consciously or not, we use Pattern Languages to create our world. • The quality and sustainability of our civilization depend on the quality and sustainability of our processes and Pattern Languages.
“Wow • That’s Abstract! Why Does It Matter?” • If you’re interested in sustainability: • Pattern Languages give you a “vocabulary” to share with others; • Pattern Languages help you link your efforts with others; • Pattern Languages could form a “genetic code” of sustainability; • Pattern Languages can be discussed, criticized, improved. They’re “open source.” They improve with use and sharing.
Perhaps Most Important: • We can discover Patterns for any scale, from household to bioregion. • Patterns at different scales can be linked and coordinated. • Using Pattern Languages, sustainability efforts at different scales, and in different disciplines, can aid & give rise to one another.
“How, after all, can anybody…heal a planet?…The large problems occur because all of us are living either partly wrong or almost entirely wrong…Our problems, as they are suffered in our lives, our households and our communities, have attracted very little intelligence…Our understandable wish to preserve the planet must somehow be reduced to the scale of our competence - that is, thewish to preserve all of its humble households and neighborhoods.”• Wendell Berry “Can we move nations and people in the direction of sustainability? Such a move would be a modification of society comparable in scale to…the Agricultural Revolution…and the Industrial Revolution…Those revolutions were gradual, spontaneous and largely unconscious. This one will have to be a fully conscious operation…If we actually do it, the undertaking will be absolutely unique in humanity’s stay on Earth.”• William D. Ruckelshaus Sustainability and The Difficult Question of Scale:
“Thought Traps” To Avoid: • “It’s hopeless - the sheer size and scope of global problems means we’re doomed.” • “Our problems are the sum of individual choices - change your lifestyle and everything will be fine.” • “It’s all the fault of big government and corporations - rein them in!” • “Environmental problems come from misguided attempts to regulate markets - let the ‘magic of the marketplace’ work.” • “Environmental problems are caused by too many poor people breeding.” • “Environmental problems are caused by too many rich people consuming.” Environmental problems have multiple causes across multiple scales. So do the solutions.
“Ecosystem” As A MetaphorFor Sustainability Efforts(Thanks To Judy Berk) • Not like a “Monoculture”: one species occupying all the space, doing one thing. Monocultures fail spectacularly. • Not like a “Zoo”: a few of each species, in artificial habitats, with no connections. Zoos preserve individuals, not populations. • Like an “Ecosystem”: many species, niches and scales; sharing energy, materials & information; co-evolving; increasing the system’s ability to support all members.
Large to Small: Maine Turnpike Authority decides to widen turnpike to alleviate congestion; Wider turnpike encourages more traffic; Traffic congestion increases, spills onto secondary roads; State & towns contemplate widening secondary roads. Small to Large: Each farmer wants to earn more; Each farmer buys more inputs and grows more crops; Price of inputs rises & price of crops falls; Each farmer, to break even, buys more inputs and grows more crops. Multi-billion dollar Federal crop support & offset programs. “Unintended Consequences” Across Scales:
Energy Conservation: Saves money; Creates jobs; Reduces pollution; Increases security; Frees capital; Promotes equity. 3rd World Micro Credit: Creates opportunity; Reduces poverty; Empowers women; Reduces child mortality; Lowers population growth. Multiple Benefits Across Scales: Effects across scales are called “cascades.” We need to create “beneficial cascades”. Pattern Languages can help us do this.
Essential Reading • A Pattern Language,by Christopher Alexander & Colleagues • The Timeless Way of Building,by Christopher Alexander • For Further Study: • The Nature of Order,by Christopher Alexander
A Pattern: • Describes a problem that recurs in the environment; • Describes the core of a solution, in a way that allows it to be created repeatedly without ever being exactly the same; • Describes the Patterns that come before it, and the Patterns that spring from it.
Pattern: “City-Country Fingers” • Problem: sprawl & lack of green space - but cities need to be dense; • Solution: interlocking open space & urban land, in “fingers” about 1 mile wide each; • Linked to “Agricultural Valleys”, “Mosaic of Subcultures” & “Web of Public Transportation”.Source: “A Pattern Language”, pp 21-25.
Pattern: “Pools and Streams” • Problem: We need access to water for health & spirit, but in cities, water is often out of reach. • Solution: preserve natural pools & streams in cities; make paths & bridges for people to walk along them; • Linked to “Neighborhood Boundary”, “Quiet Backs” & “Pedestrian Street”.Source: “A Pattern Language”, pp 322-327.
Pattern: “Entry Transition” • Problem: an abrupt entry doesn’t allow mental transition from “public” to “private”; • Solution: change of light, sound, surface as one leaves street and reaches door; • Linked to “Zen View”, “Garden Wall”, “Trellised Walk” & “Entrance Room”.Source: “A Pattern Language”, pp 548-552.
Pattern: “Wildlife Corridor” Ecotrust: (Portland, Oregon) “Patterns of A Conservation Economy” www.ConservationEconomy.net • Problem: Natural habitat as isolated “islands” too fragmented to protect biodiversity; • Solution: Undeveloped “corridors” connecting core reserves help reverse habitat fragmentation; • Could be linked to “City-Country Fingers”.
Pattern: “Watershed Services” Ecotrust: “A Conservation Economy • What Does A Sustainable Society Look Like?” www.ConservationEconomy.net • Problem: Watersheds often degraded by development, losing critical natural services; • Solution: Restore watersheds with full complement of native plants & animals; • Could be linked to “Pools & Streams”.
Pattern (?): “Dooryard Garden” • Problem: Food production is remote from cities; “lawns” are often wasteful and environmentally destructive; • Solution: Use small spaces in cities for gardens & orchards; • Could be linked to “Entry Transition”.
Our world isn’t made of things; it’s generated from Patterns. Patterns are rules that describe a problem and give a tangible solution that can be locally adapted. Patterns are linked, from large to small, to form Pattern Languages. Pattern Languages can be shared, discussed and improved. Pattern Languages are a common ground for people working in different disciplines and at different scales. That’s why Pattern Languages are vital for sustainability efforts. Summary: Pattern Languages & Scale
A Pattern Is An Instruction • Each Pattern follows these rules: • It has a name that describes its essence; • Its essence can be illustratedwith a photo or drawing; • It describes a problem, giving clear evidence from empirical observation or scientific reasoning; • It proposes a solution as wholesomerelationships that you can create in the world, adapted to your circumstances. A Pattern doesn’t just describe a solution - it teaches you how to generate the solution, concretely, in the world.
Generating Versus Describing How do I create it? What is it? Genes don’t carry descriptions, they carry instructions.
Generating Versus Describing Here’s the result... Here’s what to do… Describing the result isn’t the same as giving instructions.
Generating Versus Describing Architecture describing end result. Architecture showing how to generate a result. A Pattern helps you understand what to do.
Current business practices often harm ecosystems & human communities. Green businesses use resources efficiently & emphasize broader community benefit for a “Triple Bottom Line”. A lovely sentiment, but not yet a Pattern. Describes a worthwhile end, but doesn’t contain instructions. A “Green Business Rating” might be a Pattern. Not a Pattern: “Green Business” Source: www.conservationeconomy.net
A Pattern: “Activity Nodes” • Problem: Community facilities scattered individually through the city do nothing for each other or for the life of the city; • Solution: Create “nodes” of activity, about 300 yards apart - locate existing places of “action”; modify paths & roads to lead to “nodes”; create a small public square at each “node”. Source: A Pattern Language pp. 163-167.
We need opportunities for deep relaxation, for beauty, and to simply play. Celebrate beauty, wholeness and play as central features of life. Who’d disagree? We aren’t directly empowered to create something by this. A description of a lovely outcome, but not generative instructions - not a Pattern. Not a Pattern: “Beauty and Play” Source: www.conservationeconomy.net
A Pattern: ”Accessible Green” • Problem: People need green open places to go, but if the greens are more than 3 minutes away, the distance overwhelms the need. • Solution: Build one open public green within 3 minutes’ walk - about 750 feet - of every house and workplace. Make the greens at least 150 feet across, and at least 60,000 square feet. Source: A Pattern Language, pp. 304-309
A Pattern describes a problem, the system of forces usually present in the problem, and a solution that resolves those forces. A Pattern is an instruction showing you how the solution can be used repeatedly to solve the problem. A Pattern is a solution presented as something tangible and desirable that can be created. A Pattern doesn’t just describe a desirable outcome - it contains instructions for generating the outcome. A Pattern is like a seed or gene. Summary: Patterns Are Instructions
A Pattern doesn’t describe a specific thing to be copied. It describes the general field of relationships that solves a recurring problem in the world. Specific relationships govern a Pattern, not specific parts. A Pattern is specific about how things must work and relate to solve a problem. But a Pattern can be adapted to local circumstances, made of local materials, modified where local culture and customs require. A Pattern Allows Adaptation
Pattern: “Cascade of Roofs” • Problem: Few buildings are structurally or socially sound unless roofs step down at ends; • Solution: Visualize building as system of roofs, highest over main spaces, with lower and buttressing roofs cascading down.Source: A Pattern Language, pp. 565-568. The same Pattern expressed in different cultures, contexts and materials.
Pattern: “Traffic Calming” • Problem: Excessive vehicle speed in dense neighborhoods is dangerous, but we rely on vehicles. • Solution: Use change of surface, narrowing of road, curves, or a combination to slow down vehicles. Speed Table Roundabout Cobblestones Half Circle
A Pattern Is A Process, Not A Thing The process generates the same relationships, but adapts them to a particular setting. Pictures courtesy of Samuel Zschokke
Same Process, Adapted Results The same process generates endless variety.
Summary: A Pattern Allows Adaptation • A Pattern helps you create a specific field of relationships. The relationships and the problem they solve are constant in a Pattern. • When you create one particular instance of a Pattern, you need to adapt it to local cultures, climates, customs, & materials. • An idea that can’t be adapted to different settings is unlikely to be a Pattern.
“Discovering” Patterns • Observe & interact with the world around you; • Focus on a problem you observe; • Articulate why you think it’s a problem; • In a particular place, how would you repair the problem? • What relationships must you improve to repair the problem? • Would your repair extend and enhance wholeness and health in the environment? Does it create something you really want? • Could you teach someone how to make the repair somewhere else, and why it’s a good idea? • Can you explain the context in which your repair makes sense?
Observe, Focus, Articulate • The same water, essential to life, cycling billions of years; • Watersheds connecting households to regions to planet; • Water purified through biology and hydrology; • “Waste” in water is “food” for a biological process; • We must treat water the way Nature does.
Observe, Focus, Articulate • Biological nutrients can be a resource, not “waste”; • Biological & hydrological processes can purify water, if we let them work; • Certain chemicals must be isolated from water cycles. “The Problem Is The Solution”
Pattern (Perhaps): Compost • Stockpile organic matter & allow it to compost to humus; • Use compost to increase soil organic matter; • Substitute compost for chemical fertilizers when possible.
Pattern (Perhaps): “Living Machine” • Construct “artificial wetlands” to allow plants & microbes to purify “wastewater”; • Where appropriate, use “wastewater” to grow useful plants by hydroponics.
Pattern (Perhaps): “Flowform” • Construct “flowforms”: shapes that mimic natural turbulence, oxygenating effect of pools & streams; • Combine “flowforms” with “living machines” to combine hydrological & biological processes.
Pattern (Perhaps): “Riparian Buffer” • Maintain multi-species vegetated buffers along stream banks; • Build check dams, weirs, retention ponds, to mimic natural hydrologic processes.
Pattern (Perhaps): “Just-In-Time Chemicals” • “Biomimicry”: Venomous snakes make tiny amounts of toxin just before striking; • Re-engineer manufacturing processes to make small amounts of feedstock chemical just before use.
“One of the beauties of biology is that its facts can become our metaphors. These underlying codes may also serve as inspiring parables for how as human beings we might organize a more just, humane and authentically sustainable society.”- Kenny Ausubel “This is a fundamental view of the world. It says that when you build a thing you cannot build that thing in isolation, but must also repair the world around it, and within it, so that the larger world at that one place becomes more coherent, and more whole; and the thing you make takes its place in the web of nature, as you make it.”- Christopher Alexander One Fundamental Process of Creation and Repair In Nature, the same process grows and heals organisms.
Improving Patterns By Sharing • If you can’t explain a Pattern, it still needs work; • Patterns aren’t much use unless they’re shared; • A Pattern, like a scientific hypothesis, is tested and improved through peer review; • Sharing your Patterns keeps you honest: your “Principles” may be personal dogma.
Observe carefully; Focus on a problem; Articulate why it’s a problem; Look for problem’s cause in failed relationships; Look for healthy, functioning relationships as an alternative - envision what you really want; Propose repairs to the relationships; Describe the repairs as an instruction, so someone else can do it too; Describe the context in which your Pattern makes sense; Share the Pattern, and let it be improved by experience and feedback. Summary: “Discovering” Patterns
Linking Patterns To Form Pattern Languages • Patterns aren’t isolated - they arise from larger Patterns and lead to smaller ones. • Each Pattern lies within a network. The Patterns and their linkages together form a Pattern Language. • Different Patterns apply to different scales. • Using Patterns in a sequence, from larger to smaller, keeps a problem manageable. • At a given scale, the number of Patterns should be small: about 7, give or take 2.
Patterns Are Linked • Patterns in these villages: • “Degrees of Publicness” • “House Cluster” • “Main Gateways” • “Quiet Backs” • “Small Public Squares” • “Holy Ground” • “Public Outdoor Room” These Patterns combine to form part of the Pattern Language of these villages.
Patterns Are Linked • Patterns in these streets: • “Network of Paths & Cars” • “Individually Owned Shops” • “Pedestrian Street” • “Building Fronts” • “Opening To The Street” If you produce these Patterns, one by one, eventually you’ll create streets like these.