For those of you who have been reading along for a bit, you’ll know that I’ve been slowly reading through a book on architecture called The Timeless Way of Building, by Christopher Alexander. Along with a few other people, Alexander wrote a companion volume called A Pattern Language (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977). This is basically an encyclopedia of the building blocks of our physical surroundings: rooms, buildings, blocks, neighbourhoods, towns, cities.
I finally bought A Pattern Language for myself, and it came in the mail last week. I’ve decided I want to educate my eye on architecture as well as photography, so I’m going to explore Halifax (and anywhere else my travels this summer take me — the vicinity of Halifax and Prince Edward Island, I expect) looking for examples of the patterns. I think it will be fun for me and I hope you will find it interesting, and perhaps a bit educational, as well. I always remember going for a drive with my uncle, an architect (who suggested the book to me), and how he pointed out all sorts of details on the houses that I didn’t know to look for. I see gardens that way a bit, but not buildings. And I want to learn.
I’m going to start with a house I’ve admired every time I drive past it. It’s along the Transcanada on Prince Edward Island, just before you get to Crapaud (coming from Charlottetown. Yes, that really is the name of the town. It’s not very mellifluous in either English or French — I don’t know the story behind its name, but would love to find out.)
Now, I should really go through this book in order, from the big picture (#1 Independent Regions; #2 The Distribution of Towns; #3 City Country Fingers; #4 Agricultural Valleys; #5 Lace of Country Streets) down to the smallest (#249 Ornament; #250 Warm Colours [it’s an American book but I am going to give the Canadian spelling]; #251 Different Chairs; #252, Pools of Light; #253 Things From Your Life), rather than starting in the middle with #116, Cascade of Roofs.
As I started to work on this, I realised I can’t, any more than I could explain the inner workings of the Ablative of Means in Latin without my audience knowing what a declension is — or possibly even a noun. Alexander’s description of it sets it into the grammar of his language, how it fits in with “Wings of Light” (#107) or “Roof Gardens” (#118) or “Ceiling Height Variety” (#190).
I like this house because of the colours, and the way it nestles into the trees, with the glimpse of a church steeple in the background (although the church is now a dentist’s). I especially like the way this feels homely. As I work my way through the book, I hope to learn why this feels homely, what makes it appealing. I’ll come back to it, once I’ve learned the basic vocabulary of the pattern language.