The Anarchi-tecture of Gordon Matta-Clark

Anarchitecture was a concept created by Gordon Matta-Clark and a group of his peers; the term was an unintentional conflation of the words anarchy and architecture. It was an out-the-box idea that was spawned from the disillusionment with their formal architectural education. Anarchitecture was a series of temporary works that consisted of splitting, sawing and carving out sections of buildings.

Gordon Matta-Clark busy working on Conical Intersect in Paris, (1975)

A little background; a while back, I read a few of the ‘Dear Future Architects’ blog posts that formed part of the #architalks series. Though most of them offer much needed advice to future architects, I always find myself thinking, “what if I want to do something completely different”. Such an existential dilemma brings to mind one radical artist; Gordon Matta-Clark.

Born, 1943 in New York to renowned artists, Matta-Clark was the godson to Marcel Duchamp‘s wife and spent most of his childhood in New York, Paris and Chile, surrounded by avant-garde artistic and social environments, so you could argue that he had a bit of a head start.

In 1963, he studied architecture at Cornell University under Colin Rowe. This studio focused on architectural contextualism, which was explained by one of Rowe’s students as “systems of geometric organisation which can be abstracted from any given context.” Rowe became a significant influence on Matta-Clark’s oeuvre.  People like Lebbeus Woods and Steven Holl could be considered proponents of this theory.

Lebbeus Woods. Berlin Free Zone

Shortly after graduating in 1968, Matta-Clark chose to pursue an artistic career instead of practicing architecture. He produced a huge amount of work in a wide range of media including performative and durational pieces. But he is best known for his large-scale interventions into existing architecture. Two come to mind; the first is Splitting (1974), where he sawed two parallel slices through a wood-frame house and removed the material between the two cuts. Another is his Conical Intersect that he did in Paris as part of the Biennale that year.

Splitting. (1974).
Conical Intersect. 1975

Though many remember him for his deconstruction and seeming attack of architecture, others have come to look at his work as being constructive by using voids and non-spaces to add to architecture. It can be argued that he was very serious about architecture, and that he used it as a tool or medium to adjust the urban and architectural realities we create. These deconstructivist interventions would appear to be a precursor to a myriad of iconic architectural manifestations. It is highly influential in the work of Steven Holl and Morphosis. However, two important ones to highlight are:

Louis Kahn’s Bangladesh Parliament:

The National Assembly Building of Bangladesh. Louis Kahn. 1982

Thomas Heatherwick’s Zeitz Museum:

Zeitz MOCCA Museum. Cape Town. Thomas Heatherwick. 2017

“I was fascinated by Matta-Clark. I thought he was doing to the real world what Lucio Fontana did to canvas. At the time, the most shocking, exciting aspect of his work was maybe the glamour of violation. Now I also think that his work was a very strong, early illustration of some of the power of the absent, of the void, of elimination, i.e. of adding and making.” – Rem Koolhaas

Circus or The Caribbean Orange 1978Gordon Matta-Clark is widely considered one of the most influential artists that worked in the 1970s. His background in architecture, no doubt had a major impact on what he would go on to achieve. He was a key contributor to the activity and growth of the New York art world in SoHo from the late 1960s until his untimely death in 1978.

Ironically, the artistic curiosity that took him away from architecture and on a journey of discovery had then in turn become a source of inspiration for some of the most important pieces of architecture. Had he followed most of the advice in the aforementioned architecture blog posts, he might not have done any of this at all. I’m just saying…