Next year will be the 40 years anniversary of Christopher Alexander‘s seminal work “A Pattern Language”. 20 years ago Nikos A. Salingaros wrote the following text:

Alexander tried to show that architecture connects people to their surroundings in an infinite number of ways, most of which are subconscious. For this reason, it was important to discover what works; what feels pleasant; what is psychologically nourishing; what attracts rather than repels. These solutions, found in much of vernacular architecture, were abstracted and synthesized into the “Pattern Language” about 20 years ago.

Unfortunately, although he did not say it then, it was obvious that contemporary architecture was pursuing design goals that are almost the opposite of what was discovered in the pattern language. For this reason, anyone could immediately see that Alexander’s findings invalidated most of what practicing architects were doing at that time. The Pattern Language was identified as a serious threat to the architectural community. It was consequently suppressed. Attacking it in public would only give it more publicity, so it was carefully and off-handedly dismissed as irrelevant in architecture schools, professional conferences and publications.

Now, 20 years later, computer scientists have discovered that the connections underlying the Pattern Language are indeed universal, as Alexander had originally claimed. His work has achieved the highest esteem in computer science. Alexander himself has spent the last twenty years in providing scientific support for his findings, in a way that silences all criticism. He will publish this in the forthcoming four-volume work entitled “The Nature of Order”. His new results draw support from complexity theory, fractals, neural networks, and many other disciplines on the cutting edge of science.

After the publication of this new work, our civilization has to seriously question why it has ignored the Pattern Language for so long, and to face the blame for the damage that it has done to our cities, neighborhoods, buildings, and psyche by doing so.

20 more years of time has passed since Salingaros wrote the above, and instead of connecting people with their surroundings and each other, the alienation of our places and societies is accelerating.

In Hurdal in Norway they are now building the “Sustainable Valley”, hosting the country’s first ecovillage and planning for a new urban village.

To be honest I’m not sure if those who planned Hurdal Ecovillage had read the Pattern Language? To me so many patterns from this book seems missing, although I’m not updated on the recent progress of the village. This is strange as David Holmgren, a cofounder of permaculture together with Bill Mollison, used “A Pattern Language” in the design process of Crystal Waters Ecovillage in Australia. Since then Alexander has even outlined in detail how to build a pattern language for a community, using the Eishin Campus outside Tokyo as an example.

Alexander's Eishin Campus

Alexander’s Eishin Campus

I love Hurdal and should hate to see the sustainable valley becoming a failure because of ignoring the Pattern Language, and therefor suggest arranging a Pattern Language Conference in this beautiful valley in 2017. Several facilities could serve such a conference, but I recommend the historic context of Hurdal Verk.

A central pattern for designing Crystal Waters Ecovillage was pattern 37; HOUSE CLUSTER. One of the breakthroughs of designing human settlements the later years is POCKET NEIGHBORHOODS, a therm founded by Ross Chapin. Here Chapin has taken the essence of a house cluster and synthesized it into a set of design keys for a successful pocket neighborhood. I have translated these keys into Norwegian here, while they can be downloaded in English here (pdf) and here (slideshow). To connect the houses to the shared common space at the heart of a pocket neighborhood, Chapin has even set up a pattern language for how to arrange a well functioning porch.


A pocket neighborhood from Ross Chapin Architects. No wonder why Sarah Susanka, the author of the bestseller “The Not So Big House“, chose Chapin’s projects to illustrate her book. Both Chapin and Zusanka make it clear that they are inspired by “A Pattern Language” and indebted to the work of Christopher Alexander.

Last year I suggested building a pocket village at Skreia, where I was born. But people there are not able to imagine any other reality than Suburban Hell, so I hope for greater success in Hurdal. Still Hurdal Ecovillage has left to develop their third and last village cluster, and nothing should make me more happy than if this was designed as the world’s first pocket village!

Ross Chapin Architects is an award-winning firm known for designing wonderfully scaled and richly detailed buildings and gardens. We take joy in designing places for people that are both functional and beautiful. Our work shows that neighborhoods, buildings and outdoor spaces can be alive and vibrant, authentic and soulful. We strive to create places that nourish the individual, support healthy family relationships, and foster a strong sense of community.

The human behavioral ecologist Terje Bongard is now translating his book “The biological Human Being – individuals and societies in light of evolution” into English all by himself, and it is to hope it will be finished before an eventual conference. Bongard is a big fan of Chapin’s pocket neighborhoods, as they grow the “bright side of the force” in the handicap principle, these positive feelings and actions that come to the surface in well functioning in-groups. According to Bongard our whole society needs to be arranged around the in-group, both for hard and soft human infrastructure, and Chapin has added very important knowledge and practical examples for how to achieve this goal.

Note that even Hippodamus of Miletus arranged the Greek cities in quarters of 10 families of each, a perfect in-group cluster. Wonder how much this pattern meant for the world’s first democracy?

In 2013 James Alexander Arnfinsen at the podcast show Levevei had a really nice conversation (in Norwegian) with Bongard, titled “The in-group as the guiding principle of a sustainable democracy“.

I suggest a rewriting for our conference: “The in-group as the guiding principle of a sustainable urban ecology.

Pushwagner’s fabolous picture Klaxton could work as a banner for the conference, illustrating the horrors of our over scaled out-group societies.

A small but important interview with Bongard about solidarity in small groups at Norwegian radio is to be found here.

I really hope to get Terje Bongard and Ross Chapin to lecture on this subject. If the ecovillage will build the world’s first pocket village using Chapin’s design patterns, I’m sure he will jump on the plain to join us!

A proud Ross chapin in front of one of his pocket neighborhoods

A proud Ross Chapin in front of one of his pocket neighborhoods

Another person I hope can join the conference is Alexander’s friend Salingaros, still very active in the new science of biophilia, about which he recently published a book on nourishing organic design: “Biophilia and Healing Environments: Healthy Principles For Designing the Built World“.

My friend Bongard recently informed that they have now made a major breakthrough in his field, localizing where language is formed in the brain, and soon it will probably be possible to map our in-group feelings and our feelings for biophilia and organic design-patterns as well. These happen to correlate with classical architecture, which is not a style but a set of design practices and rules nourishing the human mind. The urban village of Hurdal has to be designed according to these principles.

Note that August Strindberg began his days promenading at Strandvägen in Stockholm, because of the nourishing architecture there. I hope that the people of Hurdal Urban Village will have the same experience. It’s even quite clear that information rich environments are beneficial for brain development of children.

Most of all it’s important that the Sustainable Institute of the urban village, in Norwegian “Bærekraftsinstituttet”, gets a high degree of living structure, sending a positive signal to the rest of the Sustainable Valley. I’m happy to inform that professor Bin Jiang at the Faculty of Engineering and Sustainable Development, Division of Geomatics, University of Gävle, Sweden, has developed what he calls a “BEAUTIMETER”, a tool to measure the degree of living structure in a building or the surroundings. Let’s hope he can come to lecture on his invention, derived from Alexander’s theory of centers: “Wholeness as a Hierarchical Graph to Capture the Nature of Space

Hurdal is just north of Oslo International Airport. After its construction there has popped up lots of soulless airport suburbs in the surroundings, like Neskollen.

Neskollen is a typical hilltop suburb around the new airport Gardermoen, consisting of a central shopping mall with some apartments around, and then the McMansions become bigger and bigger towards the top, with the very biggest ones on the top itself

Neskollen is a typical hilltop suburb around the new airport Gardermoen, consisting of a central shopping mall with some apartments around, and then the McMansions grew bigger and bigger towards the top, with the very biggest ones on the top itself

The municipality of Hurdal deserves credit for not following this anti-social consumer pattern of the rest of Norway, they very much want to create something better, more sustainable and more socially nourishing, bringing up the best of human nature. I feel they really need a Pattern Language Conference for new inspiration, to show them the way ahead. I hope they will understand this themselves too, seeing such a conference as a gift and a new start toward a better goal than what modernist planning and architecture have to offer.


Another gloomy example from Neskollen, an anti-pocket-neighborhood focusing on individualism and uniformity. A human out-group setting, growing the “dark side of the force” in the handicap principle, which guides all human interaction.

I think Hurdal Urban Village should join the Village Towns network:

VillageTown founder Claude Lewenz has “A Pattern Language” as the inspiration for all of his work, ideas and visions.

Tracy Gayton of the Piscataquis Village Project in Main, USA, is working for a similar project in cold climate:

I hope everybody share my enthusiasm! And if we can’t get the conference up for the 40-years anniversary of “A Pattern Language”, a 41-years anniversary conference should be no less important.


From the old part of Hurdal Ecovillage

Lake Hurdalssjøen has several sandy beaches

Lake Hurdalssjøen has several sandy beaches


It’s interesting to study the organic clustering of Knaisetra in Hurdal, a well preserved area up in the hills where young women tended the cattle during summertime

A girl walking along the cultural path of Skrukkelivegen, the old road toward the west of the valley

A girl walking along the cultural path of Skrukkelivegen, the old road toward the west of the valley

Knaimoen is an agricultural landscape joining the street of the new urban village, hosting an agricultural landscape of national value. My dream is to establish the Permaculture Resarch Institute of Norway at my family's farm situated in this landscape.

Knai is joining the main street of the new urban village, hosting an agricultural landscape of national value. My dream is to establish the Permaculture Resarch Institute of Norway at my family’s farm situated in this landscape.


Welcome to the Sustainable Valley of Hurdal, here seen from Rognstadkollen

10 Comments A Pattern Language Conference in the Sustainable Valley of Hurdal in 2017?

  1. AvatarBembo Davies

    Øyvind: Please keep me in the loop in your efforts. I have been the resident scribe following **The unMonastery** as it seeks to distill the manners of a dedicated life of service for the occupy generation. We too have approached our work model with design patterns; our unMonastery Toolbox with the Book of Greater and Lesser Omissions, Code/unCode, a Stakeholders Handbook and DesignPattern Workbook has recently been made available.

    It has struck me that my adopted country of Norway has always seemed too highly capitalised for everything but token high-tech compromises. I would enjoy entering any conversation about an eco-village model in a Norwegian context — it seems the model of husmannsplass/ kårhuset / undgomshuset have vital functions that should be revitalised.

  2. Øyvind HolmstadØyvind Holmstad

    A new paper by professor Bin Jiang on wholeness-oriented design!

    “In this recent paper, we developed scientific evidence to support wholeness-oriented design, in particular the two design principles of differentiation and adaptation;

    – A Topological Representation for Taking Cities as a Coherent Whole:

    The developed topological representation can be applied to anything to see whether it is beautiful or not.”

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