Skip to main content

Christopher Alexander - A Pattern Language

illustration of Christopher Alexander's 'Positive Outdoor Space' by Matt Noiseux

One of the books I used in my Landscape Design Studio class in Columbia University is the classic, 'A Pattern Language' Towns- Buildings- Construction by Christopher Alexander and others. 

It offers 'patterns' as basic design templates for you to follow. 

These are principles of  design that are founded on common sense as much as anything else. 

Alexander says his design language  is based on human and natural considerations.

Adding to the delight it that they are numbered for easy reference in the book:  

'Accessible Green' is # 60.    'Quiet Backs' is #59. 

One of the more elusive patterns is  #106 Positive Outdoor Space. It is a favorite of mine.

 It talks about manipulating outdoor space and refers to space as being 'negative' and 'positive'.

 Yin / Yang anyone?

The gist of this pattern says that there are two fundamentally different kinds of outdoor space: negative space and positive space.

Negative outdoor space is shapeless, the formless residue that surrounds buildings ....

aka  'empty space'...

Positive outdoor space has a distinct and definite shape -  its form is as important as the shapes of the buildings which surround it.

Just as the universal Yin / Yang symbol illustrates the interrelation of positive and negative, so does great site design.

Make all the outdoor spaces which surround and lie between buildings positive.


Give each one some degree of enclosure; surround each space with wings of buildings, walls, trees, hedges, fences, arcades, and trellised walks,

until it becomes an entity with a positive quality and does not spill out indefinitely around corners.

portion of Hannah Warren's functional diagram...

'A Pattern Language' belongs in all designers' libraries.


Popular Posts of all Time

Angelface Blue and Dark Violet Angelonia - a Flower that Keeps Giving

'Purple Smoke' - The best Baptisia

Getting in the 'Flow' by Gardening

No-Fail Tips for Turning Hydrangeas Blue!

Repurposed and Recycled - Creative Ideas for Garden Design

My one day Class Wednesday April 16 in NY - Jan Johnsen