Urban lessons from the Painter of LightTM

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This week's column in Urban Tulsa Weekly is about what we can learn about urban design from the commercial success of painter Thomas Kinkade:

Thomas Kinkade seems to understand that places--houses and shops, landscapes and streetscapes--have the ability to touch the heart. In his choice of subjects and his depiction of main streets, neighborhoods, country cottages, townhouses, and bungalows, he strikes a chord with the viewer.

His cinematic suggestions brought to mind what architect Christopher Alexander called the "Timeless Way of Building."

This timeless way expresses itself in patterns in the way we make a town or a building.

Every building, neighborhood, town, and city is constructed from a collection of patterns. Alexander observed that some patterns are living and some are dead. The ones that are living are those that connect in some way with human nature--they attract people, making them feel at home and alive.

Dead patterns repel people, making them feel ill at ease and restless. A place shaped by dead patterns becomes neglected and uncared for and attracts trash, decay, and crime.

In the book A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction, Alexander and his colleagues identified and gave names to 253 lively patterns that appear to be timeless, recurring across cultures and centuries. Kinkade's suggestions to his filmmakers echo many of these patterns: Pools of Light, Magic of the City, Four-Story Limit, Paths and Goals, Warm Colors, Street Windows, Shielded Parking.

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I would never have thought of Kinkade as unraveling any mysteries but it makes sense that his aesthetic shows what humans instinctively enjoy. I could only see it once you said it. Kinkade really does show a lot of the patterns that Alexander describes.

At the same time, there's a reason that Cliff May is the most popular architect in history. Of course, even he and Carl Petersen aren't McMansion folks.

Brilliant connection, Michael, and a great piece.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on November 28, 2008 12:36 PM.

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