Re: explaining "built environment" to lay people
From: John Faust (
Date: Sat, 20 Dec 2008 09:35:57 -0800 (PST)
The following are some paragraphs from this
It is from architect Christopher
book "A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction" and is part of his
highly regarded series on a *Timeless Way of Building*. The book was written
in 1977 and this specific pattern is called a Housing Cluster. It is the
closest thing in the book to what we think of as cohousing architecture. In
fact, he references some very early attempts at cohousing-like efforts.

When houses are arranged on streets, and the streets owned by the town,
there is no way in which the land immediately outside the houses can reflect
the needs of families and individuals living in those houses. The land will
only gradually get shaped to meet their needs if they have direct control
over the land and its repair.

This pattern is based on the idea that the cluster of land and homes
immediately around one's own home is of special importance. It is the source
for gradual differentiation of neighborhood land use, and it is the natural
focus of neighborly interaction. ...

The clusters seem to work best if they have between 8 and 12 houses each.
With one representative from each family, this is the number of people that
can sit round a common meeting table, can talk to each other directly, face
to face, and can therefore make wise decisions about the land they hold in
common. With 8 or 10 households, people can meet over a kitchen table,
exchange news on the street and in the gardens, and generally, without much
special attention, keep in touch with the whole of the group. When there are
more than 10 or 12 homes forming a cluster, this balance is strained. We
therefore set an upper limit of around12 on the number of households that
can be naturally drawn into a cluster. Of course, the average size for
clusters might be less, perhaps around 6 or 8; and clusters of 3, 4, or 5
homes can work perfectly well.

Now, assuming that a group of neighbors, or a neighborhood association, or a
planner, wants to give some expression to this pattern, what are the
critical issues?

First, the geometry. In a new neighborhood, with houses built on the ground,
we imagine quite dramatic clusters, with the houses built around or to the
side of common land; and with a core to the cluster that gradually tapers
off at the edges. ...

In all cases common land which is shared by the cluster is an essential
ingredient. It acts as a focus and physically knits the group together. This
common land can be as small as a path or as large as a green.

On the other hand, care must be taken not to make the clusters too tight or
self-contained, so that they exclude the larger community or seem too
constricting and claustrophobic. There needs to be some open endedness and
overlapping among clusters.

Results generated by Tiger Technologies Web hosting using MHonArc.