This thesis develops a theoretical account of DIY (Do It Yourself) architecture, specific to the DIY architecture manuals of the art/architecture collective Ant Farm, and the architect Paolo Soleri. This account will draw upon the countercultural discourse on the ‘artisanal’ as distilled from the North American discourse on DIY, and; the philosophical notion of the artisanal as developed by French philosopher Gilles Deleuze and his collaborator, psychoanalyst Félix Guattari. The DIY phenomenon emerged as an identifiable movement in post-war North America, and yet it remains significantly under-theorised and ill-defined, particularly in connection with architecture. However, although the association of DIY with architecture and the ‘artisanal’ is uncommon, it can be charted in the post-war discourse related to the North American counterculture, including Ant Farm’s and Soleri’s DIY architecture manuals. Ant Farm’s and Soleri’s DIY manuals are primarily based on their experimental works of the 1960s and 1970s in North America. Within the countercultural movement, DIY architecture manuals functioned as educational platforms for disseminating a DIY sensibility to the countercultural audience; thus the manual was crucial to the DIY mode of operation.
In the post-war discourse on DIY in North America, the term ‘DIY’ has been both positively and negatively associated with the term and notion of the ‘artisanal.’ On the one hand, DIY is seen to contribute to the loss of artisanal skills and techniques; on the other hand, it extends the practices of craft and making to a broader and otherwise unskilled audience. To investigate this initially superficial connection between DIY architecture and the notion of the ‘artisanal’ further, the thesis turns to the philosophical notion of the artisanal, primarily distilled from the writings of Deleuze and Guattari. Deleuze and Guattari define the artisanal according to a set of procedures and operations that are not tied to particular materials, technologies, skill sets or expertise. Their notion is explored as a possible productive theoretical framework for ‘DIY architecture,’ a practice that also challenges conventional distinctions between the roles and practices of ‘expert’ architect, professional builder and ‘layperson’ building occupant.
For Deleuze and Guattari, the artisanal mode of operation involves discovering and responding to problems and opportunities as they are directly encountered in real-life. It will be argued that the DIY mode of operation invoked in Ant Farm’s and Soleri’s manuals involves an attendance to the nuances of material phenomena within project sites, in a manner that resonates with Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of the artisanal. Deleuze and Guattari also suggest that the artisanal mode interacts with other modes of operation, including those modes which advocate an indirect and detached account of material phenomena. One of the key problems identified in the DIY manuals relates to the divergent ways materials and techniques are described: as simultaneously site-specific and somewhat unpredictable, and as generalisable and predictable. By theorising DIY architecture through Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of the artisanal, the thesis suggests that the manuals involve a play between: actual, particular materials directly encountered in project contexts; generalised materials as represented in words, drawings and imagery; and potential materials, actions and transformations yet to come. Importantly, this DIY mode of operation invokes comprehensive transformations in all aspects of a project, including transformations in thought, identities and bodies. These transformations are seen to occur through a productive struggle with matter’s self-organisational capacities. The thesis’s significance lies in its contribution to a critical, material-focused thinking between the disciplines of architecture and philosophy, and to the under-theorised area of DIY architecture.