The Landscape Guide

3.5 Structuralism as a friend of the Pattern Language

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The Pattern Language has abundant structural friends, which also happen to be its relatives (Figure 3.10).

They come from psychology, ecology, geomorphology, art, design, geometry, planning and other subjects too. Each of these disciplines identifies structures of a particular kind. The Oxford English Dictionary gives the following definition of structuralism:

Any theory or method in which a discipline or field of study is envisaged as comprising elements interrelated in systems and structures at various levels, the structures and the interrelations of their elements being regarded as more significant than the elements considered in isolation; also, more recently, theories concerned with analysing the surface structures of a system in terms of its underlying structure.

The OED goes on to give three uses of structuralism, which overlap: general (e.g. Piaget), linguistic (e.g. Saussure) and anthropological (e.g. Lévi-Strauss). Alexander's theory of environmental structure, which led to the Pattern Language, is closest to being within the first of these categories. His "language' can discover friends in other disciplines, which have looked for patterns in surface structures, deep structures and superstructures. Knowledge of structural patterns, of their grammars and their vocabularies, helps one to deal with the complexity of environmental planning and design.

Fig 3.10 Friends of Christopher Alexander's Pattern Language: ecology; hydrology; geomorphology; ethology; gestalt; stories; art; design; geometry