Service Systems Thinking

A joint project of the ISSS, INCOSE and ISSIP

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This book, with a 1968 copyright by The Center for Environmental Structure at the University of California at Berkeley, is authored by Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa and Murray Silverstein. A preview is available on Google Books.


In this report we present a prototype for multi-service center buildings.

A multi-service center is a community facility, which provides a variety of special services to citizens. It is intended especially to help solve some of the problems of low income communities. Experimental multi-service centers have been started in many cities throughout the United States. However, there is not yet any agreement about the form which multi-service centers should take – either in their human organization, or in their spatial organization.

Our report deals chiefly with the spatial organization, but since human and spatial organization cannot properly be separated, many of the specifications given in this report, go deeply into queetions of human organization as well. [p. 1]

We have not designed a prototype in quite the conventional sense, and must begin with a word of explanation about the nature and purpose of prototype buildings. [p. 1]

A prototype is a generic scheme. It has not special site, no real client, no climate, no particular size. It is a kind of imaginary building, which is meant to convey certain essential ideas to designers of similar buildings. It is usually presented by means of loosely drawn schematic drawings, so that designers who are designing a building of this type, can mould it to fit whatever specific local conditions they are confronted with. It is meant to convey some essential, generic ideas, which can be applied many times over to special cases. It defines a family of buildings; and its meant to define this family of buildings in such a way that anyone who understands the prototype will be able to design specific members of this family. [pp. 1-2]

The ultimate purpose of a prototype design, then, is to provide guidelines which will generate a large number of specific buildings.

Under close scrutiny, this idea does not stand up very well. The range of variation which will be required by the different members of any family of buildings, lie well outside the range which can be accurately conveyed by any single drawing – no matter how “prototypical” it is. This is true for the family of buildings called “multi-service centers”. Some will be large, some small. Some will have many services, others will have fewer services. Some will be on main streets, others on side streets. Some will be in very dense neighbourhoods, others in neighbourhoods of lower density. Some will be multi-story, others will be single story. Some will be in warm climates, others in cold climates. No one prototype can do justice to this range of variation. A prototype would standardize the buildings, where standardization is inappropriate; it would tend to overlook the uniqueness of each special case.

Our approach to prototype is intended to overcome this difficulty. We have tried to reconcile the uniqueness of each community with the fact that certain organizational principles are valid from one community to another.

What we have devised, then, is a system of generating principles, which can be richly transformed according to local circumstances but which never fail to convey their essentials. This is rather like a grammar. English grammar is a set of generating principles which general all the possible sentences of English. It would be preposterous to suppose that one could convey the full richness of the English language by means of a few well chosen “prototypical” sentences.

Our system then, is more in the spirit of a grammar than the convention prototype permits. We call our system of generating principles a pattern language for multi-service centers. It is a system of patterns – with rules for combining them – which generates multi-service center buildings. [p. 2]

This report has four chapters and an appendix.

In Chapter I, for the sake of concreteness, we present one-sentence summaries of the 64 patterns in the pattern language.

In Chapter II we discuss the nature of the individual patterns.

In Chapter III, we show how these patterns may be combined to form multi-service centers. We give eight examples of multi-service centers design for different communities – all of them generated by the pattern language.

In Chapter IV, we discuss the nature of the pattern language more fully.

In the Appendix – the longest chapter – we present the 64 patterns in full. [p. 3]

Throughout the report, and especially in the patterns, the reader will find terms he may not be familiar with. The following gives brief definitions of those most frequently used. The numbers in brackets refer to pages where the reader will find a more complete definition.

Target Area: The geographic area and the population service by a program (in this case a Multi-Service Center). (75) (59)

Service: A facility organized to give specialized aid to people in the community. A service might be educational counselling, or an employment service, or legal aid, etc. (89)

Community Project: Any program or project initiated by a community resident or community group, and run by community people. Examples of community projects are: a community newspaper, a welfare rights group, a community owned and run landromat. (80)

Board of Directors: The body of elected community residents which governs the Multi-Service Center. (85)

Subcommittee: Committees formed of community residents which govern specific services; for example, a health subcommitte which governs the health service. (81) (153)

Core Services: Staff hired by, and responsible to the Board of Directors, whose function it is to keep the Multi-Service Center running – specifically to perform outreach, intake, to refer people to proper services, to evaluate existing services and initiate new ones. (137) [p. 3]

Outreach: Connecting people in the community – to inform them of activities of the center. (170) (228)

Intake: Initial interview with community resident to determine which services he might benefit from. (169).

Blockworker: Part of core services, the blockworker performs outreach (and sometimes intake). (169) (228)

Service Backup: All service personnel excluding interviewers and receptionists. (185)

Chapter I, the Summaries of 64 Patterns, follows.


Alexander, Christopher, Sara Ishikawa, and Murray Silverstein. 1968. A Pattern Language Which Generates Multi-Service Centers. Center for Environmental Structure.

a_pattern_language_which_generates_multi-service_centers_1968.txt · Last modified: 2014/05/08 18:00 (external edit)