You have to remember that we're talking about 1908 here. Nobody was thinking about buildings in this way before. In a way, the fact that you find this building meaningless is even more telling of its complete ubiquitous power. These types of buildings and their way of thinking about space totally revolutionized manufacturing throughout the world and it happened in the matter of a few decades, which is why it feels so normal, but at the time this was really new and groundbreaking shit. Even Corb's manifesto which says that "Architecture is a machine for living in" wasn't published until 15 years later. And Corb was in fact greatly influenced by what he saw during his visit to industrial America. Architecture was starting to empathize with and incorporate the car. For me, the real interesting thing that this building talks about is how our lives were starting to become compartmentalized. Now (in 1910), you would GO to work, and GO on vacation, and GO to grandma's house. Our lives were exceedingly being dictated by the clock and reduced to schedules. You can read this in the elevation of the building. It's a grid of repetitive rectangles all working together to create the mass of a whole building. I mean, is it just a coincidence that the elevation of the building, as wholly dictated by it's functionality, looks exactly like a calendar? This was also happening in painting at the time too, which of course was equally revolutionary. Cubism was partly about deconstructing the body into parts and reassembling them. It was about, for me, the beginning of the lack of cohesiveness in our daily lives. Highland Park is where all of this started.
I was a bit young during the time that I remember VR being hyped up so I can't really add to its discussion. I do however remember the Power Glove and Lawn Mower Man and I do remember thinking that VR was going to be everywhere in no time. If you asked people in the 50's what kind of personal vehicles we would have by the millennium they would tell you that we would all have flying cars. And when the hoverboard was featured in BTTF II, I could have sworn you would be able to buy one the week after. These days I'm not so easily cajoled. As someone who hears the words 'Master Plan' a lot in my profession, I have to say it's laughable. Predictions of the future rarely come true, yet I understand the temptation. So, in the spirit of argument (and in giving into temptations), let me declare - 3d printers will NEVER be in the AVERAGE middle-class home. The reason is simply because it will never be practical enough. This to me though this isn't even close to what is actually compelling about 3d printing because I do believe that they are revolutionizing the way we design and build and the way we think about design and build.
First off, coupling two technologies like VR and 3D Printing for a discussion is myopic at best and does neither of their virtues any service. I think that VR is WAY more complex than 3d printing in terms of mechanics. Fooling haptics is no easy task. But what is really interesting to me concerning 3d printing is the way is allows us to think about material differently. It's on par in this respect to the recent molecular gastronomy food movement in terms of a complete paradigm shift. I wouldn't really call this molecular gastronomy, but check out MIT's food printer: http://web.media.mit.edu/~marcelo/cornucopia/ as one example. Printing chicken nuggets at home is now a reality even if it it is quite silly. Printing in terms of its architectural merit is more realistic and what I want to focus on...
Printing lets us think of material in terms of its basic components and their propensity to amalgamate and that's really exciting. I once heard someone say that Legos are destroying design because they allow for only additive, i.e. tectonic, making which is the counterpoint to something like carving terracota which is subtractive making, or stereotomic. Printing makes us think about both simultaneously. As we discover ways to 'powderize' more materials, then our horizons will continually expand. Right now on Shapeways, we can order a print in plastic, metal, ceramic, and glass http://www.shapeways.com/materials/ and there are places that can fire or dip anything printed so the question of quality and durability is now irrelevant. Also, I can't believe that wood isn't being printed yet - think medium density fiberboard (MDF). The truth is, entire commodity chains will be affected by the way printing consumes material.
Another important aspect of printing is the way it grants people access to advanced design. I've been actually playing with 3d printing for about 10 years now myself and I can say first hand how incredibly liberating it is to send my rhino file to the printer and watch it bake. Try it and your mind will explode (just like the first time you used Napster) For me, printing allows us to create beautiful designs like people used to spend time doing. I think there is a direct lineage from Louis Sullivan's frieze: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_zJpnTu57Koc/TF48wG6rkRI/AAAAAAAAVt... to Michael Hansmeyer's computational architecture: http://www.michael-hansmeyer.com/projects/columns.html#1 decoration is affordable again. And, oh shit, look at what's coming next: http://cosmopolitanscum.com/2011/09/23/the-worlds-first-prin.... In the future this will be no biggie.