1924 Model T Assembly Line

Mastering the system – production assembly line, Ford Motor Company factory, 1906. Henry Ford set the standard for optimizing complex systems of production. The efficiency of his material acquisitions and product assembly lines went unmatched during the advent of motor vehicle development at the turn of the 20th century in America.

The role of the architect within material investigation and invention is somewhat precarious. Historical accounts present the architect as one who chooses and combines materials to create a design; by comparison there are far fewer accounts of architects actually inventing the materials with which their or other architects’ designs are built. The precariousness stems from the fact that architects are expected to have intimate knowledge of materials and material systems, but that their education does not necessarily prepare them to perform the role of a material inventor. Despite this, however, the intimate relationship that architects share with the material world affords a unique opportunity for investigation and experimentation.          

 Architects have the opportunity to conduct material experimentation on the basis of understanding and controlling the sensorial, social, ecological, and otherwise hidden potentials of materials, their combinations, and applications. In the Atlas of Novel Tectonics, Jesse Reiser states “material practice is the shift from asking ‘what does this mean?’ to ‘what does this do?’”(1)  By relation, material investigation and invention involves asking both questions simultaneously. The architect’s material research goes beyond autonomous models to pull even more information forward. If the spectrum of this information is seen as a system or network of material relationships, then the position of the architect is not one of mastering the system’s components, but rather, one of mastering the management of the system itself. 


1. Reiser, Jesse. Atlas of Novel Tectonics. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2006, 23. 

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