Before Pine, Dell: Mass Customization in Urban Design, Architecture, Linguistics, Food

Dec. 1, 2009


Chin, Ryan, Before Pine and Dell: Mass Customization in Urban Design, Architecture, Linguistics, and Food (December 30, 2009). HANDBOOK OF RESEARCH IN MASS CUSTOMIZATION AND PERSONALIZATION, Frank T. Piller, Mitchell M. Tseng, eds., December 2009. Available at SSRN:


The Long before B. Joseph Pine II established a viable economic strategy around the concept of Mass Customization, and Dell Computer's execution of a custom build-to-order strategy, combinatorial theory (configuring of modular components) and generative systems have been employed in biological systems, grammatical sentence structure in linguistics, and also in architectural and urban design. This paper will trace the conceptual roots of Mass Customization through the examination of historical precedents: 1) Design of cities via biological analogy (Aristotle) 2) Architectural form via grammatical analogy (Mitchell) 3) Precis des Lecons d'architecture (Durand) 4) Combinatorial Optimization (Newell, Simon) 5) Culinary Arts I will then discuss the limitations of such combinatorial methods and then lay out a conceptual framework for achieving high levels of customization using combinatorial methods. The work on the MIT Concept Car by the Smart Cities group of the MIT Media Lab will illustrate these principles.

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