Minecraft: A Pattern Language
Typically my taste in architecture is functional, spartan, and modern–but there's a great deal to be said for “A Pattern Language”. As I approach the end of the book, I've started to question, apply, and practice these patterns in Minecraft structures. This structure is a cabin for a small family or group of friends.
The local climate is a temperate grassland and oak forest. A small sandy pool lies between two groves, providing ACCESS TO WATER. The site was chosen for its fantastic views, and situated such that the forest shielded it from a nearby castle; there is no developed land visible from the site itself. Concordant with SITE REPAIR, I chose a mildly sloping, uninterrupted stretch of land close to, but not interfering with, TREE PLACES or the water. Locally sourced timber and cobblestone were the primary building supplies, obtained by thinning one oak forest repeatedly and replanting. Careful effort was made not to disturb the local ecology while allowing ready access to nature.
This building calls for two to four inhabitants plus guests, across two formal bedrooms and a common sleeping space. As a self-sufficient homestead it needs ample storage. A large livable attic stretching over a single story seemed ideal, and consistent with the need for a SHELTERING ROOF.
SOUTH-FACING OUTDOORS suggested situating the cabin to the north of the site and leaving the south open for a sunny garden space. This also helped fix the front and back entrances: the lake and commmon spaces of the house to the back.
I began by laying out cobblestone COLUMNS AT THE CORNERS, beginning with an ENTRANCE ROOM and giving the cabin a central east-west corridor. I placed bedrooms and storage, an open farmhouse kitchen and living room for the COMMON AREAS AT THE HEART. A back porch rounded out the floor plan. After tweaking the column positions to match the site geography, I expanded some walls to give every room LIGHT ON TWO SIDES, then filled in the walls between columns with timber. GRADUAL STIFFENING suggests exploring the space with cheap, changeable materials, progressing to sturdier construction elements as the design solidifies in place. I used earthen forms for temporary walls to explore the dimensions of the space, converting to wood as the plan settled.
Satisfied with FINAL COLUMN DISTRIBUTION, I introduced strong beams between columns. These supported SHELTERING ROOFS over the largest rectangular aspect of the cabin (east to west) and added crosswise vaults for the projecting WINGS OF LIGHT. Roofing is hard to do correctly–I've struggled with it on several projects, and ROOF LAYOUT proved quite useful. Notably, it suggested moving from largest-to-smallest rectangular pitched roofs, and hipping for an even eaves-line around the garden. The kitchen roof was the only area which I couldn't cover cleanly, which suggested a natural place for a flat ROOF GARDEN; happily, also facing south. I laid the first-floor roof and vaulted ceilings where possible, then moved back in to place furniture, doors, and THINGS FROM MY LIFE.
To establish a strong CONNECTION WITH THE EARTH, and in keeping with the rugged theme of the cabin, I opted to make the MAIN ENTRANCE an OUTDOOR ROOM, sheltered from the rain by a vaulted roof. It provides a COLUMN PLACE; enclosed, safe, with SITTING STEPS to enjoy the view. This satisfies ENTRANCE TRANSITION's need for a definite space to pass through which is halfway between indoors and outdoors.
Upon entering the cabin one has a small ENTRANCE ROOM to sit and take off boots, perhaps to socialize, relax, or read. Following INTIMACY GRADIENT, the public spaces (main hallway, common areas) are open and immediately ahead; the private spaces are to the sides, separated by narrower hallways and some distance.
A nearby BULK STORAGE room provides chests and room for outdoor equipment, coats, etc; but since it is so close to the entrance, it is also shelters the ladder to the attic.
Overlooking the garden and at the heart of the house, this FARMHOUSE KITCHEN provides 12 feet of counter space and a SUNNY COUNTER, consistent with COOKING LAYOUT. It also has a huge wooden table, providing counter space, a SITTING CIRCLE, and EATING ATMOSPHERE.
The kitchen and living room are both common; circulation between them must be free. However, they fulfill different roles, and without differentiation they will fail to support individual activities. So while the kitchen has ready visibility with the living room, they are separated by a ceiling vault and dividing wall. Since people need space to traverse the common area via different paths, I gave the kitchen two doors to the hallway, with paths tangent to common spaces.
The living room needs a connection to the outdoors, so I've placed it facing the back yard. Parents can watch their kids play in the lake, or catch glimpses of each other during a cookout. At the end of a long day, friends can come together in this SEQUENCE OF SITTING SPACES to enjoy the fireplace and spectacular sunset views. A strong WINDOW PLACE is provided by the raised seat as well. Mats can be unrolled to sleep by the fire when guests stay the night.
Both kitchen and living room need a close connection to the garden, for vegetables and for relaxation. This back porch provides a second OUTDOOR ROOM around that transition; a chest immediately inside provides space for gardening tools. This is another sheltered volume which takes advantage of COLUMN PLACE to bring the roof close enough to touch; surrounded on two sides, but with a view into a larger open space.
The attic volume is hard to fill because of the constraints of Minecraft's geometry, but one can envision space for storage, sleeping spaces, small rooms, etc here. Some of the most beautiful homes I've been in had WINDOW PLACES under strong sloped roofs like these.
There is also a small roof garden–a part of SOUTH FACING OUTDOORS.
The north bedroom has a strong window space provided by the bed itself; by extending further than the rest of the cabin it gets light on three sides.
The east bedroom is smaller but much higher; it uses its vaulted ceilings for a tiny loft: SECRET PLACE. The loft helps to generate an enclosure around the bed: BED ALCOVE.
Window seats and a bookcase give one a sunny place to read. It also yields spectacular sunrise views; a part of SLEEPING TO THE EAST.
This is by no means a complete plan, but it was the first time I tried applying the patterns to generate an actual livable structure in three dimensions. I feel like the result was not only natural to build but beautiful to live in. The design evolved organically, freely, over the course of three hours, and moving from the most general constraints to the most specific meant I rarely had to tear down elements and start again. On the other hand, I had to reject many of the small-scale essentials to A Pattern Language because they simply can't be expressed in 1-meter cubes.
For a fantasy world in which anything is buildable, I usually feel like my Minecraft structures aren't livable environments. They're brutally functional, or crafted purely in the exploration of some artistic ideal; they always support the critical paths and functions necessary, but rarely is there the trace of a real, living presence in the structure. This cabin, on the other hand, is full of those traces. You can envision cooking, sleeping, relaxing, working here. I could call it home.
Maybe some day I'll be able to build one like it.