Dynamics and the Post-it Note
In 1968, doctor of engineering Spencer Silver invented an adhesive that was sticky but not very sticky. It was a reliable, long-lasting adhesive that could be stuck to a given surface, pulled off and reused again and again. Silver worked for 3M, but the company ignored his invention. In 1974, Arthur Fry heard about it and decided to apply the adhesive to part of the reverse side of a little yellow piece of paper (the cheapest, most commonplace paper he had in his studio). The Post-it note had arrived. The advertising campaign accompanying its launch was the most successful (and also the cheapest and lowest key) that had ever been run. It consisted of making one million notes and distributing them for free in offices. When they’d all been used up, people unanimously came back for more. The Post-it note was the result of lateral thinking on the part of Mr. Fry, who was perceptive enough to see, use and then market the positive side of something others considered a failure.
I perfectly recall the biggest surprise I ever experienced as an architecture student. It was that moment when you sense that all your training has suddenly come together with a click and you realise that none of the things you’ve seen or learned will ever be the same again. There were no architects in my circle of acquaintances, and I had always been taught that things had to be solid so that they would last … and look as if they would last. Things had to be solid, reliable, sturdy, and tough. In the first years of the degree course we studied physics. Solidity, reliability, sturdiness, and toughness were all covered by the laws of statics. They always had been. Well, after about ten minutes talking about statics in class, hardly any time at all, the lecturer was already onto the subject of dynamics. It was dynamics, dynamics, and dynamics. Dynamics at all levels. Internal tensions don’t exactly make materials static, but it so happens that if structures don’t move, if they don’t have tolerances, expansion joints, counterweights, etc., they simply collapse and fall. This was my moment of revelation. My idea of physics changed forever. And with it, my idea of architecture. Because this revelation came from the world of science, and in the mind of a person who has not yet realised that science is also a form of art, a distinction still exists between objective science and interpretable art .
I kept thinking about it. And I still think about it. Civilisation is the management of scarcity. But the representation of that scarcity is art. Or, at least, the art that I’m interested in. The deployment of limited resources to create a habitat is called architecture. It’s this exercise in lateral thinking, exactly the same as Mr Fry’s with the Post-it notes, that has created all the interesting structures throughout the history of architecture. And it has more to do with dynamics and post-its, with the fruitful exploitation of mistakes, with weaknesses transformed into virtues, than with that notion of solidity we were brought up to revere.
That’s how architecture Works.