The Landscape Guide

Landscape Design Theory RESOURCES: Design Objectives Ecology, Community, Delight, Archetypes, Design MethodsStructuralism & Design, Community Design, Single Tree Principle, Design with nature, Master Plans,

Archetypal patterns in landscape architecture

After an early attempt to 'computerize' the design process (in Notes on the synthesis of form) Christopher Alexander concluded that many design problems are so complex and so ancient that they are best resolved by learning from solutions which have proved successful over an endless period of time. He describes these solutions as 'archetypes' or 'patterns'. They are particularly useful in outdoor design, where patterns are comparatively easy to identify and difficult to explain. How, for example, to people choose their outdoor sitting places?

Links re Christopher Alexander

Christopher Alexander's Pattern Language website.
There is a description of two of Alexander's own design projects [Eishin School & Mexicali Housing] on the Great Buildings Website.
A useful summary of Christopher Alexander's work.

Quotes re the use of archetypal patterns in landscape design

With people in mind  Rachel Kaplan, Stephen Kaplan and Robert L Ryan Island Press Washington 1998

 Quotes with page refs in brackets

"When we began studying the relationship between people and nature over twenty-five years ago, we found little research that addressed this topic. It was not known whether people prefer natural environments to other set­tings. (They do.) Nor was it known if there were other benefits beyond the mere fact of enjoyment. (There are.) We began doing research in this area with two hopes, namely, that there would be orderly enough patterns to make scientific research possible, and that the results would have a benefi­cial effect on the design and management of the natural landscape. " (p ix)

"The book is intended to be practical and useful. It is organized around themes and problems that occur in many situations. Each of these is the topic of a chapter, and each such chapter contains a series of “patterns” that offer a way of thinking about the problem. The patterns are not for­mulas. Rather their purpose is to suggest a relationship between aspects of the environment and how people experience or react to them. These relationships form the basis for recommendations or possible solutions to recurring situations. The possible solutions we offer are far from exhaustive; they are meant to inform and inspire, not to dictate. There is rarely a solution that is universal. Rather, the “correct” solution, in our view, is one that is locally appropriate and responsive to the situation at hand. An approach that is sensitive to people’s inclinations is less likely to be identically applicable in different settings...The notion of patterns comes from the work of Christopher Alexan­der and his coauthors (1977). They characterize this approach in the fol­lowing words: “Each pattern describes a problem which occurs over and over again in our environment, and then describes the core of the solu­tion to that problem, in such a way that you can use this solution a mil­lion times over, without ever doing it the same way twice” (Alexander p. x). The pattern concept can usefully be contrasted with the idea of a rule. A rule indicates what is to be done in a given situation. A pattern raises issues that may need attention and provides ideas and examples of what could be done to address them. Thus, while a rule bypasses people’s intu­itions, a pattern calls upon these intuitions and attempts to educate and strengthen them in the process of solving the problem." (p3)


Landscape narratives: design practices for telling stories Matthew Potteiger and Jamie Purinton John Wiley & Sons 1998   Quote from page ix

"This book proceeds from the premise that narrative is a very fundamental way people shape and make sense of experience and landscapes. Stories link the sense of time, event, experience, memory and other intangibles to the more tan­gible aspects of place. Because stories sequence and configure experience of place into meaningful relationships, narrative offers ways of knowing and shap­ing landscapes not typically acknowledged in conventional documentation, mapping, surveys, or even the formal concerns of design... Initially, the use of narrative, grounded in lived experience, seems to offer an alternative to both the abstraction of modernism and the simulations of postmodern culture. Yet, even the simplest story raises fundamental issues regarding subjectivity, representation, fiction, and what is taken to be real. The experiences of each character in a story, for instance, introduce shifts in focus and meaning that revise and remap the landscape. It is important then to ask: Whose story is told and why? What systems of belief are established through stories? How does one sort out the many layered (personal, ethnic, regional), multiple, and often contested stories of a place? What are the ethics and poli­tics of telling stories?"


Landscape: Pattern, Perception and Process Simon Bell E & FN Spon 1999

Quote fromSimon Bell on the importance of patterns (from page 3 of his book):

"Consciously or unconsciously we seek order out of chaos. We tend to look for patterns which seem to make sense in the knowledge that we have about our world, as well as being aesthetically satisfying in the relationship of each part to the whole.

Humans have been making patterns from time immemorial, as decoration, as symbols or for religious purposes. Some patterns can be connected with certain cultures whilst others are more universal. People, by their settlements, fields, roads, village layouts and towns have subconsciously evolved the landscape to suit their purposes, although they may not have been fully aware of the patterns being created.

Pattern recognition is important to help us understand and relate to the world around us. We can develop a language of description and analysis to communicate relationships between different patterns, the processes that change the landscape and our aesthetic and emotional responses to them. How we perceive and understand patterns also depends very much on what we are looking for and why. For example, a cultural geographer, a farmer, a forester, a physical planner, an ecologist, an explorer or an army general are likely to describe the pattern of a landscape, based on their own knowledge, experiences and what it provides for them. However, whilst they are all describing the same landscape, containing patterns made from the same components, each person may perceive them rather differently. It is often helpful to compare such descriptions to see what can he deduced from them. If there are sonic fundamental components and arrangements common to each description then such factors are likely to have a degree of significance. They may he valued for their importance in explaining the pattern, in controlling processes and function, or in giving distinctiveness and a sense of unity to the area. As such they might be used elsewhere, as patterns, in the sense of templates or models, especially for restoring damaged landscapes and for planning and designing landscape change. "

Archetype for a garden
seat: with sun, security,
shelter and a view.