The project The Mechanism of Meaning began when Arakawa met Madeline Gins in 1963. They saw the work as an open ended process of research and invention, which as they suggested was: “maybe the first rudimentary compendium of the capabilities (or innate functions) of the mind… …a unique and provocative foray into an uncharted region where art, experience and thought filtered through experience, began to define each other.” Arakawa and Madeline Gins considered Mechanism of Meaning as the foundation from which their philosophy of "Procedural Architecture" and the buildings they designed and built originated.
Comprised primarily of acrylic or mixed media on canvas each 90 x 66 inches, which are variously organized by a number of chapters. It was exhibited both in groups and its entirety. There are two editions of the work, the first dated 1963-71, 1978, 1996; the second 1988 which is in the collection of Sezon Museum of Modern Art, Japan.
There are four publications that track the first edition’s development: Mechanismus der Bedeutung (Werk im Entstehen: 1963-1971), published by Verlag F. Bruckmann KG. Munich, 1971; The Mechanism of Meaning, Work in Progress (1963-71, 1978), Based on a method of Arakawa, published by Harry N. Abrams, New York 1979; The Mechanism of Meaning, published by Abberville Press 1988 and the final version that appears in Reversible Destiny, Arakawa/Gins, published by Guggenheim Museum, New York 1997.
In its final version the first edition comprise of 81 panels including a table of contents and a two panel digital rendering of City without Graveyards (Reversible Destiny), ratergraphic on foam core on canvas, each 96 x 68 inches. The second edition comprises of 81 panels including a table of contents 39 pencil drawings on paper, 3 pencil on paper drawings and one model in iron and wood for the Epinal Project and 2 pencil on paper drawings and a photograph of Model for Venice Project making a total of 127 elements.