Bricolage Part 1

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Cottage Detail, Chantmarle Flint rubble (Photograph: Nigel Mykura)

Cottage Detail, Chantmarle Flint rubble (Photograph: Nigel Mykura)

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










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