Volume 2 Issue 1 (2006)

The Art of Observation: Understanding Pattern Languages

Werner Ulrich
University of Fribourg, SWITZERLAND, and The Open University, UK
Published March 2, 2006
  • pattern language,
  • art & design practice,
  • design education,
  • design theory,
  • architectural design,
  • design competence,
  • high-quality observation,
  • software development,
  • Christopher Alexander
  • ...More


Christopher Alexander’s book, The Timeless Way of Building, is probably the most beautiful book on the notion of quality in observation and design that I have been reading since Robert Pirsig’s (1974) Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It was published in 1979, when Alexander was a professor of architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, where I was at that time studying. Although I was aware of some of Alexander’s famous articles such as “A city is not a tree” (Alexander, 1965), the book (Alexander, 1979) never quite made it to the top of my reading list. This remained so until recently, when I met a software developer who enthusiastically talked to me on a book he was currently reading, about the importance of understanding design patterns. He was talking about the very book I had failed to read during my Berkeley years and which, as I now discovered, has since become a cult book among computer programmers and information scientists, as well as in other fields of research. I decided it was time to read the book.