‘Everything Can Always be Something Else’: Adhocism and J.G. Ballard’s Concrete Island


  • Craig Martin University of Edinburgh


J.G. Ballard, Concrete Island, Adhocism, ad hoc design, desert island literature, material culture


Robert Maitland – J.G. Ballard’s main character in his 1974 novel Concrete Island (Ballard 1994) – fashions an improvised crutch from an old exhaust pipe, offering him some respite from his injured leg. The novel contains a range of similar tactical survival measures, including the use of a car’s windscreen washer bottle as drinking water. This paper explores such practical approaches employed by Maitland on the urban ‘island’. It situates his use of pre-existing objects within a wider socio-cultural currency developing at this time in the early 1970s: ad hoc material practices. I specifically examine the confluences between the theme of survival on the island and the turn toward adhocist architectural and design practices identified in Charles Jencks and Nathan Silver’s 1972 book Adhocism: The Case For Improvisation (Jencks and Silver 2013). The paper locates both books within a moment of critique towards the tabula rasa of high modernity, as well as growing assertions of the right to personal freedom through consumer empowerment. Ultimately the paper develops the thesis that the detritus of technological advancement offers potentially creative approaches to the use of seemingly redundant everyday material things.

Author Biography

Craig Martin, University of Edinburgh

Senior Lecturer in Design Cultures, School of Design


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