Often personal expression and invention will find their architectural place not in the world of economic affluence, bureaucracy and codes, but in Rudofsky’s world of architecture without architects.

The beauty of Rudofskys’ observations lies in the natural evolution of built form. We respond viscerally to these houses or communal environments because they have an inherent texture and relationship to the dweller that most recent residential constructions fail to achieve. Buildings that evolve over time in an accretive manner excite us. Our nostalgic appetite is whetted by an Architecture with this frayed and timeless quality. These buildings are rich in memory, understanding and creativity. Their builders take pieces apart, rethink and reuse them, and pay homage to prior or previous ideas through overlapping, successive layers of resolution.

“By realizing one’s immediate needs, by combining ad hoc parts, the individual creates, sustains and transcends oneself. Shaping the local environment towards desired ends is a key to mental health; the present environment, blank and unresponsive, is a key to idiocy and brainwashing”

-Charles Jencks and Nathan Silver

The strength of adhocism presents itself as a method for creating spaces in which immediate results are attained. One selects from resources directly available, and begins to describe an environment which is personal, articulate and subconscious.

A layperson, when building, relies heavily on observation of the immediate environment, on memories, and on available materials. In this architecture, design and construction develop through incremental evolution. The singular permanent solution is replaced at different instances through resolution at a variety of levels.

In Baja, Mexico, travel south on Route 1; mile marker #73 indicates Campo Rivera, where the unschooled yet fanciful ad hoc village is nestled. Similar to the conventional trailer park, each compound stakes out an individual plot, here in arid desert terrain. The Airstream trailer is the primary keystone for these land plots. This wagon gives rise to a train of disparate parts, through an ingenious and adaptive use/reuse of materials.

The given programmatic modules are those of the trailer, the addition, the outhouse and the water tank. These are never deviated from, and represent the constants among the variable elements of the camp. This is the primary datum of each construction. Inventiveness comes through the manipulation of the modules, while maintaining individual identity using a limited palette of components and materials.

“Alchemy, unlike true chemistry, depended on retention of the allegorical meaning of its ingredients, purporting to achieve results by means of mixture, rather than a compound. These spaces, which do not surrender to the order of a system, nevertheless interlock, and in so doing produce a mutual effect.”

- Craig Hodgetts + Ming Fung

At every level, the concept and reality of the construction component is evident. This represents the secondary. The typical 4’x8′ sheet of plywood, the 8’, 10′ and 12’ framing module, the sliding aluminum window unit, the sheet of corrugated fiberglass; all are treated as found and distinct objects. The standard or common is rethought by the builder, using it here in an uncommon or atypical way.

The tertiary of each construction is found in its multi-layered deviations. Each specific part is situated almost as one would place the missing piece to a jigsaw puzzle. As a Japanese craftsperson might hold a stone for hours, contemplating its individual niche, creativity comes through the orchestration of elements within the essential framework and as a final, additive finish layer.

Each point of design and construction represents a new beginning. Here the absolute ceases to have relevance; the given form is manipulated time and again, continually approaching the totality of its associated beauty. The whole is greater than the sum of its ad hoc parts.



Bernard Rudofsky, Architecture Without Architects, New York, Doubleday and Co., Inc., 1965.

Craig Hodgetts + Ming Fung Scenarios and Spaces (forthcoming book), New York, Rizzoli, 1995.

Charles Jencks and Nathan Silver, Adhocism: The Case for Improvisation New York, Doubleday & Co., 1972.

Jennifer Siegal and Todd Erlandson practice architecture in Los Angeles and teach design at Woodbury University.

Jennifer Siegal and Todd Erlandson
Photographs by Jennifer Siegal

Back to May 1995  Newsletter