The architect’s alphabet, a spatial vocabulary.

A brain storming session & interview recorded by the end of May 1977 at Cherica’s home, Diest, Belgium.

Voices: Gordon Matta-Clark, Cherica Convents and François Vereesen (Gordon’s personal assistant for the Office Baroque project in Antwerp).

This tape was recorded some days after the Antwerp city counsil forbade the original spherical approach Gordon wanted to realise.   (kown as the initial Office Baroque attempt)

The recording reveals Gordon’s evolution as an artist towards an architect. Due to Gordon’s illness and sudden death this evolution never became clear to the public.

In order to get quick access throughout the soundtrack, we ranked the content of this tape in a chronological order.

Office Baroque // Summer 77

1. The spherical attempt, visible from outside (Office Baroque – not executed)

2. Gordon proposing a new ‘triangular’ inside cut solution (Office Baroque – not executed)

3. About film stock and the feeling around this two different cutting approaches (Office Baroque – not executed)

* Please note that the third and final cutting design for Office Baroque was not yet created by the time this soundtrack was recorded.
4. About the ‘Crane Ballet’ network in the Antwerp harbour (not executed)

5. Planning the triangular intervention for Office Baroque (not executed)

6.  Filmic approach & technical lighting issues (Office Baroque – not executed)

7. Kassel Documenta 6 and a new filmic documentary approach (Summer 77)

8. About tenement buildings in New York (Ghost Buildings – not executed)

9. Gordon becomes an architect by liberating space (Ghost Buildings – not executed)

10. Applying the new ‘liberating’ spatial vocabulary (Ghost Buildings – not executed)

You can listen to the entire tape recording here.


A partial transcription by Stefaan Vervoort you find here

Good evening ladies and gentlemen. Tonight we have our famous discussion with the more famous Gordon Matta-Clark, and with… Dick van Dyke.
After a series of recent setbacks we are now going to reexamine the problem. Given everybody’s dependence on the city for ultimate permission, we now realize that the city fathers, true to their tradition, are a bunch of queers, creeps, cowards, and downright two-faced dogs.
Did you hear that?
Yeah, you out there, in the city, municipal fathers… But actually, we might as well talk about it with you, because you have all the hastles of making these things happen. (…) Going from a wonderfully conceived urban-scale street event, or building-street-oriented work, we are now going internal. Which means that what we are going to do is take that set of quarter of a sphere on the outside and make a triangular opening in the roof, which will then get transposed floor by floor.
That was my idea, when you made the first one, triangular in the roof, then you use the sun as a…
As a projection system. That would be ideal. The best thing possible would be to make it actually completely, so you can grew it with the solar path. But the problem with that is that, first of all, I think that the way the sun will only pass a certain minute every day and in line with that.
Not even that. Only once in a year; Egyptians made it like that, so as special days… And then, a … of the sun in the inner box of the pyramide, in the Ming-place? It was a high ceremonial day. They made it also with columns, another kind of shadowwork that used the same system.
I think most of the great mini-monuments are associated with a sort of cosmic and solar observatories. I mean, the time was then still very sort of eternal, so as that the increments are infinitely more vital than today, where everything becomes a complete cog, just another notch and another cog. But the thing is, I think that we are not going to be able to do that, for a number of reasons. One is that whatever the openings these triangles that we are going to put diagonally through the space from the roof through each floor and the various walls will have to line up in the way so as that no will cut through the main structure. Just because we are subject to these rules. I mean, we could in fact cut through them and the building would stay in place, but I think the construction people would hate.
But then, you also will need a central point in your building.
Well I think the central point is pretty clear. If the side that is the sunny side, the place where they are doing all the construction, starting at the top there and passing through that first office space, probably into the second room and down into the room below and so forth, and we’ll finally cut through to the street level. First cutting the horizontals, that is, cutting the ones that are in the floor planes, and from that we can measure where the walls will go. (5:00-5:30) So in a way, I guess it is a little bit like the Paris piece, in as much as it is a projection through the whole building. It would be nice, I mean; it’s a mid-stream change of horses, but…
Of course, I still have pelicule for two projects. …
I think what we have done so far becomes relatively more confusing in the film than anything else. So in a way we might just have to make a very quick reference to that as the original project.
I prefer just the way it is. What one would do, then, is to pass, it seems to me, from the drawing of the supposed project to the work-in-progress on the second project, and there would be some voiceover that would describe just what transitions take place and how it applies to the building as a whole, as an entire space. In fact, in some way, the project that I just supposed was one of the original ideas that I was going to do, and the reason I didn’t do it was because the other one was a little bit more, you know, forceful. I mean, I dealt with a particular kind of geometry that interests me, which is the sort of introverted spherical surface, an implied spherical surface, which is more complex, a little bit more … Well obviously, being that more complex, it would be very hard to visualize in fact; one would have the exterior lines and the interior lines, but the total form, the total volume would have never been visual. One would have had to make certain kinds of mental transfers from the idea to the actual situation.
But on the other side, when you could go through it …
… You would have had enough clues to reconstruct the original thought, I suppose.
The things you have by going through would be very interesting.
Certainly more of a real transformation of the building, I guess is the point. This requires you to put your head in a particular kind of access which is a very sort of singular experience, whereas the other one .. get it through…, there would have been much more movement around and through. But what the second project will attempt to do will be, first of all, kind of consistent with other things that I’m doing but also pick up on that kind of movement through the … the sort of space you can involve yourself in.
That’s what I like very much is that you could go through it. You had to feel the things you made… every point could be different and you were forced, when you went through it, to firm up.. a global idea, and this global idea of feeling, I don’t know how to call it…
Well, literally a global form of some sorts. It think of having to relate to the details on the inside in such a way that you would reconstruct that global surface.
And the only way to have a percpetion of it was experience. (I think, yeah) This was very important in that piece. Now when you have these triangles, you are going to one point.. (And you can see it from there, all). Yeah you can see it also in your mind…
Yeah it is certainly more simple. But there will be one kind of thing that will happen in this that is might be interesting, is that, since it is an axis, a very simple kind of geometry or sequence, you can put year head in that axis at any point. And that one might make quite a difference, in that you can look either from the street and then progress through the building, looking at it. But it doesn’t really transform the notion of the building’s space in any way.
This thing is embedded within your second project?
I think it would be a curious series of contrasts, in terms of a full range of different possibilities. Starting out with the idea that I wanted to create something of a global surface that is relatively organic in its final, formal impliciations – the way it is executed, what it has to cut htrough, and the different surfaces that that line passes through, and how the lines, not just from the moulures, but the lines would have to pass through thick rock, and then wood, and glass, and different thicknesses of material… But always what one would be reading would be the line, not the material, but the line. And here I think that basically the other piece that would be done, either in the harbour or wherever using the crane works, the networks systems is… quite different. It is a kinetic notion, where you, reading, try to sort out a mass from all the lines, I think. This is actual, kind of two extremes going on in the same set of ideas.
You think you will use the same material for all your lines, your cables?
Depending on how it is done, some the cables may be steel, and some of them may be nylon. The net itself will probably be, definitely be nylon. Either nylon or polyesteleen, or…
You have grabbed these prices for the net…? It’s very expensive. (…) But this is an artwork you can sell afterwards?
What interests me to say about the net-works, besides the fact that it is involved in a kind of heavy industrial imagery, which hasn’t been incorporated into too many works that I have seen; I mean, the idea of playing with these things the way one would play a game of cat’s cradle. Or the way one would create a sort of stage-set, a very real sort of stage-set, is some of the interesting dynamics of this simple play. They actually turn out to be large toys.
(practicals, chronology: 15:20-26:20)

What are you busy in Kassel with?

Another kind of network. I am using a big factory building, with 110 meter-high chimneys, and building something in between these chimneys. A sort of industrial web, whatever, very romantic situation. But the one here might be more interesting somehow, with the movement in them.
Maybe I could come over when your work is finished in Kassel? I’m thinking about for the film, more to use a period of your life, and making an editing in this way. (A series of projects?) Yes, because the way in which we are editing now, there are three projects involved… A kind of diary, (The summer of 77) It will be very interesting, because then you really can say the problems you had with government… It will…

It also fits into a longer range of filming or documentation situation, which is that after these pieces that I may do in the summer, there are other ones that are mixes of these ideas, which is another situation that is more, purely social. So there is a kind of interesting transition some day between the work that is isolated art activity, to one where that gets put into a neighbourhood context, trying to create situations for people to use.
What do you want to make in New York?
Well, there is a piece eventually – it is not going to happen right away – that will involve taking, tenement buildings, ghetto buildings, transforming it into new kind of spaces. Not just living spaces, but also group spaces.
And they are not used now; they are empty?
They are all empty.
So, what you try to make is a new kind of church; a new space for…?
Well, a combination of living and gathering space; something where people can have… Instead of living in an appartment, in a particular closure, they will have their private space, but they will also have some kind of space towards the top, like a big skylight with a space underneath it. Something that transforms the way people use the thing.. It’s more an issue in New York, especially, where people are completely packed in.

The same problem is here…

But here you have the country though (laughter).
But we have no place where people can meet..
The issue there is even a little bit more, let’s say, organic; because of ghetto life, the people that are activally involved in restructuring their life as underpriviledged people, they have to work very hard and very much together. They have to live … first had the habit from their, you know, Spanish sort of poor family backgrounds of doing more, sharing more; you know, having more to do with looking after each other’s children or watching somewhat other people’s problems. They also have more crimes. While some people try to create a constructive environment, there are people who are so far gone, so much distorbed by their experiences that they will try to destroy everything. So that there is kind of that immediate drama between the people who want to grow up together, and the ones who have no experience in being together with anything.
And this thing you want to … July-August in New York
No I won’t start that early. I think I will start… I’ll keep in touch with the people and maybe locate a building and do some things that relate to it, but probably that will take most starting in the Winter and going through the spring next year, and maybe even the summer of next year.
And in these spaces…?
In these tenement buildings, yeah, try to take maybe two buildings. You know, one right next to the other. And take two of them that are in very bad conditions. And rethink the whole thing. What they are doing now….
But also rebuild with electricity,…
Yeah I would say… Provide services, sure. But what I would do is first make the framework for the building, working with the people who are there. And then some federal funding would have to come in to finish them off in a way that people could use, you know, flushing toilets and all. Because it’s all of that other kind of work that is involved in making something a final space, that costs again as much – if not more than that. So what this would be about working with people, with certain kinds of funding that I can raise as an artists, with grants to an individual or to an artist or someone working with the community, to create the form, the framework. The basic concept.
A new kind of architecture?
Well a collaborative sort of work rather than some guy saying “well this is it”. “Like it or leave the country”; “love it or leave it”.
But these buildings, are they not very expensive – the ground? They have no more value? So you can buy them?
They have very little value. Say, for 10.000 dollars you can have one or two. I think what we would do is form a group of people, and buy one or two. And then, instead of going out and buying all new materials, use salvaged things from industry, things salvaged from different kind of areas where they have materials, and use that, adapt various kinds of available…
It’s very realistic?
Yeah, more realistic than… It sounds realistic; getting it done is another game altogether.
Also you need people to live in it?
Yeah, you have to keep very much in touch with people to make it come alive. Otherwise it just turns into another sculpture. But I’m willing… Let’s say that, my complete guess is that if one created with a few people, let’s say, not the whole community, one created a space …situation. And once that has started happening, if one could get the next step further, which is to find some extra money to make it liveable. Then I think that more people would come into it. I suspect that things do not happen on a certain scale until they have been proven on a smaller scale.
And what’s the relation with the things you are making now? And these project – is it preparation?
There is a certain attitude about opening space up, or keeping space flexible in experience, rather than the kind of rigidity that most architectural enclosures or structures relate to. Especially in a domestic environment where short of having a little box on a little piece of land, in an urban context, you have this incredible cellular repetition, this sort of modular thinking. And I think that, although modules of some kind, living spaces of some kind are essential and inevitable. Let’s say the transition, or the kind of space that you could share with other people outside of your module is very limited and highly unanimated. Because, for example, in modern so-called pedestrian-oriented techniques – let’s say “plaza” – you have a pedestrian mall, but the majority of the time, because most of those malls are related to commercial activities – stores and various kind of streetlife – that as soon as those stores are closed….
In fact it’s same with those… (inaudible)
But the thing is, here, the idea of how to animate space. And how to share, how to create a space that… But this would be inside, so that the idea would be that it would be a space that, say, during the winter months, and during the times of year when it’s not possible to have a mall or whatever it is, this thing could be used somehow.
But I suppose there are a little of people in the States who are busy with the same problem. Or try to revolve the same…. Well, it looks a fundamental need, even for the organism of the human being.
Of course, it’s not even a very original idea. I don’t think of it as…. There’s nothing that I’m concerned with..
To make something happen that does imply…. that sort of restates the problem. For example, it is a very simple thing, the idea of creating a central space, like the atrium, you know. It is as old as the meditarianian. People would always have some space or the forum, or wheter kinds of commeeting situations existed. That has always been there. But I think that, to a great extent because of industrial scale, that that idea doesn’t really happen. Because if your down-town situation is a real urban situation, sure then people will pass through it and they will sit in it on a sunny day. But it doesn’t have anything to do with people sharing very much of anything – it’s just a space. Where I think that, let’s say, in an urban high-rise, it is possible to create spaces. Assuming that the people are working together, which is the essential part, they have something they share together. Like the all share the experience of making the building, they share the experience of owning the space, and having a similar kind of neighbourhood identity, then I think some kind of transformation would be possible. The issue is of course economics and much of that problem is based on having to build new buildings and then everyone paying for some kind of collective space. Which I think is, I hope – I’m not sure – is altered somewhat in this building situation. Because the building’s, the actual real estate’s value has fallen so far, that it allows for some range of experimentation which did not really exist before. It is sort of like: as the old, complete exploiting economy disintegrates, some kind of new idea can rise out of it, you know?
Yes, that’s fantastic to start with.
Yeah, I think it’s a possibility that then can be charged with more rational, more specific problem-solving techniques. But the idea of always going somewhere new rather than just rebuilding the old: I think that’s really the process. But of course it is very different than what I’m doing here. Because I think that what’s happens in a way is that artistic activities for me have more to do with pointing in certain directions, indicating, let’s say, a way of looking, or a way of thinking. It’s aspects, just like drawing. But rather than drawing, I make spatial events because it’s more immediate.
For example, for this movie we are making now. Shall we start with the aspects, or shall we try to mix some, integrate some aspects in this sense?
I think it’s hard to do until the next stage has happened. But I think that, let’s say, this film will be in what I hope will develop, an important aid in as much as it has a number of projects in it, which indicate different kinds of spatial attitudes. I think that we certainly can deal with the attitude, and to some extent deal with… The problem with film is that, for example even what we are recording now, there is no time to get that much information down on the film. So you have to more or less indicate (…) certain simple statements, like the reason I deal with cities, the reason I deal with architecture because I think that there are many things that can be and should be played with, remodified or reconsidered in that process.
You have half an hour or twenty minutes, it’s a lot of time to expose something.
You see, the reaction I got in doing lectures and stuff is that people usually don’t believe you when you say that what you are doing has a certain kind of meaning. Unless what you are doing already incorporates those issues, right? Well you can say “I’m dealing with social or urban events” – you can say that, but no one will believe you until you are really dealing with them. And I think that is one of the basic problems between an involvement with the social issues and involvement with the artistic issues.
But for example, what I could take as a basic point to make the structure for this film, is putting central how to go through space, how to feel space, how to recreate a space…?
But how to liberate space is really… That has really been always one of the things that I have been interested in. And liberating space means… Say, in the past project for me, liberating space means transforming a certain kind of conventional enclosure into something where, if nothing else, light and air pass through it. The other implications, or the ones that is much harder to justify, that is the idea that that attitude can then be projected into the urban experience in a variety of ways, and with far more extensive meanings. Like for example, there is always a situation where somebody comes and designs a particular space for people to enjoy. The whole nature of that, I think, there is an obvious modern crisis in terms of what design is and who design it for whom, and what things get integrated into that process. But in addition to the fact that there is a real desperity, a real lack of communication and exchange in the design process, there is also certain vocabularies which I find completely archaic and basically impoverished vocabularies. Spatial vocabularies do not exist. So the work that I am involved in is exploring vocabuliers, spatial techniques which are interesting to me. Beyond that, I can’t make any real statement, except that they are a kind of vocabulary, which can then be applied to a number of things…
Your real connections, the thing you are really sure about, let’s say the aspects. It’s kind of an ambition of you to make the global space and to give it a social integration.
Well it would fantastic to get to the next stage, which seems to me to be working with people who would experience it. There is a general condition in art which seems to be its isolation basically from people in their lives. One goes to art fairs and views art as a historical remnant, always seperated from some living experience. And I think to some extent, many aspects of it will always remain seperate.