2017/10/19 15:25 Max Jacobson, “A Building is not a Turkish Carpet:  Patterns, Properties and Beauty”, Purplsoc

Plenary by Max Jacobson #purplsoc Pursuit of Pattern Languages for Societal Change http://www.purplsoc.org/conference2017/

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.

Introduction by Hajo Neis

Last year at PUARL, emphasis on beauty

Max Jacobson was associate of Center for Environmental Structure at Berkeley, 1971-1974

  • 1973 Ph.D. on design process
  • With Murray Silverstein, formed architecture firm
  • Lecturer at UC Berkeley, and Vallejo Valley College
  • Now at USF

An Invitation to Architecture, 2014

[Max Jacobson]

Purplsoc Max Jacobson

Was asked last year, most important idea?

  • Beauty can be created and enjoyed in our life

Patterns, Properties and Beauty

Will talk about beauty and order

Chris Alexander has always had important coworkers, who rarely get mentioned

  • Always has been the guru
  • Teacher

The realization of his ideas often go with those who joined him to building the buildings, write the books

  • Many here have substantially helped him

The Nature of Order and A Pattern Language are both concerned with beauty, but take diametrically opposed approaches

  • Do these approaches have the capacity to generate beautiful buildings?
  • Shortcomings

Part-time teacher, doesn’t get involved in administration of universities

  • An architect of 35 years

What is beauty?

  • In the eye of the observer?  Can be more specific

4 descriptions

1. The beautiful object is whole

  • Complete, not lacking anything
  • Also economical, you can’t take anything away from it, without hurting it, may stop existing as beauty

2.  Beauty embodies a truth

  • Exposes itself
  • Hides nothing
  • Shows relationships, human and geometric

3.  Functional adequacy, excellence

  • Not just mechanical

4.  (not discussed often) We demand beauty is not evil, it be on the side of the good

  • Moral aspects of pattern

Beauty generates pleasure

  • Physical pleasure, smoothness of touch, comfort of a well-shaped chair, corner where sun comes in, we feel in our body
  • Psychological experience:  beauty comforts psychological fatigue, ennui, angst; elevates psychological frame of mind
  • Strengthens our inner landscape

Touched by beautiful story of building

  • Force of emotion, don’t know where it comes from, may overwhelm us

Intellectual pleasure

  • Source, truth
  • Can range
  • Beautiful distances, geometries

Beauty gives different types of pleasure

  • Comfort, satisfaction
  • Also, challenges, and can be a little fearful
  • We’re drawn to some these challenges

In the 1960s and 1970s in Berkeley, weren’t concerned with the highest achievement of architects

  • Surrounded by good architects
  • Modern
  • Good buildings would be removed by colorless structures
  • Didn’t like what was going on, not only in building, but also society, e.g. corporate model
  • Stiff, unnatural, were tired of it

None of us working on pattern language had any real experience on building real buildings

  • Had client, design
  • Were kids with passion
  • Sara Ishikawa had worked for 5 years in a firm, the only one with real experience
  • No experience, go back to basics
  • Find a building you like, and ask, why is this working?
  • Working with the site, with the sun, or circulation
  • Extract patterns that you think explain it

Chris had published Notes on the Synthesis of Form, a Ph.D. thesis that turned into a book

  • Very technical
  • Quite mechanical
  • Difficult
  • Method of dividing up all the things that don’t fit, clusters
  • Chris has a reputation coming to Berkeley as the theoretician and methodologies

Berkeley had design methods movement

  • Statistical methods
  • That group asked Max to interview Chris
  • I am definitely concerned with making a good building.  Smell and touch … but are you at peace with yourself?
  • This didn’t belong in the design methods group
  • In the interview, when he said good, he meant beautiful
  • Denied that Notes on a Synthesis of Form was a method
  • It was a way of getting at beauty
  • That would have surprised many people, an analytical work aimed at creating beauty

Being at peace with yourself, and beauty:  emerged in The Nature of Order, but not in the A Pattern Language book

  • A Pattern Language was just solutions, some good and some not so good
  • Beauty doesn’t exist in the A Pattern Language book

In spite of saying it’s not a design method, it’s pretty straightforward

  • Choose patterns from book
  • Apply in appropriate order
  • … That is a method

The book doesn’t give any advice on the proper attitude:  you don’t have to be at peace with yourself

  • If you do it, peace descends on you
  • Don’t have to worry about the design fads, what’s in the magazines, or what they’re teaching in architectural schools
  • Empowering to the person using it
  • Fun, a nice experience

Book was designed for laymen to use, anybody

  • Hoped architecture students would use it
  • Maybe architects would use it

Book has been popular with layman, but not with profession

  • The word architect never appears
  • Don’t need an architect

The book itself, in relationship to beauty

  • Has 1200 pages, yet comfortable, can carry around
  • Red cover, gold embossing
  • Pages are bible-like
  • Holding something valuable and beautiful in the book itself

Mainly Ingrid, find photographic images that could be the lead off for the pattern, inspirational

Six foot balcony:  show the beautiful experience, if the balcony was big enough for a group, a tea

  • Photo shows balcony covered, although that’s not part of the pattern

Structural of the book, from region to city to building to rooms

  • That is the beautiful structure
  • Each pattern is completing the pattern above
  • … and is fleshed out by the patterns later

Book is functional

  • Think people could use it
  • Was part of graduate work:  create a list of patterns, see if people could use it
  • Pattern gets used

Is the material true?  Yes

  • A problem is real
  • e.g. light falling on one side of a room may have glare, a problem
  • Light on two sides of a room is better

Is this a force for good?  Thought yes

  • Thought would move architecture in a more humane direction
  • Thought were were good guys

The majority of the Berkeley faculty thought it was dangerous

  • Some thought it was intellectually weak:  good for all, versus good for all
  • Basic human being
  • Others thought it presented a medieval aesthetic, rooted in Europe, not modern
  • Can see that, from looking a photos

Was taken seriously by Oregon, Kansas, Darmstadt

  • New school started in Italy (presentation at this conference)

Does the pattern language produce beautiful buildings?

  • A person said chose two patterns, and then contracted an architect
  • Authors of the book?
  • Before publishing the book, interest in responsive architecture
  • 1972 conference, presented 2 papers:  Alexander specified technical, e.g. no peculiar angles, a grid of posts, continuous …, angled braces between vertical and horizontal
  • Sketch:  humane room shape, suggests a post-and-beam structure
  • In Jacobson paper (with Alexander as coauthor) thick walls, easy to repair — Japanese House Plan
  • No Japanese layman could have built these joints
  • At centre, had to come up with a building system, had balsa wood and glue

Came up with not big posts in wood, by 4×4 posts in wood, would be easy to drill through and bolt together

  • Outside to be sheathed
  • As part of centre, asked people to come into office and design a house
  • Poeple said they could follow it
  • Schematic design, a beginning
  • Starts to work

Not in book

  • Need a system based in concrete
  • Structure too thin, not fat enough

Chris was more comfortable with mass

  • Had to build a test structure in the back yard of the centre, using lightweight concrete

Experimental house, build behind the centre

  • Max was a little embarrassed at the building
  • Too cute, too storybook
  • Rejection of wood — in some countries, there is no wood — but trees can be grown
  • Coming from Pacific Northwest, see trees that are being grown, ecologically attractive
  • Stuart Island Cabin, having fallen in love with balsa wood model, built a little cabin, bolting, creating thickness where there’s a window
  • Initially sheathed in plywood, no stone
  • Could participate in the building

Pattern Language book was done, last days

  • Max and Murray decided to become architects, Chris didn’t like this, felt a breach of loyalty, got mad
  • Got jobs to do houses, as so did Chris
  • Big difference:  he not only did design, he commissioned for construction, done by his students and associates
  • Max and Murray were typical architects, could have builders

Chris’ first house:  The Sala House

  • A post and beam house, he gave up on the concrete
  • Wood floor between beams
  • Sheathing is 2″ layer of reinforced concrete, in alternating colours
  • Used immediate labour, his labour, Seth Wachtel worked on this

Kuperman House:  standard construction

How did we do?

  • They both have some beautiful features, but also both had some ugly aspects
  • Neither was fulfilling the promise of the book
  • They were good-enough houses:  the neighbourhood is happy, the owners are happy, the contractors are happy

The pattern language improved the work of architects and lay people, no matter the level of skill

  • Beautiful enough to be good enough

Seth Wachtel, almost got fired by the Sala House

  • One way to get fired was to ask for a raise
  • Trouble:  Chris would set the budget, everything had to be done within the budget, no opportunity to expand, terrible for the workers

Chris felt the pattern language was inadequate to create beautiful buildings

An essay on the nature of building in the university

  • Essay is supposed to be a short book:  A Pattern Language is a little over 1 lb.
  • The Nature of Order exceeded 16 lbs.

The life of an object is similar to qi, the life energy inside the object

Think the 15 properties are a contribution towards beauty

  • The 15 properties define a type of beauty, an organic beauty

Cell structure:  all of the elements are there

  • They are the definition or organic

The mirror of the self:  Fractal Oak Tree

  • The similarity to your deepest self

Chris got better in his work, Max and Murray got better in book

  • Does The Nature of Order produce more beautiful buildings?
  • Same as asking if Chris produces more beautiful buildings.

In the book, he is undiscriminating in showing the work of his own building, others were also trying, and doesn’t criticize self

  • Not sense of growth or learning in the work in that book
  • Tried to apply the test of the mirror in own buildings, see some beauty, but don’t see the correspondence between what Chris is doing, and own inner self
  • More Maybeck, Frank Lloyd Wright — more bony, more slim
  • In Chris’ work, more European motifs, rather than a universal architecture

At some other occasiion, will talk about the limits of the Alexandrian approach

Alexander overlooks the sublime of beauty

Caspar David Friedrich, 1818, “The Wander” — standing on the brink of an outlook, precarious, sees the nature of the beauty bigger and scarier than himself

Starchitect:  Rem Koolhaus, Dutch Embassy in Berlin, have to walk across the glass floor, scary

Salk Center, La Jolla, sublime, not beautiful

Pantheon in Rome, has intellectual beauty, geometric ideas

Palladio, Villas:  interrelationships of numbers, nothing to do with beauty

Kahn, Kimbell Art Museum uses cycloid

Gaudi, Casa Milla:  catenary curve

Jefferson UVA library:  the rows of professors on two arms, students go into the professor, everyone at the commons —  a beautiful idea

Schindler House — Privacy for Two Couples — art studios, room for someone to stay

Be specific about what kind of beauty that Alexander’s whole thesis is about

Gropius House in Dessau — destroyed

  • We are problem solvers, we seek out puzzles, we don’t want everything answered for us, all of the time
  • Facade, not random opening
  • Looked for well-formed shapes, interpenetrations
  • No boundaries, Gropius didn’t give them, but that could have deadened the facade


15 properties and organic beauty.  House has levels of scale.  Good contrast.  It might not have much more.  Chris’ example include Japanese gardens (geometricity), Arabic gardens (abstract).  Don’t think just organic, not in the sense they usually mean organic.  Do bring together human artifacts and natural forms.  Chris’ problem is early work was it was too lose, not formal in the way organic forms are.

  • Chris is specific in the nature of order, i.e. mathematical order — isn’t going to get you where you want to be

Which patterns in book?  Patterns that aren’t in the book?  Procedure, how long did it take?

  • One that got into book that shouldn’t:  any building over 4 stories will drive you crazy
  • Process: sit around in the living room, Chris is silent.  Frowning, not happy.  We’re sitting around trying to figure out, what’s the problem.  After an hour, ask Chris, what’s the problem.
  • Other times, joyous, bowling over
  • There’s a limit to how much of the depressing process it can take:  the group came to an end after that

A House is Not a Turkish Carpet.  Flat, 2-D

  • Second part of talk was reduced
  • Principles weren’t developed from nature, but from carpets
  • Chris had studied carpets for years
  • Surprised that these properties are so applicable to the organic world

#pattern-language, #purplsoc-2017