Advice from Other Experts:
Timeless Design Ideas
By Christopher Alexander
The following "Timeless
Design Ideas" have been extracted, with permission, from Christopher
Alexander et al.,
A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction
(Oxford University Press, New York, 1977).
General Timeless Design Principles
"In a small household shared by two, the most important problem which arises is the possibility
that each may have too little opportunity for solitude or privacy."
"If the right rooms are facing south, a house is bright and sunny and cheerful; if the wrong
rooms are facing south, the house is dark and gloomy."
"Create alternating areas of light and dark throughout the building, in such a way that
people naturally walk toward the light, whenever they are going to important
places: seats, entrances, stairs, passages, places of special beauty,
and make other areas darker, to increase the contrast." 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
"A building in which the ceiling heights are all the same is virtually incapable of
making people comfortable."
"Rooms without a view are prisons for the people who have to stay in them."
"A first principle of
construction: on no account allow the engineering to dictate the building's
form. ... Never modify the social spaces to conform to the engineering
structure of the building."
"Give each member of the family a room of his own, especially adults. A minimum room of
one's own is an alcove with desk, shelves, and curtain."
"Give each person, especially as he grows old, the chance to set up a workplace of his
own, within or very near his home. Make it a place that can grow slowly,
perhaps in the beginning sustaining a weekend hobby and gradually becoming
a complete, productive, and comfortable workshop."
"Make a place in the house,
perhaps only a few feet square, which is kept locked and secret; a place
which is virtually impossible to discoveruntil you have been shown
where it is. A place where the archives of the house, or other more potent
secrets, might be kept."
"If children do not have space to release a tremendous amount of energy
when they need to, they will drive themselves and everybody else in
the family up the wall."
"Children love to be in tiny, cave-like places."
"If a teenager's place in the home does not reflect his need for a measure
of independence, he will be locked in conflict with his family."
"As the decentralization of work becomes more and more effective, the workshop
in the home grows and grows in importance."
"People cannot work effectively if their workspace is too enclosed or too exposed.
A good workspace strikes the balance."
"Do not leave bulk storage
till last or forget it. Include a volume for bulk storage in the buildingits
floor area at least 15 to 20 percent of the whole building areanot
"Placing the main entrance ... is perhaps the single most important step you take during
the evolution of a building plan."
"In most rooms,
especially small ones, put the doors as near the corners of the room as
possible. If the room has two doors, and people move through it, keep
both doors at one end of the room."
"Long, sterile corridors
set the scene for everything bad about modern architecture."
"Cooking is uncomfortable if the kitchen counter is too short and also if it is too long."
"To strike the balance
between the kitchen which is too small, and the kitchen which is too spread
out, place the stove, sink, and food storage and counter in such a way
that 1. No two of the four are more than 10 feet apart. 2. The total length
of counterexcluding sink, stove and refrigeratoris at least
12 feet. 3. No one section of the counter is less than 4 feet long."
"Dark gloomy kitchens are depressing. The kitchen needs the sun more than the other rooms,
"The motions we call bathing are mere ablutions which formerly preceded the bath. The
place where they are performed, though adequate for the routine, does
not deserve to be called a bathroom."
"Place the closets
... on those interior walls which lie between two rooms and between rooms
and passages where you need acoustic insulation. Place them so as to create
transition spaces for the doors into the rooms. On no account put closets
on exterior walls. It wastes the opportunity for good acoustic insulation
and cuts off precious light."
"Everybody loves window seats, bay windows, and big windows with low sills and
comfortable chairs drawn up to them."
"One of a window's most important functions is to put you in touch with the
outdoors. If the sill is too high, it cuts you off."
"Put in fully glazed fixed windows between rooms which tend to be dead because
they have too little action in them or where inside rooms are unusually
"Balconies and porches
which are less than 6 feet deep are hardly ever used."
"If possible, recess at least a part of ... [your balcony] ... into the
building so that it is not cantilevered out and separated from the building
by a simple line, and enclose it partially."
"The roof plays a primal role in our lives. ... If the roof is hidden, if its presence
cannot be felt around the building, or if it cannot be used, then people
will lack a fundamental sense of shelter."
"People use open space if it is sunny, and do not use it if it isn't, in all
but desert climates."
"Outdoors, people always try to find a spot where they can have their backs protected,
looking out toward some larger opening, beyond the space immediately
in front of them."
"In the climates
where fruit trees grow, the orchards give the land an almost magical identity."
"When trees are planted or pruned without regard for the special places they
can create, they are as good as dead for the people who need them."
"Form some kind of enclosure to protect the interior of a quiet garden from
the sights and sounds of passing traffic."
"Trellised walks have their own special beauty. They are so unique, so different
from other ways of shaping a path, that they are almost archetypal."
"The easiest way
to harness solar energy is the most obvious and the oldest: namely, to
trap the heat inside a greenhouse and use it for growing flowers and vegetables."
"Somewhere in every
garden, there must be at least one spot, a quiet garden seat, in which
a personor two peoplecan reach into themselves and be in touch
with nothing else but nature."
"Make a quiet place
in the gardena private enclosure with a comfortable seat, thick
planting, sun. Pick the place for the seat carefully; pick the place that
will give you the most intense kind of solitude."
|Extracted with permission
from Christopher Alexander et al., A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings,
Construction(Oxford University Press, New York, 1977).
Profile: Christopher Alexander
is a practicing architect and general contractor, professor of architecture
at the University of California, Berkeley, and head of its Center for
Environmental Structure. At the core of his writing is the idea that people
should design their own houses, streets, and communities for themselves.
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