Superstructure and infrastructure in contemporary furniture design

Yesterday Teresa and I were strolling through Vancouver and happened to see a Roche-Bobois store.

Since we both love furniture and design, we went in (even though we had the kids with us). Fortunately the sales staff were friendly and helpful – not always the case in high-end furniture stores when you come in with kids.

I saw a piece that really got me thinking.

It was a side table system that incorporated at least 3 tables, all designed as insubstantial wood cubes that only had edges – no sides – and glass tops. All the tables fit together, and you could take one or more out as you wished. The result was a very complex visual image that would only work in a very simple room. But it could be stunning in that room.

Of course I forgot to take a picture, and the piece is not visible on Roche-Bobois’s website.

The image stayed with me, however, and as I was thinking about it today, I decided that the effect of the piece was to make infrastructure superstructure. This side table system, also from Roche-Bobois, does the same thing, although not to an equivalent degree:


The infrastructure, or usually hidden parts that support the architecture of the furniture, is visible. That transforms the piece, making it all superstructure … all visible components of the table.

That contrasts with design that incorporates both infrastructure and superstructure, like this console:


There are portions of the console – both structural and functional – that you cannot see. Hidden parts are infrastructure. Visible parts – the top and sides – are superstructure. Together, they form a single structure.

And that’s the key to yet another kind of design: where there is no distinction between superstructure and infrastructure. All you have is structure, and all structure is function.

An example is this wall shelving system, also from Roche-Bobois:


Every plane is visible; every angle is structural; every surface is functional. There is only structure.

It’s the beauty of simplicity.