Designing and Building the Home Foundation

Ken Kern covers the topics of home foundations, rubble masonry, and composite building materials in his Owner-Built Home and Homestead series.

| November/December 1971

Ken Kern, author of The Owner-Built Home and The Owner-Built Homestead, is an amazing fellow and everyone interested in decentralist, back-to-the-land, rational living should know of his work. Back in 1948 he began collecting information on low-cost, simple and natural construction materials and techniques. He combed the world for ideas, tried them and started writing about his experiments. Eventually, Mildred Loomis started publishing Kern's articles in The Interpreter, Way  Out and Green Revolution. Ken has also issued a three year series of pieces (called Technic) on his own and a greenhouse-sun pit design of his has been featured in Organic Gardening.

This series of Ken Kern's work is being taken both from The Owner-Built Home (already published) and The Owner-Built Homestead (to be published).


The Owner-Built Homestead, Volume 3, Chapter 1 The Home Foundation

The form of a building should depend on the function (or use) to which the building and site are to be put. Actually, a person may rent or buy an available house if he can afford it, and then cut and cramp his activities to fit the conventional form of a structure built to sell at a profit. Architecturally speaking, however, we dream first of the kind of life we would live in the foreseeable future, and then design an adaptable or expandable dwelling to fit our dreams.

Present-day architects, for the most part, seem to think that the homeowner lives only to manipulate modern gadgets. So the slogan is, "Design for Equipment." But architects like Richard Neutra react against this technological trend in house building; they claim that design fundamentals should be based on biological rather than technological needs. We should, they assert, design specifically for the human senses; the architect should become a "manipulator of stimuli." It is further argued that the increase in mental disorders makes more urgent the need for design to have a biological basis. Neutra states that each new technological invention results in urgent new demands on the nervous system.

"Design for Equipment" is an appalling concept. But the concern of having to pay on the mortgage of an elaborate sense-attuned Neutra house would depress me as much as would a house designed around gadgetry. In place of either of these "ideals," I would prefer to have a few inconveniences and strained senses in a house that was paid for and built with my own hands—a house planned to suit the site and my family's personal requirements.

Design-wise, an owner-builder is in an enviable position as the one best able to satisfy his own biological space needs. The conflicting design theories of Neutra, Wright and Corbusier can be thrown to the wind when one begins mixing concrete and nailing boards. The owner-builder need only determine the true function of each building component—be it foundation, floor, wall or roof—and relate it to site conditions. Design or form will then take care of itself ("form follows function").

The purposes satisfied by the final form of the building will suggest the material to be used and the method of building construction. In regard to foundation, we need some awareness of soil properties in relation to building (weight, site drainage, freezing conditions, etc.). When due consideration is not given to the functional aspects of the foundation, one may suffer either extravagant waste or structural failure.

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