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Design pattern implementation – stairs

Category: Barn Conversion Journal January 23rd, 2012 by mbc

A discussion over on Reddit prompted me to revisit my thinking in relation to design patterns and their contribution to the design of the conversion of the barn. (For a more detailed discussion of design patterns please see my post on A Pattern Language.)

The discussion on Reddit is titled ‘Why hasn’t Christopher Alexander been more influential for architects?‘ and linked to an old article on Slate.com that is a discussion of Christopher Alexander’s work, design patterns and the lack of attention paid to this work in the current training of architects. My personal take on why architects aren’t more greatly influenced by Alexander and his work is that (to quote from my Reddit comment)…

“architects aren’t generally keen on Alexander for reasons of ego – they don’t want to share the ‘glory’ of their designs with anyone else”

…a sweeping generalisation and uncharitable to boot, but the Reddit discussion, coupled with a comment from vasislos a who said ‘it would be interesting to see pictures of how you’re applying the patterns’ restarted my thinking on patterns and led to this post.

My use of patterns evolved through a couple of iterations – my choices in November 2007 and updated in September 2010.

So, I thought a review of my previous lists with some discussion of my own implementations of the selected patterns would be in order, I’ll start with two patterns that sit closely together.

125 Stair seats.
Seats on stairs provide a vantage point, but don’t remove the sitter from the action.
133 Staircase as a stage.
A flared bottom step gives the stairs a function that may otherwise be overlooked.

From Barn Conversion 2012

I can’t claim that these patterns were a great design leap forward or a difficult implementation, but these are powerful and worthwhile. Due to the openness of the ground floor of the barn and the just off centre positioning of the stairs the bottom step is a comfortable, accessible and central place to sit within the main open plan area of the barn. Implementing these patterns was a case of ensuring that the staircase itself was positioned centrally, that the bottom couple of steps provided a suitable place to sit for people of varying heights (as most sets of step do) and that the bottoms of the stairs remained an unclutter, open and defined space in its own right.

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Design Patterns ~ my choices ~ update

Category: Barn Conversion Journal September 22nd, 2010 by mbc

Way back at the end of 2007 I selected a number design patterns from Christopher Alexander’s excellent ‘A Pattern Language – Towns Buildings Construction’ to guide the design of the conversion of the barn.

With progress having been made I thought a review was in order. The original list of chosen patterns and my original descriptive text is given below. My latest comments are given in italics.

Looking at these now (September 2010), I can’t help but think that I chose too many and that there’s a definite emphasis on patterns that are applicable to the exterior of the building – must have been intimidated by the interior!

106 Positive outdoor space.
A complex pattern, but generally – give outdoor space a distinct and definite purpose, make spaces entities.
One for the future as exterior space hasn’t as yet had much attention. I’ve designated a secluded (due to being over-grown) vegetable garden and a seating area in the wood, but there should be room to further apply this pattern as we divide up the space closer to the barn.

112 Entrance transition.
Provide a graceful transition between the outside and the inside.
I’ve long felt that the main weaknesses in the layout of the barn is the main entrance. The main entrance, at the back of the barn (we tend not to use the kitchen door regularly as it’s a long walk from the car) is double doors, that open outwards – no porch, lobby or other air (or mud) lock between the outside and the main room of the open-plan barn. Not ideal and probably the next area of the barn that needs some real money spending on it. 

125 Stair seats.
Seats on stairs provide a vantage point, but don’t remove the sitter from the action.
The bottom of the stairs provide a nice rounded bottom step for sitting and we also have two broad steps up into the kitchen which are lovely to sit on. I think we’ve got this one covered.

126 Something roughly in the middle.
A pattern to apply when designing the outdoor space, especially the yard between the two barns.
One for the future as exterior space hasn’t as yet had much attention.

128 Indoor sunlight.
Maximise the number and size of windows thereby maximising the indoor sunlight.
With the big east-west barn doors that have been fully glazed there is plenty of internal natural light.

133 Staircase as a stage.
A flared bottom step gives the stairs a function that may otherwise be overlooked. See also 125.
See above

142 Sequence of sitting spaces.
Vary sitting opportunities through the range of rooms and spaces in the building.
I like this pattern as it is one that I know intuitively works. We have got varied sitting spaces – around the stove, before the windows, table, kitchen etc. – but I’ll keep this in mind as we progress.

145 Bulk storage.
Around 15-20% of the volume of the building should be given over to bulk storage. This can sensibly be designed with reference to pattern 162 North Face.
The barn is not well endowed with storage space. At the moment, there’s not a great deal that needs to be stored there, so no current issue. But this is one we need to bear in mind as we progress the completion of the interior. The figure of 15-20% always seems high to me on rereading, but after consideration is probably about right.

161 Sunny place.
Maximise the use of the space to the south of the building in the angle between the wall and the ground.
Outdoors again. This is a pattern that we’ve proved to be of value as people are naturally drawn to sit at the base of the wall on the south facing gable end. Luckily there’s a concrete plinth that is relatively comfortable to perch on. We’ll place a bench there once things are more settled.

163 Outdoor room.
Build an enclosed outdoor room with trellis’s, hedges, columns and trees, that is open to the sky.
This is a pattern that I’m really keen to implement once the outside work progresses. The small boy in me still loves dens, hide-aways and secret places – this pattern gives the ideal excuse to build one.

168 Connection to the earth.
Make the interface between the building and the earth as ambiguous as possible through clever design of steps, paths and terraces.
I think I found a pretty good way to work toward this pattern already. With these non-structural, dry stone beds that I’ve posted about earlier.

170 Fruit trees.
Applicable in various places, but again especially the yard between the two barns.
One for the future …blah, blah, blah (think I’ve said that before). You can never get enough fruit trees (IMHO) and I’ll probably plant some in containers for portability this winter.

171 Tree places.
Plant trees to form distinct places, ensure empathy between the trees and the surrounding buildings.
See 170.

175 Green house.
Maybe, but I’m not that old yet! (Green houses always seem like such an old peoples thing to me!).

176 Garden seat.
Easy – we’ve already bought some benches and I made one as well!.

178 Compost.
Easy – I’ve got pallets!

180 Window place.
Provide seating to sit in or before windows.
Done as far as is possible at the moment – I’d like some seating in or around the window & door at the rear of the barn, but that can come when we refocus on the interiors later in the year.

From Barn Conversion 2010

181 The fire.
The true heart of any home.

Done [see photo].

182 Eating atmosphere.
Have a large table in a pool of light.
We have a large table that can be moved to the middle of the room between the large east-west barn doors, it can also be positioned within a pool of artificial light. I think we’ve covered this one as best we can.

185 Sitting circle.
Create a sitting place where the inhabitants can face each other and that is not cut through by a corridor. Provide plenty of comfortable seating.
The seating near the stove can be arranged to provide a sitting circle.

204 Secret place.
Every home needs a secret place!
I pattern I’m really keen on, but one that I’ve not yet managed to implement – this one needs some thought!

Construction Patterns
As the base structure of the building is already established, I am employing a minimal number of construction patterns.

229 Duct space.
Cables and wiring are always a pain ~ best to preplan for them and keep them out of the way and out of sight wherever possible.
With hindsight this is not a pattern that I ever intended to implement. I don’t want the barn to be a cabled up, automated, high-tech space, I prefer to keep it simple (so no duct space).

230 Radiant heat.
Stove and underfloor heating – done!

232 Roof caps.
Ornament the roofline.
That’s just silly – another one to go the way of 229 (off the list)…

237 Solid doors with glass.
Not really suitable or applicable for the barn. We have solid doors and plenty of glass, just not in the same place.

238 Filtered light.
Light that passes through leaves or stained glass is magical!
I have some stained glass in the barn although it’s not properly displayed as yet. Again, one to fully implement once we focus on the interiors.

241 Seat spots.
Choose seating spots carefully for sunlight or shade and the view.
Think we’re doing pretty well on this one…

242 Front door bench.
Another bench to buy…

245 Raised flowers.
Use raised beds to protect flowers from heavy feet and bring flowers closer to their admirers.
Due to the slopping nature of the garden raised bed are inevitable – this is one that we’ll develop as the garden takes shape.

246 Climbing plants.
Blend the building and the plants.
Again, one that we’ll develop as the garden takes shape.

All-in-all not a bad review – some we’ve implemented – a couple that I never really intended to implement – and some for the future. Think I’ll review ‘A Pattern Language’ again and see if there are any more candidate patterns, especially outdoor related ones, before it’s too late.

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My tiling has soul!

Category: Architecture June 26th, 2009 by mbc

I came across this quote from one of my favourite authors on architecture and design, Christopher Alexander, author of A Pattern Language in a book about software design – ‘Patterns of Software – Tales from the Software Community’ by Richard P. Gabriel (‘Patterns of Software’ is worth a read in its own right if you’ve any interest in software and is available free on the linked page.)

We have become used to almost fanatical precision in the construction of buildings. Tile work, for instance, must be perfectly aligned, perfectly square, every tile perfectly cut, and the whole thing accurate on a grid to a tolerance of a sixteenth of an inch. But our tilework is dead and ugly, without soul.

In this Mexican house* the tiles are roughly cut, the wall is not perfectly plumb, and the tiles don’t even line up properly. Sometimes one tile is as much as half an inch behind the next one in the vertical plane.

And why? Is it because these Mexican craftsmen didn’t know how to do precise work? I don’t think so. I believe they simply knew what is important and what is not, and they took good care to pay attention only to what is important: to the color, the design, the feeling of one tile and its relationship to the next—the important things that create the harmony and feeling of the wall. The plumb and the alignment can be quite rough without making any difference, so they didn’t bother to spend too much effort on these things. They spent their effort in the way that made the most difference. And so they produced this wonderful quality, this harmony … simply because that is what they paid attention to, and what they tried to produce.

* The house referred to is the House of Tiles in Mexico City.

So now when I look at my less-than-perfect lines and consider my easy-on-the-eye approach to tiling I can put a name to that previously unidentified factor that let me get away with it all … my tiling has soul

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Design Patterns @ architypes

Category: Website Reviews June 29th, 2008 by mbc

As should be pretty obvious to any regular reader of this site, I’m pretty keen on the use of design patterns to ensure the goodness-of-fit between building plans and specifications and the requirements of the eventual end-users of a building. Patterns help inspire, guide and polish building design at all levels.


A Pattern Language ~ the ‘bible’ of building patterns

So, when I stumbled across the architypes site my interest was piqued.

architypes.net is a library of architectural design issues, solutions and ideas.

At the heart of architypes.net are two simple but powerful ideas:

Patterns: The principles and ideas are organized into “patterns”. Each pattern describes a solution for a specific problem or design goal. […]
Open Collaboration: architypes.net is a continuously evolving peer-reviewed project that you are invited to participate in.

In use I find the site and its patterns to be informative & inspirational, but perhaps a little light-weight. For example, the intriguing ‘Places of Quiet Refuge‘ pattern consists merely of the text:

The Japanese are often admired for their techniques used in creating private and quiet spaces. They are masters of separating the public spaces from the private spaces, and their techniques are rather simple.

…and a photo of an interesting mezzanine. Thanks, I’d like more… but it does start you thinking.

Worth a visit if you’re seeking inspiration. I’m off to develop some of my own meaty patterns…

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Design Patterns ~ my choices

Category: Barn Conversion Journal November 29th, 2007 by mbc

I’ve already written about one of my favourite building design books A Pattern Language – Towns Buildings Construction by Alexander, Ishikawa & Silverstein. I thought it would be worthwhile stating which of the patterns I’ll be paying most attention to in my design. The list is not exhaustive, other patterns will have a bearing, new patterns will come along, chosen patterns will fall by the wayside. But here are my main current choices:

106 Positive outdoor space.
A complex pattern, but generally – give outdoor space a distinct and definite purpose, make spaces entities.

112 Entrance transition.
Provide a graceful transition between the outside and the inside.

125 Stair seats.
Seats on stairs provide a vantage point, but don’t remove the sitter from the action.

126 Something roughly in the middle.
A pattern to apply when designing the outdoor space, especially the yard between the two barns.

128 Indoor sunlight.
Maximise the number and size of windows thereby maximising the indoor sunlight.

133 Staircase as a stage.
A flared bottom step gives the stairs a function that may otherwise be overlooked. See also 125.

142 Sequence of sitting spaces.
Vary sitting opportunities through the range of rooms and spaces in the building.

145 Bulk storage.
Around 15-20% of the volume of the building should be given over to bulk storage. This can sensibly be designed with reference to pattern 162 North Face.

161 Sunny place.
Maximise the use of the space to the south of the building in the angle between the wall and the ground.

163 Outdoor room.
Build an enclosed outdoor room with trellis’s, hedges, columns and trees, that is open to the sky.

168 Connection to the earth.
Make the interface between the building and the earth as ambiguous as possible through clever design of steps, paths and terraces.

170 Fruit trees.
Applicable in various places, but again especially the yard between the two barns.

171 Tree places.
Plant trees to form distinct places, ensure empathy between the trees and the surrounding buildings.

175 Green house.

176 Garden seat.

178 Compost.

180 Window place.
Provide seating to sit in or before windows.

181 The fire.
The true heart of any home.

182 Eating atmosphere.
Have a large table in a pool of light.

185 Sitting circle.
Create a sitting place where the inhabitants can face each other and that is not cut through by a corridor. Provide plenty of comfortable seating.

204 Secret place.
Every home needs a secret place!

Construction Patterns
As the base structure of the building is already established, I am employing a minimal number of construction patterns.

229 Duct space.
Cables and wiring are always a pain – best to preplan for them and keep them out of the way and out of sight wherever possible.

230 Radiant heat.

232 Roof caps.
Ornament the roofline.

237 Solid doors with glass.

238 Filtered light.
Light that passes through leaves or stained glass is magical…

241 Seat spots.
Choose seating spots carefully for sunlight or shade and the view.

242 Front door bench.

245 Raised flowers.
Use raised beds to protect flowers from heavy feet and bring flowers closer to their admirers.

246 Climbing plants.
Blend the building and the plants.

Update: I reviewed and updated this list in September 2010.

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