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At the PUARL Conference 2016, a proposal was made on adapting pattern language for service systems thinking.  In 1967, Christopher Alexander published Pattern Manual at the founding of the Center for Environmental Structure, describing a pattern format for physical built environments.  While we can learn a lot from the nearly 50 years work originating at the CES, service systems have features beyond physicality that suggest reconsidering some of the foundations of pattern language.

An article for discussion was accepted into the proceedings for the PUARL conference.  The 20-minute presentation quickly covered the following topics:

  • 1. Pattern Manual 1967 + Service Systems
  • 2. Alexandrian example → services
  • 3. Methods clarified since 1973
  • 4. A new format:  amplifying, rephilosophizing, reinterpreting prior doxa
  • 5. Generating and legitimizing in communities

Slides have been added over the audio recording to produce a video presentation.

Audio [20161029_PUARL_Ing_PatternManualS2T.mp3]
(20MB, 20m19s)
(volume boosted 3db, 20MB, 20m19s)
(volume boosted 6db, 20MB, 20m19s)
Video HD (20m19s)
H.264 MP4 [1280×720 384Kbps m4v]
[1280×720 5000Kbps m4v]
WebM [1280×720 110Kbps webm]
[1280×720 826Kbps webm]

For people who prefer visuals at their own pace, the slides are posted on the Coevolving Commons.  The video is available on Youtube.

November 17th, 2016

Posted In: pattern language, services, systems

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The pattern language community — followers of Christopher Alexander’s approach — is distributed globally.  I participated in PLoP 2014 at Allerton Park, Illinois last September, and then attended AsianPLoP 2015 in Tokyo last March.  I had been eyeing the PUARL (Portland Urban Architecture Research Laboratory) conference for fall 2015, but then heard that the event was being incorporated into Purplsoc for 2015.  I originally couldn’t justify a trip to Europe for the Purplsoc (Pursuit of Pattern Language for Societal Change) 2015 conference, but then its timing turned out to be back-to-back with the ISIE conference.  So, just 3 weeks before the conference, I booked a triangular routing to arrive just in time for the start on July 3, in Krems, Austria.

On the Friday, the program started with some plenary session keynotes:

  • Hermann Czech, “Remarks about the Truth and the Whole” [digest]
  • “Opening”, with Peter Baumgartner; a delegate of the Mayor of the City of Krems; Monica Kil; Christian Hanus; Hajo Neis [digest]
  • Wolfgang Stark, “Performative Patterns for Innovation: The Power of Tacit Knowing in Social Systems” [digest]

Saturday morning started with a keynote.

The rest of Saturday morning had parallel streams.  I was in the Pattern applications and practices session.

  • Hajo Neis and Perrin Wright, “Up and Out: Oregon Tsunami Wayfinding Survival Language” [digest]
  • Taichi Isaku, “The Cooking Language: Applying the Theory of Properties and Patterns into Cooking” [digest] [slides on]
  • Hiroshi Nakano, “Japanese Spirituality and Pattern Language” [digest]
  • David Ing, Service Systems Thinking: From Environmental Structure to a New Generative Pattern Language [abstract + presentation slides]

By Saturday afternoon, some of the parallel sessions were being juggled.  I attended:

  • Wolfgang Rang, “Early Experiments with A Pattern Language” [digest]
  • Thomas Hruschka and Wolfgang Stark, “EcoBusiness Plan Vienna: An Organizational Pattern Language for Networking Sustainability In and Between Companies” [digest]

To close out Saturday, there was a plenary panel:

  • “Christopher Alexander’s Ethics: An Ethic of Design”, with David West, Peter Baumgartner, Christian Kohls, Helmut Leitner, Hajo Neis, and Till Schummer [digest]

Sunday morning opened with a most impressive plenary keynote:

  • Howard Davis, “Pattern Languages and the New Productive City” [digest]

The Sunday parallel session on Pattern languages for societal change had one impromptu workshop set up, before the scheduled one.

  • Hajo Neis, Takashi Iba and Helene Finidori, “Pattern Languages 1.0, 2.0, 3.0 and 4.0″ [digest]
  • Norihiko Kimura and Takashi Iba, “The Fundamental Behavioral Properties” [digest]

August 10th, 2015

Posted In: pattern language

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Prior talks on Service Systems Thinking have focused on basics.  For this year’s Symposium on Service Systems Science at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, I decided to step up the emphasis in a short presentation on some selected ideas:

  • An unfolding is a process which gets you from one stage or moment of development to the next moment of development, in the evolution of a neighborhood or in the evolution of a building;  and
  • Value is dynamic, with access consciousness ex-ante and ex-post, and phenomenological consciousness in lived experience

From the 8 practices employed by Christopher Alexander on the 1985 Eishin project, I focused on one:

  • Find systems of centers in (i) the notions in people’s minds, and (ii) the places in the land. Combine them.

These ideas are at the core of how systems thinking is intertwined with service science, and pattern languages.  Jim Kijima and Hiroshi Deguchi arranged for a videographer this year, so there’s a record of the presentation.

Audio [20150228_1430_Titech_Ing_UnfoldingValuePlacesSpacesPaces_128kbps.mp3]
(45MB, 46m51s)
Video (47m01s) nHD
H.264 MP4 [640×360
454Kbps m4v
] (160MB)
1754Kbps m4v
] (679MB)
WebM [640×360
247Kbps webm
] (87MB)


The video is available on Youtube, or downloadable as audio or video.

July 1st, 2015

Posted In: pattern language, services, systems

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The systems thinking roots from architect Christopher Alexander aren’t completely obvious in his work on pattern language.  A republished version of an 1968 article resurfaces some clarification on a perspective on systems thinking originating from practices in architecture.  This article introduced ways in which systems thinking could be most directly applied to built environments.  The cross-appropriation of pattern languages across a variety of domain types — object-oriented programmers were the earliest motivating adopters — could be enlightened by revisiting the foundations.  Alexander concisely presented 4 points, and then provided detailed reasoning for each:

1. There are two ideas hidden in the word system: the idea of a system as a whole and the idea of a generating system.

2. A system as a whole is not an object but a way of looking at an object. It focuses on some holistic property which can only be understood as a product of interaction among parts.

3. A generating system is not a view of a single thing. It is a kit of parts, with rules  about the way these parts may be combined.

4. Almost every ‘system as a whole’ is generated by a ‘generating system’. If we wish to make things which function as ‘wholes’ we shall have to invent generating systems to create them.  [Alexander 2011, p. 59; Alexander 1968, p. 605]

In a properly functioning building, the building and the people in it together form a whole: a social, human whole. The building systems which have so far been created do not in this sense generate wholes at all.  [Alexander 2011, p. 58; Alexander 1968, p. 605]

Let’s leave analytical explications of the original 1968 text as secondary, to first appreciate the idea of “systems generating systems” through sensemaking done some decades after 1968, and in the broader context of Alexander’s other writings and interviews.

Molly Wright Steenson, as part of her 2014 dissertation, has a 66-page digest of Alexander’s work between 1962 and 1968.  Her deep reading was reflected in a 2009 recorded presentation on “Loving and Hating Christopher Alexander“.  Generally speaking, interaction designers love Christopher Alexander’s approach, while architects hate Christopher Alexander’s approach.

SVA Dot Dot Dot Lectures: Molly Wright Steenson from MFA Interaction Design.

Amongst the lovers and haters of Christopher Alexander is a predisposition towards interaction compatible with systems thinking.  For built environments, architecture can be described through a language of patterns, where those patterns may or may not be generative.  In her 2014 dissertation, Steenson fleshes out Alexander’s 1968 “Systems Generating Systems” with the broader context of the 1979 The Timeless Way of Building, and 1983 publication by Stephen Grabow of interviews with Alexander.

Generating Systems

Alexander describes pattern languages as “generative,” referring to the quality of multiplicity, of a system that operates both as a whole and as a set of rules.  A system, like a language, works on multiple levels.  The system presents itself on the surface, he writes, when “we are confronted with an object which displays some kind of behaviour which can only be understood as a product of interaction among parts within the object.  We call this kind of behaviour, holistic behaviour.”262 It also incorporates the rule set for the manipulation of the elements that it composes. This dualistic system is analogous to the functions of the pattern language. Just as a generating system is a kit of parts, “Each pattern is a rule which describes what you have to do to generate the entity which it defines.”263 [Steenson 2014, pp. 90-91]

262Christopher Alexander, “Systems Generating Systems,” AD 38(1968): 606.
263Alexander, The Timeless Way of Building, 182.

April 10th, 2014

Posted In: design, systems

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