2015/07/05 08:40 Howard Davis, “Pattern Languages and the New Productive City”, Purplsoc

Plenary at Purplsoc, Howard Davis @HowardDavis, Professor of Architecture, Collaborative for Inclusive Urbanism, University of Oregon.

This digest was created in real-time during the meeting, based on the speaker’s presentation(s) and comments from the audience. The content should not be viewed as an official transcript of the meeting, but only as an interpretation by a single individual. Lapses, grammatical errors, and typing mistakes may not have been corrected. Questions about content should be directed to the originator. The digest has been made available for purposes of scholarship, posted by David Ing.

At PURPLSOC (Pursuit of Pattern Languages for Societal Change) 2015, Danube University Krems, Austria

Introduction by Hajo Neis

  • Howard Davis researched buildings, focused on social and cultural capabilities in cities
  • The Culture of Building, not only by architects, but also by coordinating systems
  • New forms of urban economy
  • Combining commercial and residential uses
  • Needs of low income groups, and sustainable regenerative buildings
  • Coauthor of Production of Houses
  • Mexico and India participatory design

[Howard Davis]

Invitation asked to talk about pattern language, general issues

  • Current research interests
  • Pattern language
  • How approach to pattern language will impact research

Course of career

  • First educated as scientist, high energy physics
  • Then decided to study architecture, like Alexander
  • Student before Timeless Way was written
  • Worked in Burbank, Mexico, Omaha, San Francisco, Israel, California
  • All work was experimental
  • Philosophy has roots in that

Since leaving Alexander’s office, focused on spatial structure of cities, and their economic wires

  • e.g. housing project in India, similar to Mexico

Influenced by Henry Glassie, who sees configurations with historical roots

Also influenced by architects in System B

  • Even System B architects have some of System A
  • Cracks in the concrete pavement, where little flowers grow, and need to be fed
  • Boundary between System A and B is not sharp, doesn’t mean that they have to be separate
  • Alexander said, a long time before System A and B:  there are two kinds of the people in the world, those who think there are two kinds of people in the world, and those who don’t

Working with Bill Hilliard, space syntax

  • Now seeing that some people criticize Bill Hilliard, in the same way that some criticized Alexander
  • Full range of cultural manifestations

A few years ago, Living Over the Store

  • Social and geographic contexts
  • Economy of local cities, with building inside

Latest interest:  industry in the contemporary city

  • Nature of globalized structure
  • Collapse of building in Dhaka, Bangladesh 2013, over 2000 workers killed
  • Work has moved from United States to other countries, in a race to the bottom
  • Profound impact on American cities, and elsewhere
  • How cities and business would change

Several factors:

  • Globalization has changed cities into places of consumption, rather than production
  • Then workplace regulation in Bangladesh, that increases their costs
  • New York garment workers were producing for local and regional
  • Question global production systems and cities
  • Globalization does have a positive side: cheap labour, creativity, production techniques, product will improve

Workflow production will have impacts, with global production and local startups, artist studios, greenhouses

  • Emerging cities of production

Importance of connection to things, and making things

Urban ecology

  • Species diversity, flows
  • Arguments based on biological systems, compared to urban systems with social systems
  • City as complex adaptive system
  • In the realm of function that is most important
  • Production and manufacturing is important, adds value
  • Higher level of organization, analogous
  • Input-output flows, contracts, social systems
  • Added value to materials in the process
  • Materials become more organized
  • Biology and material production becomes more order
  • Manufacturing through craft expertise, setting up tools, complex supply chains

Cities are changing, manufacturing is returning

  • Production is small
  • Won’t replace globalization soon
  • However, is reasonable to ask what type of urban form, what types of buildings would help this

A new pattern language for urban production and manufacturing

  • New city of production

Talk first about pattern language in general

  • Doesn’t have status amongst architects, as they do in software

Main criticisms:

  • Overly nostalgic view of the past
  • Iconoclast, divorced from modernism and contemporary moements
  • Not science
  • A-cultural and a-historical, although some recognition of anthropology


Overly nostalgic?

  • Reinforced by photographs
  • 67 Common Land
  • Be wary of automobile
  • Key photograph doing 2 things:  physical relationship (building playing together, sharing something in common on land), also specific with row houses and church (which invoke people to think the past, not necessarily desirable).
  • See also:  33 Night Life, 92 Bus Stop
  • Asked why patterns with leisure and enjoyment, not labour
  • Was struck by this
  • Some misunderstanding
  • Formal relationship represented, can be tested
  • Something else:  allows interpretation that it is archaic.
  • Images give erroneous bias

Divorced from contemporary?

  • In 38 years from The Timeless Way of Building to The Mary Rose Museum, very few footnotes
  • Yet ties to systems science, biology, etc.

Environment, human behavior

  • Gerald Weisman, Jenny Young and others
  • Empiricists
  • What people say about their own desires
  • Correlate with physical environment

Pattern is physical

  • e.g. light on two sides of room helps against glare
  • Has been used in building science


  • Typology
  • Not a natural building, but an idea
  • Courtyards Which Live:  all spatial, appealing to people
  • Courtyards are also a type
  • Idea of life may be unique to Alexander, but should recognize as having a different value


  • Not systematic investigation?
  • Four story limit:  High people make people crazy
  • Connected buildings:  Disconnected building
  • High degree of variability of research attached, so critics say not good science
  • However, science has different stages:  hints, conjectures, hypotheses, experiments and observations, provisional conclusions
  • Provisional

Pattern language allows a systems of hints and conjectures, then hypotheses

  • Allows coexistence of variety of patterns at different stages
  • e.g. Long Thin House, privacy, hasn’t been studied specifically
  • Light on Two Sides, Accessible Green, have a lot of empirical work
  • Not the same as * and ** used in pattern language books
  • Instead of bad science, it sets up a program of research in paced

Universality versus specificity

  • Even Newtonian physics shown limited by Einstein’s time
  • Some patterns are more universal than others, but shouldn’t be taken for granted
  • Range of applicability
  • Cultural difference patterns:  Edge of Building, with activity both with space in house and outside, but different in India and Amsterdam
  • Range should be limited, so pattern can be used appropriately
  • Specific pattern languages for specific cultures

Now can discuss how pattern languages can be used to shape cities with industry

  • Should be different from 19th century, when had pollution and separated from other parts of the city
  • Pattern languages are not universal, and not timeless

Pattern language for next stage of industrial formation

  • Industry more integrated than other urban functions
  • Now 30 patterns, very provisional
  • Patterns not of past, may not have seen before
  • e.g. zero-energy building, industry regenerates natural systems
  • Didn’t exist during industrial revolution
  • Emerge from contemporary

Some have been seen before

  • Local food production
  • Fine grained zoning: Small industry linked with dwelling
  • e.g. neighborhood in Berkeley, where zoning has been changed so that industrial and residential are combined — but still unusual in the U.S., where has been separated for the last 100 years
  • This kind of zoning more coming in the U.S., e.g. Prague

Combine patterns that have been seen before, and those that haven’t

  • Reflects as science

Evidence that supports from patterns can come from other disciplines

  • To validate Daylight in All Workplaces, need environmental behavior studies
  • To validate Depth in Local Street Network, will need space syntax literature
  • Across disciplines that otherwise look unconnected

Science at different levels of development

  • List is provisional
  • Some are reliable
  • No Pollutants: All Pollutants Captured is well studies
  • However, Showing Off Industry hasn’t been validated well, need qualitative or quantitative show of success
  • To be a pattern need to a strong reason, a problem if the pattern didn’t exist
  • Political process might tell which patterns are important
  • History of land use and zoning

This pattern language is thus only beginning

  • Tentative in nature
  • Beyond the city as a playground of consumption

When pattern language was firs devleoped in 1960s and 1970s, two concerns:

  • 1. Inadequacy of built environment in serving human purposes
  • 2. Lack of a commonly-accepted knowledge system concerning the built environment

Have had reductiveness

  • Now have seen social inequality increasing
  • Global climate change impacts life in city
  • Urban production related to both of above: understanding is scattered, without shared knowledge in other shared fields e.g. medicine, engineering
  • City-making has been fragmented since the 1900s, e.g. traffic engineers, zoning officials
  • Professions are important, but they need to understand the big picture
  • Can be done through a shared pattern language


  • 1. Renews respect for the institutions and expertise that build the city
  • 2. Development of new pattern language that are relevant to new problems that face systems …
  • 3. … in ways that are open and scientific

Howard Davis, University of Oregon, Department of Architecture

#christopher-alexander, #pattern-language, #purplsoc2015