Friday, March 21, 2008

January 25, 2008 presentation: Justin Smith


This presentation will be aired on KWSU-TV, Channel 10, Thursday, March 27th, at 9 pm, and again on Sunday, March 30th at 10 am.

What is knowledge? How do we reuse it and transfer it? How do we represent this knowledge in ways that are simple to comprehend for the uninitiated? These are all serious and inherently difficult questions that are being asked among people working in nearly every field, whether in business or politics, in education or engineering.

Philosopher and architect Christopher Alexander put forth a theory on architectural practice that emphasized the use of patterns as reusable elements of good design. When configured together these patterns formed a network, a cohesive whole, a Pattern Language. While Alexander’s work failed to bring about a revolution of modern architecture, the simplicity of his multi-dimensional approach to “Whole-Systems Design” prompted the adoption, and arguably a revolution among a number of fields completely unrelated to architecture. From object-oriented programming and software design, to community information systems, environmental planning and permaculture, patterns have become central principles for working with complex systems. However, as the number of patterns has grown within each of these fields a concern over complexity and usability has surfaced. In an attempt to address these concerns a number of scholars have begun to focus upon the visual representation and ontological configuration of pattern languages. Yet, despite the strides made with knowledge mapping and information visualization, pattern users have been slow to incorporate these approaches into their knowledge base.

To prompt further thinking on the topic of patterns and pattern language representation, this talk hopes to address possible opportunities for representing patterns that enable users to traverse the multiple dimensions
of a pattern language, as well as discuss some of the problems associated with current approaches to the visualization of a complex system of knowledge.

Justin Smith is an Environmental Science and Regional Planning Ph.D student at WSU. His primary research is centered upon the integration of Christopher Alexander's theory of "Patterns" and "Pattern Languages" as a conceptual framework for collaborative community problem-solving and sustainable development.

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