606 Universal Shelving System

Dieter Rams


original production 606 Universal Shelving System: config A

Although Dieter Rams' 606 Universal Shelving System has been in continuous production since 1960, numerous changes have been introduced along the way. By far the most dramatic of these has been the substitution of wooden shelves with alu endplates for bent steel shelves -  first introduced in the mid-1980's as a special use item, now supplied by Vitsœ as standard. The virtue of the wooden shelf over the metal is both aesthetic and design-historical.

Most significantly, it allows full expression of the 606 design's systematic character. According to the original intent, the system is rigorously modular. Every element, from cabinet and desk, draw to shelf cohere as variations of the same basic unit: a horizontal painted wooden element held between vertical alu endplates. As a result, the design is comprehensively rectilinear. Arguably, this unity is somewhat suppressed when the metal shelf is incorporated, particularly so when it appears as the predominant element.

At the level of function, ease and range of use are not sacrificed to formal rigor. The regime of vertical and horizontal elements enables the design's full operation as a system. Shelves of any size may be inverted to produce an unbroken plane when hung adjacently, allowing a freer arrangement of objects for display when bookends are not required. Flexibility of use is thereby achieved by adjustment to the orientation of established elements alone, rather than by introduction of additional forms and materials. It is from this high degree of control that the design derives its particular purity as a system.

And it is precisely the insistence upon systematicity that roots the 606 design in a moment of German industrial design history governed by the general concerns of the Ulm hgf.  Yet the Universal Shelving System also presents an important example of Rams' quite particular development of Ulm functionalism, most notably in the reduction of his material vocabulary to its most fundamental industrial constituents. Alongside the 606 System, Ram's and Gugelot's Braun phonosuper collaboration of four years earlier seems almost coy in its reference to the industrial. Wood finishes provide a 'natural' counterweight to the use of sheet materials. In contrast, the simple and precise alignment of three philips head Xs on an unformed panel of clear lacquered anodised aluminium states something quite different about  the appropriate relation of form, construction and finish to the forms and methods of industrial production: they are identical. 

Vitsœ is well-known for its unswerving commitment to the 606 design, which the company continues to produce to the very highest standards. From an economic standpoint, the change of shelf design from wood to metal made such continuity a viable proposition. This is no little achievement. Neither should we ignore the company's success in maintaining  the vitality of the design by a constant refinement of its details. However, numerous small improvements notwithstanding,  the system as first intended is fundamentally rational, modular and, above all, systematic  to a higher degree than its current production would suggest. Naturally, being Vitsœ, every element of the system offered on these pages may be integrated within any existing Vitsœ system, regardless of age or origin.

example held in MoMA permanent collection

It is possible to purchase any combination of elements stocked. Please ask if you are uncertain. We are happy to give further explanation on how the system works, and advice on possible arrangements tailored to your needs.

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