The Death of the Shelf
Installation: Jasper de Haan.
When buildings are no longer limited to manufactured products, will buildings feel less architectural and more atmospheric?
The “state of the shelf,” a familiar term among product manufacturers, refers to constraints set by what materials are available on the market. Electronics makers, for example, often innovate by assembling readily available components in novel ways.
If ever there were an industry defined by the state of the shelf, it’s construction. Architects and builders rely on what can be specified from product catalogs and rarely have an opportunity to think—or build—outside the box. Hence, the modernist mantra “form follows function” really should have been “form follows industry.” Mies was influenced more by the industrial market of plate glass and wide-flange steel than by anything else.
True innovation will alter the entire design and construction process so that we’ll no longer think of form and matter separately. As I wrote back in 2002, in Why the Future of Architecture Doesn’t Need Us, nanotechnology, for example, eventually could allow designers to specify performance independently of product choices: “Standard, irreducible components, such as the 2 X 4, the brick, steel shapes, nails and screws, will be replaced by microscopic parts. Form, texture, color, and strength would be defined at the cellular level. Orthogonal geometry, demanded for efficiency by standard frame construction, could disappear altogether.”
The “state of the shelf” will no longer matter, because there won’t be a shelf.