Introduction to Pattern Language - Definition, Design and Examples
Here we gather information on existing pattern languages and pattern language design methodologies.

Here are two excellent introductions to Christopher Alexander's Pattern Language and the Nature of Order from Helmut Leitner, Jenny Quillien and Helene Finidori.

1) a good video introduction by Helmut Leitner:

"Pattern Languages help reinterpret complexity and support systems in their living development. They are a useful form for experts and lay people alike. Experts can express complex knowledge about systems in forms that lay people can understand and learn from in order to deal with systems and make decisions. They are a means of communication that supports participation and cooperation on all levels of society."

2) a fine discussion of the philosophy and method by Jenny Quillien:  Grasping the Ineffable: From Patterns to Sequences. An earlier version of this essay was presented as a paper for a special session on Alexander’s work held in October, 2006, at the annual meetings of the International Association for Environmental Philosophy in Philadelphia. For French speakers, the French version of this Essay with an introduction by the author: SAISIR L’INSAISISSABLE Dans le sillage de Christopher ALEXANDER par Jane QUILLIEN

An abstract:

A Pattern Language (Christopher Alexander) is a compilation of architectural patterns (honed solutions to recurring problems), combinatory rules, and techniques for practical results. Key attributes of patterns include the following.

Working patterns are, in Richard Gabriel’s expression, mined. Like diamonds, patterns are the result of many years of process. We don’t make them—we find them, polish them, use them, and value them. Developing patterns from scratch and all in one go has proven to be extremely difficult.


Whether large scale (e.g., pattern #3—city country fingers) or small scale (e.g., pattern #200—open shelves), each pattern is immediately graspable as a manageable chunk of information.

Building patterns are obviously correlated to social patterns. Consider an example such as the weaver in Libya (photograph below) who has constructed his own place of work—pattern #80 (self-governing workshop). Or consider patterns #133 (staircase as stage) or #139 (farmhouse kitchen).

A hypertext structure supports selecting and combining patterns of different levels of scales into a coherent whole. Illustrated here is the simple example of #159 (light on two sides of every room) calling for overlapping patterns at the smaller scale (e.g., #192—windows overlooking life) and at the larger scale (e.g., #106—positive outdoor space).

Patterns are written as mid-level abstractions and work as design constraints. Their concrete guidelines do not unduly limit the builder. Each pattern offers both a finished state (a verbal blueprint of the desired result) and a process description (a guide for action). The guides for action are simple and direct. More like origami, they are not difficult in the way that following a blueprint is difficult. The instructions allow for an infinite number of renditions."

3) Helene Finidori prsents a collection of links to other resources, for inspiring ourselves of Alexander's Pattern Language to build a Pattern Language for systemic change.  Links can be added by joining the team on Pearltrees or by adding them on Citations  under this page.

Zoom in (+ above) to enlarge the icons and see the titles.


Added references:

The Facebook discussion group for PLAST also has current references and resources in the group's files collection. 

In 2015 The PURPLSOC conference papers presented in Krems Austria in July made valuable contributions, as did the PLoP conference papers presented in Pittsburgh in Oct. At PURPLSOC Helene and Sayfan Borghini presented their model for a 4th Generation Pattern Language and their theory and design for a Pattern Language for Systemic Transformation (PLAST).  Jessie Henshaw presented her  pattern language approach to recognizing the designs and transformations of naturally occurring design.   At PLoP Jessie added paper on Mining Living Quality and David West and Jenny Quillien presented  their study of how pattern language has evolved.

Jessie Henshaw - Guiding patterns of Naturally Occurring Design

  • At PURPLSOC Jul 2015     Elements: (pub draft)

Helene Finidori and Sayfan Borghini

David West and Jenny Quillien 


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Introduction to Pattern Language - Definition, Design and Examples
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