Pattern Language of Natural Homes No.117 Sheltering Roof


This is the first of a series of articles about A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander where we illustrate and discuss the patterns using homes and buildings made from natural materials like stone, clay, wood and straw. These materials are themselves one of the patterns, namely No.207 'Good (natural) Materials'. As with Alexander's book you will find links to other patterns the pictures illustrate. At first not all patterns will be linked to other articles but to illustrations of the patterns on our facebook album 'A Pattern Language of Natural Homes' which is also available as a widget for your blog or website. Enjoy the creativity of natural builders past and present and admire the architectural observations of Alexander.


The most primitive of buildings are little more than a roof. If the roof cannot be felt visually around the home it doesn't satisfy the psychological need for shelter. The roof shelters if it embraces, covers and surrounds the process of living. Alexander's advice is to make the entire surface of the roof visible, bring the eaves low to about 6’6” (2m) where people gather, like entrances and seats and build the top storey of the building right into the roof.

This beautiful home (right) is a rubble stone lime mortar thatched cottage in Blaise Hamlet near Bristol, England. It was designed by John Nash, a master of the picturesque architectural style and designer of a very famous house in London, namely Buckingham Palace. The cottage, along with the rest of the hamlet, is owned by the UK's National Trust.

The home also demonstrates other external patterns making it attractive such as No.116 'Cascade of Roofs', No.239 'Small Panes', No.242 'Front Door Bench' and No.231 'Dormer Windows'.


A roof which is merely a pitched roof placed on top of the living space will not touch you emotionally, as this home built by Simon Dale does. Simon's home in Wales illustrates how the roof is an integral part of the of the volume of the building. The degree of integration is demonstrated by trying to draw a horizontal line across the facade of the building, which in this case, and the cottage above, is impossible.

In both Simon's home and the above, the roof is a major visual part of the building when seen from a distance, another test of a successful sheltering roof. In both homes it is possible to touch the roof easily at the entrance to the home.

Simon's home also demonstrates other patterns making it attractive such as No.112, ‘Entrance Transition’, No.76, 'House for a Small Family', No.168, ‘Connection to the Earth’, No.118, 'Roof Garden', No.160. 'Building Edge' and No.172, 'Garden Growing Wild' with many others internally.