I find an interesting symmetry between techne and the concept of bricolage.
First, an overview of bricolage:
The term bricolage entered the theory of architecture via Colin Rowe’s Collage City. Rowe took the term from anthropologist/linguist Claude Levi-Strauss’s 1962 book, Savage Mind.
Levi-Strauss’s account begins with a definition of bricolage as a kind of work in which a person determines a useful object to be made based on an “inventory” of materials the person already has in store. This inventory is a sort of scrap pile of odds and ends left over from earlier projects or usable materials scavenged from the local environment.
For example, the “bricoleur,” seeing a piece of driftwood in the inventory, is inspired to use it to create a lighting fixture. The form (design) of the fixture is determined by the form of the inventory item – the piece of driftwood.
Levi-Strauss contrasts the process of bricolage with that of modern engineering (Sound familiar? Remember how Heidegger contrasts the techne of handicraft with that of modern manufacturing?)
According to Levi-Strauss there are several important distinctions between bricolage and engineering:
- Low or no specialized skill is required, just ingenuity
- Set of materials which will be used (inventory) exists before the project is initiated and design concept created
- Form follows material
- High level of specialized skill is required
- Set of materials to be used is determined after the project is initiated and a design concept created and developed
- Material follows form
These distinctions signify two very different attitudes towards the voice given to materials in creative undertakings.
Next post: Bricolage as techne; techne as bricolage
© Donald E. Armstrong and Material Practices, 2013