ARCHITECTURE AS PRODUCT

Eleanor Gibson, writing for Dezeen:

Japanese brand Muji has unveiled its design for a compact nine-square-metre prefabricated house, which will go on sale later this year.

The Muji Hut will be available for purchase in Japan for ¥3,000,000 (£20,989) from August 2017. The minimalist retailer intends the simple cabin to suit a wide variety of locations, describing it as somewhere between a permanent residence and a holiday home.

“Put it in the mountains, near the ocean, or in a garden, and it immediately blends in with the surroundings, inviting you to a whole new life.”

The Muji Hut’s price tag will cover all the materials needed for the construction as well as the costs of the project’s contractor. The brand is yet to release a date for sale outside of Japan.

Though this concept is not new — Muji itself has sold huts by established industrial / product (note: no architects) designers before — it’s definitely not common. Architecture historically has always produced a trickle down effect i.e. notable architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier have extended their influence to the furniture, lighting and objects in a house.

While interior design may be a new (ish) phenomenon for a separate agency, products has always been a different domain. The furniture in a Corbusier space was designed quite specifically with its context in mind, but it’s this same design which makes it un-product like; the beauty of products is to de-contextualise to work in a wide variety of surroundings, some of which may not even be anticipated (but always encouraged).

Of course, Wright’s and Corbusier’s furniture is patronised in design circles so it’s hard to objectively evaluate the efficacy of working as ‘an architect’ working in the product design realm. In that sense it makes perfect sense for the trickle up effect i.e. equally influential product designers engaging in space making and making the reverse work – asking the consumer to situate the product well within a context.

How well does this work? Let’s evaluate the two sides of the coin. Pro – the standalone nature might ensure pleasant internal spaces, with well worked details, durability (or maybe not, let’s get to that later), cost effectiveness, exact costing and most importantly, what you see is what you get.

Con – limited pragmatism of standalone huts in today’s world, bad positioning is harder to correct and more permanent, materials chosen may not work with all climate (unless there are individual tweaks) and lastly, a total hit-and-miss with the shape, proportions and views with the outside i.e. context.

All in all though it seems worth a shot. Muji might a team of consultants to aid in location, and the design is currently made and sold in Japan so it does work from a technical point of view. I wonder whether there’ll come a time of generating interior layouts with respect to a range of dimensions (since most are orthogonal). It might not be the perfect solution but if the parameters are set right, it would be better than consumers doing it by themselves or from some . Something along the lines of a half-injured world class sportsman being better than an fully-fit low key player.

And let’s not forget, the internet has established the zero distribution economy. Design fees can be easily subsidised by mass outreach i.e. sunk cost fixed, marginal cost [every additional customer] zero, value to both sides.

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