Adhocism

Last night, I went to a talk at the ICA by the architectural theorist and critic Charles Jencks. He was talking about his 1972 book Adhocism.

Adhocism is about a sense of improvisation and reinterpretation in creativity – using whatever materials you have around you to solve a real-world problem. It’s the combination of purposefulness and immediacy – “the eureka moment in our lives, the moment of first discovery before the designers go in and flatten it all out and make it seamless.”

We see it every day in our lives – the wine bottle reused as a candle stick holder, or the empty half of a burger carton transformed into a bowl for our fries, but there is a real beauty to this idea. Of finding solutions that work; that are simple, quick and effective. The combination of previously unconnected ideas that work together to produce something new.

If you designing a candle stick holder and were starting from first principles, you might decide that you want something that is slender and narrow so that it doesn’t take up too much space on your table. You might want something that doesn’t obstruct the view of the person sat next to you. You might want something that captures the molten wax. A wine bottle does none of these things. And yet the ubiquity of the wine bottle candle stick holder suggests it does something else. It’s elegant in its own way – it’s economical, it’s simple, it’s honest.

It’s a reminder that often the best ideas are the simplest. It’s not about reinventing the wheel, but rethinking about what you can do with that wheel.

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