This is an ambitious, opinionated book about how to live.
Ambitious, because its scope is enormous -- how far apart cities should be placed ("2. the distribution of towns"), zoning ("3. city country fingers"), street maps ("23. parallel roads"), recreation ("31. promenade"), beauty ("62. high places), interior architecture ("133. staircase as a stage"), interior design ("200. open shelves"), building ("214. root foundations"), and decoration ("253. things from your life").
Opinionated, because it has specific prescriptions for all these 253 things. Some are fairly wacky: "3. city country fingers" recommends interlacing urban and countryside in "fingers", so that nobody in the city is ever more than a ten-minute walk from the countryside. Some are incredibly specific: "22. nine percent parking" sets an upper limit on land area used by parking, and has dire warnings about "the fabric of society is threatened" if exceeding that even in a small area.
A Pattern Language is meticulously organized and numbered from big to small -- high to low abstraction level. Each prescription has an epistemic status:
In the patterns marked with two asterisks, we believe that we have succeeded in stating a true invariant: in short, that the solution we have stated summarizes a property common to all possible ways of solving the problem. [...]
In the patterns marked with one asterisk, we believe that we have made some progress towards identifying such an invariant: but that with careful work it will certainly be possible to improve on the solution. In these cases, we believe it would be wise for you to treat the pattern with a certain amount of disrespect. [...]
Finally, in the patterns without an asterisk, we are certain that we have not succeeded in defining a true invariant... In these cases we have still stated a solution, in order to be concrete.
We even see a form of wiki-style hyperlinking -- each pattern references certain other patterns as being particularly related. These hyperlinks are grouped into going upwards or downwards on the abstraction scale:
Notice that the other patterns mentioned by name at the beginning and at the end, of the pattern you are reading, are also possible candidates for your language. The ones at the beginning will tend to be "larger" than your project. Don't include them, unless you have the power to help create these patterns, at least in a small way, in the world around your project. The ones at the end are "smaller." Almost all of them will be important. Tick all of them, on your list, unless you have some special reason for not wanting to include them.
Now your list has some more ticks on it. Turn to the next highest pattern on the list which is ticked, and open the book to that pattern....
A Pattern Language was published in 1977 and is full of Hanson or Thiel-style contrarian gems: "the nuclear family is not by itself a viable social form" (75. the family); "people cannot be genuinely comfortable and healthy in a house which is not theirs" (79. your own home); "individuals have no effective voice in any community of more than 5000-10000 persons" (12. community of 7000); "high buildings make people crazy" (21. four story limit).
My favorite (and possibly the most radical) pattern is "39. Housing Hill", recommending that in a place you want dense housing (30-50 houses per acre), build stepped/terraced apartment buildings. Each home is a single story with a garden on the below home's roof. "The terraces must be south-facing, large, and intimately connected to the houses, and solid enough for earth, and bushes, and small trees... served by a great central open stair which also faces south and leads toward a common garden."
The book is overtly about architecture and design, but its secret identity is a manual for how to live a better life. I think this touches on what some people may dislike about it. The authors' lifestyle & ethos pervades the book: they have figured out what makes them happy and are trying to spread those ideas. But then they write it in this academic style -- here is the best way to build, here are the studies we ran. It seems overconfident.
Still, I find it inspirational. I already wanted, but now even more, to design places.
Thanks to Ben Kuhn for recommending I read it.