1. Pattern Language

What is a “pattern language”?

Pattern language is a concept that originally goes back to the mathematician and architect Christopher Alexander. In his book “A Pattern Language. Towns, Buildings, Construction”, published in 1977 together with Sara Ishikawa and Murray Silverstein, 253 different patterns are described that represent spatial, architectural, social, cultural or technical structures and are arranged according to the three scaling levels of town, building and construction (Alexander et al. 1977). Pattern theory provides a method for solving problems by preparing reusable solutions to problems for use (Leitner 2016, p. 16). The patterns provide approaches to solving typical, recurring design problems. Designers, developers and design authors use them as a stimulus and as a solution model, as well as to question, further develop and refine solutions already found. The pattern language facilitates communication between developers by providing a uniform vocabulary of terms for recurring problems and their solutions.

The pattern language is a set of rules and can also be used like a checklist when designing. The patterns are only the results of the preceding arguments and thought processes. Each pattern consists of a problem statement, a discussion of the problem with an illustration, and the solution. Understanding these trains of thought also makes it possible to draw further – or different – conclusions for the specific case. In rational ways, Alexander traces those qualities of the built environment that are often considered irrational. Just as in a natural language words are linked together as individual, meaning-giving elements by the rules of a grammar in order to convey complex meaning, in a pattern language individual patterns are linked together by a system of references to other patterns to form a more highly aggregated system context.

On the basis of these cross-references, it is possible to carry out planning in a form that Alexander calls unfolding. The patterns at the highest level – i.e. those that are to be considered first in planning – deal with the planning of cities. Patterns further down the hierarchy deal with spatially smaller structures, down to parts of individual spaces or construction elements whose interconnections form a complex network. Alexander emphasises that the cross-references are as important as the patterns themselves.

How are the patterns described?

In the introduction to his book, Alexander gives a precise description of how the patterns are constructed: 

“The elements of this language are entities called patterns. Each pattern describes a problem that occurs over and over again in our environment, and then describes the core of the solution to that problem, in such a way that you can use that solution a million times without ever doing it the same way twice. For simplicity and clarity, each pattern has the same format. First, there is a picture that shows an archetypal example of this pattern. Second, after the picture, each pattern has an introductory paragraph that sets the context for the pattern by explaining how it helps complete certain larger patterns (…). After the heading is the main body of the problem. This is the longest section. It describes the empirical background of the pattern, the evidence for its validity, the various ways in which the pattern can manifest itself in a building, and so on. Then follows (…) the solution – the heart of the pattern – which describes the field of physical and social relations required to solve the stated problem in the stated context. This solution is always given in the form of an instruction – so that you know exactly what you need to do to build the pattern. The solution is followed by a diagram showing the solution in the form of a graph, with labels indicating the main components (…)” (Alexander et al. 1977, p. X f.).

What was the intention behind the development of the pattern language?

Alexander says: “Architects themselves build a very, very small part of the world. Most of the physical world is built by all kinds of people. It’s built by developers, it’s built by DIYers in Latin America. It’s built by hotel chains, by railway companies, etc. etc. How could you possibly get a handle on all the massive construction that is taking place on earth and somehow? 

Do it well, that is, let it be generated in a good and living way. This decision to take a genetic approach was not just because of the scale problem. It was important from the beginning because one of the characteristics of any good environment is that each part of it is extremely adapted to its particularities. This local adaptation can only be successful if people (who know the local area) do it for themselves. In traditional society, where lay people either built or laid out their own houses, their own roads, etc., adaptation was natural. It happened successfully because it was in the hands of the people who used the buildings and roads directly.”  (Alexander 1996).

General applications of pattern language methodology

“Scientifically and epistemologically, pattern languages are tools for structuring complex knowledge across multiple phases of a design process. They thus serve a situated knowledge production. They record derivations of empirical observations of individual successful solutions and generalise them as design recommendations. At the same time, they are a design tool and help the architects, designers or concept developers in planning new individual solutions. The design process as creative work then consists of the connection of patterns to pattern sequences, which in their combinatorics enable good solutions. A pattern language is thus both a cognitive instrument and a tool that helps designers to make structural decisions within complex tasks that take into account specific, concrete needs as well as existing empirical knowledge” (Hamann et al. 2018, p. 8). While the formalised concept of a pattern language has been received rather cautiously in architectural or urban design contexts, the concept is applied in many complex engineering tasks. It was and still is particularly influential in software development.


Alexander et al. (1977): A Pattern Language. Autor:innen: Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa, Murray Silverstein mit Max Jacobson, Ingrid Fiksfahl-King, Shlomo Angel. Oxford University Press, New York. Deutsche Ausgabe: Alexander et al. (1995): Eine Muster-Sprache. Städte, Gebäude, Konstruktion. Löcker, Wien,

Alexander, Christopher (1996): Keynote Speech to the 1996 OOPSLA Convention.

Hamann et al. (2018): Mustersprache Stadtgestalten. Baugemeinschaften als Impulsgeber für eine nachhaltige Stadtentwicklung. Endbericht. Institut für Partizipatives Gestalten (IPG), Oldenburg, Autor:innen: Mio Sibylle Hamann,  Sonja Hörster und Jascha Rohr

Leitner, Helmut (2016): Mustertheorie. Einführung und Perspektiven auf den Spuren von Christopher Alexander. Eigenverlag, Erstveröffentlichung 2007 bei Nausner & Nausner Verlag, Graz

2. Social Ecology

In the CMI.BA research project, we follow the discourse of social ecology as it has been shaped in Germany since the mid-1980s, above all by the Frankfurt Institute for Social-Ecological Research (ISOE). Accordingly, social ecology is understood as a process-oriented, inter- and transdisciplinary science of social relations with nature that is constantly evolving and oriented towards transformation towards sustainability (Gottschlich 2017, pp. 5-6). The founders of ISOE, Egon Becker and Thomas Jahn, define social ecology as “the science of social relations of nature. It investigates theoretically and empirically their forms, changes and possibilities for shaping social practice in an integrative perspective” (Becker & Jahn 2006, p. 87). In this context, social relations of nature refer to “symbolically mediated material-energetic and organic patterns of regulation” (Becker & Jahn 2006, p. 193). Referring back to the zoologist Jakob von Uexküll, environment is seen as a relational rather than an objective category, since an identical environmental setting produces highly different perceptions and effects from the respective species-specific or individual perspective (Becker & Jahn 2006, p. 143). In this respect, the environment is also a socially constructed reality and environmental problems cannot be solved solely through a natural science or engineering perspective. The intention of social ecology is therefore to integrate the competing natural and social science research methodologies into a holistic perspective.

The English term “social ecology” was coined by Milla A. Alihan in the 1920s with the intention of creating an analytical and integrative framework about the relationship between people and their environment as the field of human ecology (Hummel et al. 2017, p. 2). The term is strongly associated with urban sociological research at the Chicago School and the book The City published by Robert Park, Ernest, Burgess and Roderick McKenzie in 1925. Other influences come from biologically based systems ecology, cultural and urban ecology, and industrial ecology. The latter in turn is linked to the concept of social metabolism. 

Social ecology sees itself as a critical science with a close relationship to institutional politics and social movements. As applied basic research, it belongs to a new type of research, which is also referred to as “mode 2 science” in the discourse on the theory of science. It understands environmental problems as social problems (Becker 2016, p. 392) and considers the mutual constitution of nature and society within the framework of an integrative concept. In doing so, social-ecological research examines how these relationships can be identified, explored, thought about and shaped with regard to hybrid crisis constellations that are constantly in flux (Gottschlich 2017, p. 7). Social-ecological research is problem-oriented, related to concrete fields of action and in the form of participatory research that integrates knowledge from practice. It therefore operates transdisciplinarily in diverse organisational forms with social actors and scientists and is directed towards concrete social problems outside academia. Since ecological and socio-economic causes and effects influence each other and are interwoven in societal relationships with nature, economic innovations must be promoted in addition to political and scientific innovations in order to shape the relationship between society and nature. Here, however, economics is conceived less from the market, production and growth, but rather from everyday life and needs (Gottschlich 2017, p. 7, Becker & Jahn 2006, p. 16).

CMI.BA is developing a social-ecological overall concept for the project in Bratislava that takes equal account of the ecological and social dimensions of building in order to arrive at integrated solutions. The focus is always on synergies: it is assumed that the integration of community and technology, efficiency and sufficiency can lead to more significant innovations than researching these dimensions independently of each other (cf. Becker 2016, p. 398). A new narrative needs to be developed.


Becker, Egon; Jahn, Thomas (Hg.) (2006): Soziale Ökologie. Grundzüge einer Wissenschaft von den gesellschaftlichen Naturverhältnissen. Frankfurt a. M. / New York: Campus Verlag.

Becker, Egon (2016): Keine Gesellschaft ohne Natur. Beiträge zur Entwicklung einer Sozialen Ökologie. Frankfurt a. M.: Campus Verlag. 

Gottschlich, D. (2017): Soziale Ökologie. Charakteristika, Besonderheiten, kritisch-emanzipatorische Erweiterungspotenziale. In Nr. 29. S. 4-13. fiph – Forschungsinstitut für Philosophie Hannover. Schwerpunktthema Kulturökologie

Hummel, Diana, Thomas Jahn, Florian Keil, Stefan Liehr, and Immanuel Stieß (2017): Social Ecology as Critical, Transdisciplinary Science—Conceptualizing, Analyzing and Shaping Societal Relations to Nature. In Sustainability 9, no. 7: 1050.

Liehr, S., Becker, E. & Keil, F. (2006): Systemdynamiken. In: Becker, E. & Jahn, T. (Hrsg.): Soziale Ökologie. Grundzüge einer Wissenschaft von den gesellschaftlichen Naturverhältnissen, Frankfurt a. M./ New York, S. 267-283.

3. CoHousing

Part of social-ecological building is cohousing, described as follows by id22: Cohousing is a term often interwoven with other alternative forms of housing such as communal and collective living, shared housing and eco-villages (LaFond et al. 2017). Such forms of housing are increasingly seen as a way to address a range of challenges to community, democracy and equity that are exacerbated by investor-driven, speculative and individualised developers. As Hagbert & Bradley (2017) write, CoHousing projects are a way of self-organising to build more ecologically, socially and economically resilient communities, and propose a form of cohousing that encourages the sharing of spaces and resources beyond private ownership. There are social, economic and environmental reasons for sharing that can promote organic community development, adaptability and flexibility.


Hagbert, Pernilla;  Bradley, Karin (2017): Transitions on the home front: A story of sustainable living beyond ecoefficiency. In: Energy Research & Social Science (2017),

LaFond, M. et al. (2017). COHousing Inclusive – Selbstorganisiertes, gemeinschaftliches Wohnen für Alle. 1. Aufl. Autoren: Michael LaFond, id22: Institut für kreative Nachhaltigkeit, Larisa Tsvetkova (Hg.). Berlin: Jovis Verlag.

4. 2000-Watt Society

The use of fossil fuels is one of the main drivers of anthropogenic climate change.  climate change. To counter this, enormous technological and societal transformations are required, combined with a strong societal model supported by different actors. In Switzerland, the ETH Zurich has been developing the concept of the 2,000-watt society since the mid-1990s. A maximum, average energy output of max. 2,000 watts per inhabitant is defined as the target for a sustainable society. The 2,000-watt society and the decarbonisation of energy systems are among the two long-term concepts that have been proposed as decisive solutions to climate and energy policy tasks (Spreng & Semadeni 2001, p. 5 f.).

Switzerland’s annual per capita energy consumption in 2000 was about 6000 watts, including net imported grey energy. The target of 2000 watts corresponds approximately to the Swiss per capita energy consumption in 1960 (Spreng & Semadeni 2001, p. 6). However, the goal of a 2000-watt society does not mean “reducing comfort to 1960 levels, but rather dramatically improving the efficiency of energy use and reducing energy consumption on the basis of a modern lifestyle with innovative technical solutions, management concepts and social innovations. Many things, such as zero-energy houses, car-free zones, the smallest, most fuel-efficient vehicles and highly efficient, computer-controlled production plants, are already possible today” (Spreng & Semadeni 2001, p.6).

The strength of this guiding principle is that it defines a simple and objectively measurable target value that extends across all areas of societal metabolism (construction and housing, energy supply, mobility, nutrition and all other areas of consumption). In this way, the development towards a more sustainable society can be reviewed and, if necessary, measures can be readjusted. Many Swiss municipalities have now made this concept the guiding principle of their urban development. Many cooperative housing projects in Switzerland, such as the Giesserei and Kalkbreite, have also committed themselves to the concept of the 2000-watt society. This is implemented there through a combination of efficiency and sufficiency strategies with corresponding structural, energy-related, design and use-related measures. In these projects, for example, the buildings were constructed as passive houses, mobility concepts with a minimum of individual motorised traffic were agreed upon, individual private spaces were reduced to a minimum and collective or shared spaces were enlarged. In order to record the results of these measures, the energy consumption in the entire project is measured per person and not per square metre. For the evaluation of these so-called “2000-watt areas”, own calculation methods and calculation aids for monitoring have been developed (Lenel 2012, p. 219 f.). In Germany and other countries, the application of this guiding principle is not yet so widespread, but it would be very useful especially in the planning of new neighbourhoods and neighbourhood renovation (Keßling 2010).


Keßling, Britt (2010): Die Schweizer 2000-Watt-Gesellschaft – ein Konzept auch für Deutschland? db Deutsche Bauzeitung 11/2010.

Lenel, Severin (2012): 2000-Watt-Gesellschaft in der Schweiz – vom globalen Modell zum einzelnen Gebäude. In: M. Drilling, O. Schnur (Hrsg.), Nachhaltige Quartiersentwicklung, DOI 10.1007/978-3-531-94150-9_11, Wiesbaden: Springer VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften

Spreng, Daniel;  Semadeni, Marco (2001): Energie, Umwelt und die 2000 Watt Gesellschaft. Grundlage zu einem Beitrag an den Schlussbericht Schwerpunktsprogramm Umwelt (SPPU) des Schweizerischen National Fonds (SNF). CEPE Working Paper Nr. 11

5. Prosumers

The term prosumer consists of the combination of the terms producer and consumer. The term “prosumer” or producer-consumer has great potential when understood from a social-ecological perspective: it simply means to produce at least part of what you consume. In the built environment, it is mostly associated with community-based, decentralised renewable energy projects or local agriculture, such as urban farming. When such projects are democratically organised, they can help put control over the consumption and production of basic resources like energy and food back into the hands of the people who use and need them. Those who are both producers and consumers have a different perspective on things. Prosumption can become a driving force for innovation and change in the economic system.

Already in the late 1980s, Block 103 (Berlin) pioneered the demonstration of resident-organised and managed combined heat and power, solar energy and water recycling plants. In terms of food production, Spreefeld (Berlin), ufaFabrik (Berlin) and Kalkbreite (Zurich) all have urban farming, food forests, edible and productive landscapes on site. These spaces not only provide food, but also encourage interaction between residents and the neighbourhood. In addition, ufaFabrik and Block 103 have children’s farms. Initiatives like the ones presented help to counteract the ecologically destructive processes of industrialised agriculture by promoting small-scale and organic food production and shortening the distance from “pasture to plate”. The community-based projects can strengthen community cohesion and at the same time connect people with nature. The educational aspect is particularly important to teach children growing up in urban spaces about living with plants and animals.  At the same time, however, self-organised infrastructures such as energy, water and food systems require technology that is likely to be expensive and unable to influence people’s behaviour. Technological innovations, whether low- or high-tech, should be open and accessible to everyone.


Hellmann, Kai-Uwe (2016) : Auf dem Weg in die “Prosumentengesellschaft”? Über die Stabilisierbarkeit produktiver Konsumentennetzwerke, Vierteljahrshefte zur Wirtschaftsforschung, ISSN 1861-1559, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin, Vol. 85, Iss. 2, pp. 49-63,

Ritzer, G., & Jurgenson, N. (2010). Produktion, Konsumtion, Prosumtion: Die Natur des Kapitalismus im Zeitalter des digitalen “Prosumenten”. Journal of Consumer Culture, 10(1), 13-36.

Ritzer, G., Dean, P., & Jurgenson, N. (2012). The coming of age of the prosumer. American behavioral scientist, 56(4), 379-398.

6. Synergies

Community-oriented housing ideally leads to sustainability and regeneration as well as affordability – and requires synergies and integrated uses, a combination of community and technology-based innovation in a social-ecological synergy. Virtuosic synergies between social, environmental and technological dynamics lead to an effect greater than the sum of the individual elements and, most importantly, to a higher quality of life for the building’s occupants, users and visitors. To achieve this, a social-ecological framework is proposed that is guided by a user orientation and a community of prosumers, rather than simply a collection of individualised tenants and consumers. In CMI.BA and many other current projects, a few main goals compete for attention: (1) increasing energy efficiency and renewable energy production, and (2) maintaining affordability while building community around building retrofits and sustainability.