We can use the multi-scale patterns constructed in chapter IV as a method of analysis, mapping out the organization of stuff in different areas in a building. In most cases almost all of these patterns are present somewhere, as they serve certain roles in the whole of the system; ordered resources serve cells of self-organization and smaller configurations in sight inspire them. Nevertheless, the distribution and dynamics of those patterns differs per person, program and building, and can be insightful for architects.

6.2.1 Pattern dots, pattern cards

The method of mapping out organizational patterns in fact locates all items in a house, but in an abstract and simplified manner. One way to do this is by roughly placing smaller and larger dots that represent individual items on a floor plan, such as is demonstrated below in the Eames House (Case Study House, no 8). Following this, larger multi-scale patterns can be identified (the dotting method).

A more ad-hoc way to make the analysis is by using the card set, to be found as a download below (the card method). This is easiest by similarly moving up through the scales, starting with the small cards and when a larger pattern can be recognized, exchanging them for larger ones. This method is less precise, but easier to perform on the spot. It is also better for researching dynamics within those patterns, for the cards can be shifted around.

Fig t1.3: Using the pattern cards to make a quick ‘map’ of the stuff patterns in a room.

6.2.2 A method of analysis

Mapping out an existing buildings using this method, can (as found so far) give insight in three different ways.

1 Personalities

Everyone has a different relation with stuff and outlining the patterns of stuff in a house tells us much about the inhabitant and their personality. The Eames, for example, were famous for their love of stuff; they had a vast collection of furniture, books, souvenirs, tapestries, plants and African masks and carefully placed them in their house in varying compositions. This shows in the patterned map as many small centers of self-organization, or stuff configurations. Some other people choose to place things much more out of sight, giving their house a minimalistic atmosphere. Hence, these items will follow a more space-saving pattern: one of order.

When mapping out the dynamics of these patterns through time, another variable is noticeable; something we can call the mess threshold. In every interior, chaos will eventually arise, but the tolerance towards it significantly differs between people. This means that the lifecycle of stuff cells wil generally be shorter and, additionally, less chaos will be around.

Another variable is the pace in which stuff is displaced. Whereas some people hardly ever touch most of their stuff, others love to potter around their house and get lost in all of their belongings. These are mostly active people, that are full of ideas about what next to create or what new hobby to start. Also children are, of course, a perfect example of people who throw things around.

2 Programs

Different programs give different patterns, which can be an insightful awareness when one, for example, has to design for a specific function. An artist’s studio holds many smaller and larger places for (intuitive) assemblage, whereas a gym is a relatively clean and ordered place where people can easily find what they are looking for. A good bookstore is ordered but at times displaying titles in surprising combinations to give the visitor new ideas.

A useful method for architects is using the pattern overview to analyse well-functioning examples of buildings that hold the program to design for. The design can thus be anticipated on how it might eventually be used and what spaces are needed in the midst of action. Additionally, when repeated for a number of examples, it may be possible to directly relate designed architectural form to the patterns observed. Where do people install themselves? Where are things logically stored? What are the places where left-over stuff naturally accumulates?

3 Generic – specific

Lastly, mapping stuff patterns over a period of time shows a second pattern: one of solid and liquid. The frequency in which patterns change is a variable that differs per place. In every building examples can be found of high stuff-density places that nevertheless stay the same. Often a house contains some ‘overflow areas’ (a scullery, toolshed or a part of the attic) that are always chaotic. An archive of old stuff kept for memories, but not for daily use, is often ordered for longer periods of time. Examples of self-organization that are long conserved are a shower, bed or toilet. These are stuff cells around highly scripted behavior, intuitive and always the same.

Fig t1.4: A pattern of ‘solid’ and ‘liquid’ in my room, based on the information from data set 1. The dark gray patches have essentially stayed the same over almost the course of a year, the middle gray patches have changed a few times in this period and the lighter patches change their pattern once a week or more.

A possible position to take as architect is, for instance, to design more specifically for long-term ordered and highly scripted places, through, for example, a clever space-saving shelf system in the attic and a thoughtful shower design in which all phases of the ritual find their place. Other less-defined spaces are kept open, leaving room for messiness and spontaneous ideas.

6.2.3 A method for design

Designing is imagining possible futures. The designer of a building constantly pictures the building in use, and therefore (consciously or unconsciously) generates an organizational pattern of imaginary stuff.

In making this part of the design process explicit, form and infill can be coupled as a complementary pair in a direct way. The designer is able to make conscious decisions on what to trigger, what to regulate and also where to stop designing. Being aware of the multi-scale patterns forming in stuff systems, does not only make the whole of this more comprehensible, as the method is abstract and does not label specific artifacts and functions, also it generates a more complex and dynamic idea of stuff through time than the typical furniture template.

A designer can choose to use the dotting or the card method on their design, to make explicit what could happen where. This can, instead of a method for designing, also be one for communication. When used a couple of times, however, the patterns can hardly be unseen. Eventually the awareness itself becomes a skill of the designer.


In 1945 Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen started the design of two houses, a part of the Case Study Houses program of the magazine Arts & Architecture. One of them was for Charles himself and his partner in life and work, Ray Eames. The design, two units (a living unit and a studio) made up from a steel frame with a standard system of open and closed walls, was simple. But as the Eames were famous for their love of collecting and displaying stuff, their home became a complex configuration of items. “Bringing the ordinary, everyday and the ‘as found’ to a higher level became characteristic of the Eames, particularly in the eclectic mix of ingeneously configured objects in their home”, so The House Book (2001, p. 110) describes them. This, together with the fact it is so well documented, makes a good case study for stuff pattern analysis, as demonstrated overleaf.

Fig t1.5: Floor plan of the living unit of the Eames house.


In a time frame of 25 minutes we asked participants to use the pattern cards to analyse a specific and well-known ‘table’, such as their desk at work, and subsequently make a new design inspired by their findings.

Thus both the placing of the patterns in relation to the whole and the specific ‘needs’ of every pattern played a role: chaos for example asks for boundaries (such as a tray or a pocket), order for a grid-like system and self-organisation for a relatively empty horizontal table top.

Fig t1.6: Participant mapping out the typical patterns on the ‘judges’ table during her weekly sports match.

Fig t1.7 and t1.8: Participant’s redesign of his desk in an architecture office with the corresponding patterns.