See How It’s Built


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Structure Follows Social Spaces” (205) introduces the concept that people must see “how it is put together”. “Gradual Stiffening” (208) also touches upon this topic.

It is now easy to build houses and fixtures where the details of how it’s constructed are no longer visible.  This hidden-from-view style is a modern invention and it takes something special away from the beauty of any house.


One compliment often used for desirable houses is “sturdy”.  It arises when you can see both how the structure is made, and that those elements seem well built.  It is a good thing.  But having massive timbers alone is not sufficient if you cannot fully see how they hold the roof up. Load bearing timber beams should always have it obvious where their weight is resting.

Ideally the weight of any ceiling timbers can be seen resting on other posts or beams. But sometimes beams run perpendicular to walls and their ends simply disappear into the wall.   The problem, in addition to not really seeing what supports it, is that it is aesthetically abrupt.  To remedy this it needs something extra, a transition piece where the beam meets the wall.  Corbels under the beams is one good solution. Remember, a big important beam should not just end without some fanfare.




Likewise, beams that terminate into the wall directly above doors and windows often appear inadequately supported and structurally unsound (even if they are not). You should always be able to see what’s holding it up. This is a good situation to use visible “Perimeter Beams” (217).

Another aspect of this pattern is the “No Hidden Fasteners” rule. Do not try to hide the mechanisms that hold things together. Let them show,  they only add additional depth and detail. For timeless appearance try to avoid using modern-looking Phillips and hex-head screws. It is better to use old flat-slotted screws and square-head nuts and bolts, or better yet wood pegs.




Try to always make the structural components of the house be visible so you can see what is holding everything up. At smaller scales, you should be able to see what holds objects together. Do not try to hide the mechanisms that hold things together. Let them show.



Gary Zuker is a Senior Systems Administrator at the University of Texas, Austin. In 1989 he built a house outside of Austin. Inspired and guided by "A Pattern Language", he developed 12 new patterns during the process of building his house.
Gary Zuker

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