Adhocism – an idea of improvisation

Adhocism - improvised design
Adhocism – improvised design

‘Adhocism’ ideas were coined in their book Adhocism: The Case for Improvisation by architect, theoretician, former Designer Charles Jencks and Nathan Silver (1972). They considered how designers could take immediate action in ways that had never been imagined in their original design by using readily available components.

Adhocism has existed for as long as anybody can remember. (Think Robinson Crusoe, who built a raft and later a shelter to escape his ship’s wreckage.) Adhocism as a design approach begins with simple improvisations, such as using a bottle as a candleholder, a dictionary as a doorstop, or a tractor seat on wheels as a dining room chair. But it’s also an underdeveloped force in practically every activity we engage in, from play to architecture to city planning to political change.

“Everything can always be something else.”

Charles Jencks

In the 1960s, Hippy groups in the US explored some of those concepts, including Drop City, which had built dome dwellings from car roofs obtained cheaply from scrapyards used for reusing materials discarded by consumer society. Change, mobility, and immediate obsolescence are the foundations of adhocism. When adhocists discover that their ship is breaking up around them, they transform it into a raft. The building’s motto is “Everything can always be something else.”

Drop City - southern Colorado
Drop City – southern Colorado

The Whole Earth Catalog of 1968, an encyclopaedia of new forms of life and providers of means of doing so, had some promising implications of this future.

adhocism display
adhocism display


The MIT Press. (n.d.). Adhocism, Expanded And Updated Edition. The MIT Press.

Woodham, J. M. (2006). A dictionary of modern design. Oxford University Press.

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