ars libertatis

* 4 October 1936

The selfconscious process is different. The artist’s self­ conscious recognition of his individuality has deep effect on the process of form-making. Each form is now seen as the work of a single man, and its success is his achievement only. Selfconsciousness brings with it the desire to break loose, the taste for individual expression, the escape from tradition and taboo, the will to self-determination. But the wildness of the desire is tempered by man’s limited invention. To achieve in a few hours at the drawing board what once took centuries of adaptation and development, to invent a form suddenly which clearly fits its context- the extent of the invention neces­sary is beyond the average designer.

Notes on the Synthesis of Form (1964), Part One, 5. The Selfconscious Process

A language is a living language only when each person in society, or in the town, has his own version of this language.

The Timeless Way of Building (1977), The Gate, 17. Evolution of a Common Language for a Town

The idea of style is meaningless: what we see as a style (of a person or of an age) is nothing but another individual effort to penetrate the central secret of painting, which is given by the Tao, but cannot itself be named.

The Timeless Way of Building (1977), The Way, 26. Its Ageless Character

Each class of phenomena in nature has its own characteristic morphology. Stars have their character; oceans have their character; rivers have their character; mountains have their character; forests have theirs; trees, flowers, insects, all have theirs. And when buildings are made properly, and true to all the forces in them, then they too will always have their own specific character. This is the character created by the timeless way.

The Timeless Way of Building (1977), The Way, 26. Its Ageless Character

people who defiantly don’t care what other people think of them, they still care at least enough to be defiant — and it is still a posture.

The Timeless Way of Building (1977), The Kernel of the Way, 27. The Kernel of the Way

To make a building egoless, like this, the builder must let go of all his willful images, and start with a void.

The Timeless Way of Building (1977), The Kernel of the Way, 27. The Kernel of the Way

Finally, unless the present-day great nations have their power greatly decentralized, the beautiful and differentiated languages, cultures, customs, and ways of life of the earths people, vital to the health of the planet, will vanish. In short, we believe that independent regions are the natural receptacles for language, culture, customs, economy, and laws and that each region should be separate and independent enough to maintain the strength and vigor of its culture.

A Pattern Language (1979), 1. Independent Regions

In the heterogeneous city, people are mixed together, irrespective of their life style or culture. This seems rich. Actually it dampens all significant variety, arrests most of the possibilities for differentiation, and encourages conformity. It tends to reduce all life styles to a common denominator. What appears heterogeneous turns out to be homogeneous and dull.


In a city made of a large number of subcultures relatively small in size, each occupying an identifiable place and separated from other subcultures by a boundary of nonresidential land, new ways of life can develop. People can choose the kind of subculture they wish to live in, and can still experience many ways of life different from their own.

A Pattern Language (1979), 8. Mosaic of Subcultures

Individuals have no effective voice in any community of more than 5000-10,000 persons.

People can only have a genuine effect on local government when the units of local government are autonomous, self-governing, self-budgeting communities, which are small enough to create the possibility of an immediate link between the man in the street and his local officials and elected representatives.

A Pattern Language (1979), 12. Community of 7000

From observations of neighborhoods that succeed in being welldefined, both physically and in the minds of the townspeople, we have learned that the single most important feature of a neighborhood’s boundary is restricted access into the neighborhood: neighborhoods that are successfully defined have definite and relatively few paths and roads leading into them.

A Pattern Language (1979), 15. Neighborhood Boundary

In a society which emphasizes teaching, children and students — and adults — become passive and unable to think or act for themselves. Creative, active individuals can only grow up in a society which emphasizes learning instead of teaching.

Instead of the lock-step of compulsory schooling in a fixed place, work in piecemeal ways to decentralize the process of learning and enrich it through contact with many places and people all over the city: workshops, teachers at home or walking through the city, professionals willing to take on the young as helpers, older children teaching younger children, museums, youth groups traveling, scholarly seminars, industrial workshops, old people, and so on.

A Pattern Language (1979), 18. Network of Learning

high-rise living takes people away from the ground, and away from the casual, everyday society that occurs on the sidewalks and streets and on the gardens and porches. It leaves them alone in their apartments. The decision to go out for some public life becomes formal and awkward; and unless there is some specific task which brings people out in the world, the tendency is to stay home, alone.

A Pattern Language (1979), 21. Four-Story Limit

Clearly, old people cannot be integrated socially as in traditional cultures unless they are first integrated physically—unless they share the same streets, shops, services, and common land with everyone else. But, at the same time, they obviously need other old people around them; and some old people who are infirm need special services.

A Pattern Language (1979), 40. Old People Everywhere

There is too much hot hard asphalt in the world. A local road, which only gives access to buildings, needs a few stones for the wheels of the cars; nothing more. Most of it can still be green.

A Pattern Language (1979), 51. Green Streets

In many places it is recognized by law that pedestrians have the right-of-way over automobiles. Yet at the crucial points where paths cross roads, the physical arrangement gives priority to cars. The road is continuous, smooth, and fast, interrupting the pedestrian walkway at the junctions. This continuous road surface actually implies that the car has the right-of-way.

A Pattern Language (1979), 54. Road Crossing

Unfortunately, it seems very likely that the nuclear family is not a viable social form. It is too small. Each person in a nuclear family is too tightly linked to other members of the family; any one relationship which goes sour, even for a few hours, becomes critical; people cannot simply turn away toward uncles, aunts, grandchildren, cousins, brothers. Instead, each difficulty twists the family unit into ever tighter spirals of discomfort; the children become prey to all kinds of dependencies and oedipal neuroses; the parents are so dependent on each other that they are finally forced to separate.

A Pattern Language (1979), 75. The Family

It is a mark of success in a park, public lobby or a porch, when people can come there and fall asleep.

A Pattern Language (1979), 94. Sleeping in Public

On no account place buildings in the places which are most beautiful. In fact, do the opposite. Consider the site and its buildings as a single living eco-system. Leave those areas that are the most precious, beautiful, comfortable, and healthy as they are, and build new structures in those parts of the site which are least pleasant now.

A Pattern Language (1979), 104. Site Repair

Few buildings will be structurally and socially intact, unless the floors step down toward the ends of wings, and unless the roof, accordingly, forms a cascade.

A Pattern Language (1979), 116. Cascade of Roofs

If there is a beautiful view, don’t spoil it by building huge windows that gape incessantly at it. Instead, put the windows which look onto the view at places of transition along paths, in hallways, in entry ways, on stairs, between rooms.

If the view window is correctly placed, people will see a glimpse of the distant view as they come up to the window or pass it: but the view is never visible from the places where people stay.

A Pattern Language (1979), 134. Zen View

In places where people end up waiting (for a bus, for an appointment, for a plane), create a situation which makes the waiting positive. Fuse the waiting with some other activity — newspaper, coffee, pool tables, horseshoes; something which draws people in who are not simply waiting. And also the opposite: make a place which can draw a person waiting into a reverie; quiet; a positive silence.

A Pattern Language (1979), 150. A Place to Wait

The experience of settled work is a prerequisite for peace of mind in old age. Yet our society undermines this experience by making a rift between working life and retirement, and between workplace and home.

A Pattern Language (1979), 156. Settled Work

When people are in a place for any length of time they need to be able to refresh themselves by looking at a world different from the one they are in, and with enough of its own variety and life to provide refreshment.

A Pattern Language (1979), 192. Windows Overlooking Life

When plate glass windows became possible, people thought that they would put us more directly in touch with nature. In fact, they do the opposite. They alienate us from the view. The smaller the windows are, and the smaller the panes are, the more intensely windows help connect us with what is on the other side.

A Pattern Language (1979), 239. Small Panes

Uniform illumination — the sweetheart of the lighting engineers — serves no useful purpose whatsoever. In fact, it destroys the social nature of space, and makes people feel disoriented and unbounded.

A Pattern Language (1979), 252. Pools of Light