Fragment of Generative Code for Neighborhoods


Fitting the foundations to the land, by hand, and making the plinth beautiful

Originally written for the Martinez house, Martinez, California, 1983

When we begin to place and build foundations, the following steps must be taken, in this order:

At this moment you have a rough plan of the house. It may be drawn roughly, or accurately, but in any case you have the principal dimensions of the building. In either case, the layout now needs to be adjusted with regard to your actual experience on the site, and the feeling the building will have.

  • Use two stakes to pin down the front wall of the principal face. Test it by standing with your arms extended, point at these stakes, and then bring your arms together, pointing forward, to determine the line of sight from that building face. If it is not quite right (i.e. does not quite have the maximum feeling you think is possible), then adjust the two stakes until you have the perfect alignment.
  • The plan of the building will, most often, be composed of one or more rectangles, touching. Put sticks in the ground where you think each of these rectangles should be. You may be surprised to find that what the drawing says, and what your feelings say, and not quite the same. You are now going to adjust the plan, to be congruent with your feelings.
  • Adjust the corner stakes until, at least in plan, you are comfortable with their positions, and the feeling they create.

  • Now begin to conceive the beauty of the base of the building, as a solid three dimensional object.
  • Conceive the whole base of the building as a series of solid, distinct rectangular blocks rising out of the ground, and typically reaching one or two feet out of the ground, occasionally more, occasionally less.
  • Once you have this conception roughly clear, put a longish stick at each corner of each rectangle, and use surveyor's tape or string, to run a visible horizontal line along the outer top edge of each plinth.
  • The top of each of these plinths will later become one of the ground floors of the building. The different plinths may all have the same level for their tops, or the levels may vary with the elevation of the site, if the site is sloping.

  • Once dimensions, positions, and heights are finally settled, you may start to build the stem walls that will define the plinth, physically. The stem walls may be made in block, concrete, brick, or stone, or other masonry combinations..
  • First trench the footing for each stem wall. Batter boards must be used so that the lines and heights of each stem wall are preserved, while backhoe work is going on.


  • Set sticks to form rectangles on the site. Adjust when necessary, if size seems off.
  • Check entrance path, and check views from important rooms.
  • Set horizontal tapes to marks possible height of each plinth.
  • Experiment (by standing on ladder, chairs etc) to test whether the floor heights are at the levels they will have the best effect on the feeling in the house.