AI, Alexander, and architecture



Architecture & Built Environment


  • architectural education, artificial intelligence (AI), Christopher Alexander, pattern theory


This research reflects on the future of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies and Pattern Theory in architectural and design education and how it may inform the design process, projects, assessments, and research in this space. We are increasingly bombarded by new technologies and an abundance of information. The rapid evolvement of AI has created many uncertainties. Might AI take away our jobs? Will AI kill creativity? How will we know who has produced the work? How do we as educators and students make sense of these technologies and use it (or not) in our education and practice? Can we possibly discover through AI new tools and possibilities and ways of working that contribute positively to what we do?

This paper explores student experience, reflections, and perceptions on the use of AI in a third-year history-and-theory of architecture course. Students were required to use AI word and image generators as part of an assignment that focused on the book A pattern language by Christopher Alexander. The students unpacked the 253 patterns in A pattern language  through AI word and image generators and critiqued the results in comparison to their own hands-on analysis developed through physical models and hand-drawings.

Alexander’s book A pattern language is a seminal architectural text and has, since its publication in 1977, not only influenced architectural education, but also inspired the use of pattern methodologies in computer programming. When invited to speak at a computer software conference, Alexander (1996, para. 74) envisioned a world where “computers (could) play a fundamental role in making the world – and above all the built structure of the world – alive, humane, ecologically profound, and with a deep living structure”. Alexander’s idea and methodology of patterns and pattern languages have also been applied in many other disciplines.

This paper also introduces Pattern Theory (Leitner 2015) as an extension of Alexander’s work and comments on its potential for developing new ways of working in architectural education, practice, and research that could balance human and machine intelligence and that might result in more humane, ecologically profound, and living structures, as envisioned by Alexander.


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