Writing Generative Codes

Generative codes have a different form and format than other building codes that are widely used today. And each neighborhood will have a code that is unique to its land formation, purpose, inhabitants, etc. However, it is likely that the process of writing generative codes that support the unique unfolding of a particular place will begin in a similar way: gradually identifying the naturally occurring centers in the land and the built structures that are already there.


What follows is a generic version of this early process to help you get started. First there is an explanation of what each code is to accomplish, and then the generative code statement appears in bold type. You may wish to craft both the explanations and the code statements so that they apply more specifically to your land or neighborhood. Or you might want to look at other examples offered on this website to see how this initial process plays out in the issues of layout and design. In any case, please note that these generative code statements describe how the unfolding process is to occur, rather than specifying technical constraints.



Section 1of A Generative Code: Diagnosis of the land


1.1  Protecting the Land Forever

Walking around the land one will encounter different spots with natural beauty or special characteristics. It is not enough to simply identify these beautiful spots. What happens in a typical development is that people see these beautiful places, then rush to exploit them, or overlook them, and perhaps even bulldoze them. Generative code seeks to protect them and enhance them by providing steps that will enshrine each of these lovely, precious spots so that they are part of the living fabric of the neighborhood that is to come.


Generative code statement:

In order to protect the natural beauty of the land, a continual effort shall be made to identify those naturally occurring “centers” in the land which most inspire love and attachment, to keep them and strengthen them so that, as the town is urbanized by construction, still the centers which were inherent in the land will inspire and dominate the structure of the newly built place.




1.2  What is a Center, and How Shall Centers be Protected and Enhanced?

A center is a spot of living beauty in the land. When you walk around the land, as it is today, these places strike you with their life, the life radiates out beyond them, and they beg to be preserved. Centers can be any size: very small, middle sized, or very large. A trickling stream under a piece of stone may be a center. A large basin in the landscape may be a living center.

The intent of generative codes is not only to encourage the preservation of living centers in the land, but then to enhance them and strengthen them: that means to build buildings and other built structures which preserve and draw their inspiration from the naturally occurring centers, so that their beauty and intensity is kept alive. This can be done by building – in stone, in wood, concrete, tile, steel, and glass – constructed enhancements that support the naturally occurring centers in the land. This is intended to preserve a continuity from the land as it was, to the neighborhood and buildings as they will be, and, through its unfolding, to maintain the deep feeling of the place at all times.


Generative Code statement:

The neighborhood, as it evolves, shall always be made so that, as far as possible, the existing centers visible in the land shall be maintained, sustained, and improved, by the actions taken in development. This means specifically that:

a.      The public pedestrian paths and roads and public open spaces – the rights of way which form the life of the neighborhood – shall be chosen to preserve and strengthen the centers that inhere in the land itself.

b.      The buildings and enclosures created by construction adjacent to these public rights of way shall be placed and shaped to enhance and enliven the deep feeling which lies in the centers as they exist in the neighborhood and land before construction.



1.3  Diagnosis on a Green Field Site


Diagnosis is the process through which the land is observed, and scrutinized, at regular intervals, to identify the living centers, as a guide and source of future construction, and as precious places of value to be kept and hallowed by the construction of the neighborhood.


Generative code statement:

In an area being diagnosed, the living centers shall be identified by the following empirical test: a place within the area is identified as “living” when two or three people agree that to them it seems a spot with exceptional life. Places meeting this test shall be recorded on a diagnostic site map.




1.4 Diagnosis in the Presence of Buildings or a Neighborhood


In an area where buildings, roads, public works, or exterior structures have been built, the process of diagnosis is more complex, and requires a somewhat more complex procedure.

As in the case of nature, the process starts by looking for valuable and precious places which have life, as they are, using the same empirical procedure set forth in 1.3.

Generative Code Statement:

The valuable and precious built places that have life shall be recorded on the diagnosis site map, and protected in any subsequent construction that takes place.


The second way the diagnostic process works, in cases where there is existing built structure (buildings, roads, paths, retaining walls, and so on), looks for ‘‘latent’’ centers. A latent center is a center which has the promise of life, even though it may not be very strongly living as matters now stand. The criterion for a latent center, is that two or three people can see, and agree, not only that it has potential as a living center, but that structure-preserving (defined in 1.6) actions can be imagined which will bring that place to life.



Generative code statement:

Latent centers that have the promise of life shall be recorded on the diagnosis site map, and protected in any subsequent construction that takes place. Rough ideas about possible structure-preserving transformations for a given place shall be recorded at the time of the initial diagnosis. Members of the neighborhood shall be encouraged to think about diagnosis as a routine matter of daily life, and to communicate their feelings about possible structure-preserving transformations. Some version of the imagined improvements shall be carried out.




1.6     Structure-Preserving Transformations on a Green Field Site

It is, in our era, not widely recognized that each act of construction can either help, or harm, the natural wholeness which exists in a piece of land. The definition of this concept is probably the most profound and most subtle matter dealt with in The Nature of Order (see 2.16). It is essential to creating neighborhoods that have life. Most people in traditional times had a natural understanding of this issue and created the places we admire.


In a nutshell, a structure-preserving transformation is: an act which first recognizes the existing beauty and order and structure existing in the current situation, and where the act (design, construction, painting, planting a garden, anything) then preserves and enhances that existing beauty and order, rather than harming it.

Generative codes encourage every act of design and construction to be a structure-preserving transformation. In order to be able to do this, people must learn to perceive the wholeness of a given place not merely some pleasant or spiritual sensation, but an actual ability to grasp the essential structure of that wholeness, and then respect it and respond to it. This is not typically done in contemporary planning practice, and requires newly defined skills and awareness of issues that were not previously part of conventional practice.


One vital issue involved includes knowing which features of a given landscape or of a given natural center, give it its centeredness, give it its essential feeling. Making this observation correctly is a matter of intuition coupled with analytical ability, and a matter of being able (accurately) to seize those features of the place which must be enhanced or preserved, because they are the ones most important to its life.


A second vital issue, even more important, requires knowing what features of building — building volume, and hard construction in the landscape — will sustain the wholeness that exists. This can involve very subtle issues. The scale of a thing, its placement on a slope, placement with respect to the natural direction of a slope, orientation to views, decision as to which trees to preserve and which to open up, extent of a hard surface, balance of hard and soft in the treatment of the walking surfaces, use of walls to create enclosure, but just the right amount of enclosure, not too much and not too little, the creation of positive space in the land between buildings, walls, and trees — (one of the most subtle issues of all); and the support given by a hierarchy of volumes to natural hierarchies of volumes inherent in the land.

Generative Code statement:

All acts of development – including placement and construction of buildings, hard surfaces, paths, roads, retaining wall, choices of trees, planting of trees – shall be undertaken in such a way as to optimize, to the extent reasonably feasible, the enhancement of the structure already present in the land.



1.7 Structure-Preserving Transformations in the Emerging Fabric of a Neighborhood



Initially, diagnoses will be based mainly on nature, and on the natural state of the land. However, as buildings, pedestrian space, and roads and other public works are built and established, then the fabric of the neighborhood, as perceived and felt structure, will depend on these human-made features together with nature and the land. Thus gradually the diagnosis will describe centers, emerging latent centers, and living centers, that arise in the newly created urban structure. These living centers, too, shall be cherished, enhanced and preserved, by structure-preserving transformations that come afterwards.

Thus, the future actions of development, once the neighborhood, and the town to which it belongs, has begun to take shape, will treat the neighborhood itself – its built space, its buildings, and its connective tissue – as a precious substance, which, as much as nature, shall be protected, preserved, and enhanced by further actions.

Generative Code Statement:

As the neighborhood grows, extensions of major public space, public buildings, parks, and open areas shall be made in accordance with the same principles and defined procedures of diagnosis and structure-preserving transformations.