what are the key things to learn about Pattern Languages? What’s a good way in

I’m at a retreat on ‘building the field of systems change’ and was asked about pattern language –  what’s a good way to see an overview and grasp core concepts? Probably mentioning the medicine wheel, Nietzsche and ayurveda wasn’t the best way in – though I referenced a bunch of the below. And we connected to Lakoff’s ideas on metaphor and framing.

Any advance on this?


David Ing :


(includes slides and video)

and much more, for example



(and his recent book)

David is the person to speak to for current state of the craft, and controversies, and history


From Christopher Alexander (modern ‘original’ pattern language)



full pdf http://library.uniteddiversity.coop/Ecological_Building/A_Pattern_Language.pdf


​Decent paper:


“The Structure of Pattern Languages”, by Nikos A. Salingaros

​This builds on Christopher Alexander but the point in David Ing’s PUARL 2016 paper is that ideas that are based in physical space don’t necessarily apply in social spaces. In particular, service systems are social, not physical – and therefore interactive (see below).


This is probably more useful for complex, human systems: https://ingbrief.wordpress.com/2017/10/29/20171025-0930-michael-mehaffy-horizons-of-pattern-languages-software-cities-planet-plop/




PLoP – pattern languages of programmes


most relevant

PLAST – Pattern Languages for Systemic Transformation




One of the main things that continues the Alexandrian work is PUARL – http://puarl.uoregon.edu/

The person leading PUARL is Hajo Neis, who is a coauthor with Christopher Alexander https://archenvironment.uoregon.edu/architecture/hajo-neis and http://pages.uoregon.edu/hajoneis/


Helene Finidori is also an interesting and active person to speak to:



And she is closer to, I think, all the group dynamic/facilitation pattern languages ​


MG Taylor method : http://www.matttaylor.com/public/public/papers_06/mgt_modeling_language_2.htm



(and of course pattern ‘recognition’ goes much deeper, certainly to cognition and metacognition, see Bongard Games references)


see also https://model.report/s/wr7kjl/a_connection_language_dialogue_methods_collaboration_from_cynthia_kurtz​

​and the collection of large scale group facilitation techniques:



David says:

‘The conventional description is that “a pattern is a solution to a problem in context”. The challenge, as I’m writing up in the yet-to-be-released workshop proposal for PUARL …

‘In 1966, hierarchical structure (graphically drawn as a root with trees) was criticized in “A City Is Not A Tree” in favour of a semi-lattice (Alexander 1966/1967). Also in 1967, at the formation for Center for Environmental Structure, Pattern Manual then chartered:

‘The environmental pattern language will contain hundreds of subsystems and tens of thousands of individual patterns. Every conceivable kind of building, every part of every kind of building, and every piece of the larger environment will be specified by one or more subsystems of the environmental pattern language.

‘In summary: An environmental pattern language is a coordinated body of design solutions capable of generating the complete physical structure of a city. The language is designed to grow and improve continuously as a result of criticism and feedback from the field (Alexander 1967).


‘So, patterns are less than subsystems, which are less than systems.

‘And the problem is that traditional Alexandrian pattern language is static (as in a built environment) and not interactive (as in a personal computer).’


…’pattern language’ is often used quite loosely for generally useful pattern recognition too.