Tuesday, March 27, 2007


If you find yourself in NY between now and June 3rd, be sure to visit the Whitney Museum of American Art and see the remarkable Gordon Matta Clark exhibit. Yoshi from our design studio shares his thoughts on the late enigmatic artist.


"Gordon Matta-Clark - You are the Measure" currently on display at the Whitney Museum exhibits the photographs, drawings, films, sculptural objects, and documentary materials by Gordon Matta-Clark. The son of surrealist Roberto Matta and Anne Clark and godchild of Marcel Duchamp, Gordon Matta-Clark created works, which occupied the transient space in between art and architecture.

I must say that Matta-Clark’s work should be a mandatory topic covered in architecture school. What astonished me about the exhibit was that he was truly a product of an architectural education. Each of his works is an artistic twist on the architectural documentation process for site, space, and form.

When I started architecture school in 2000, course materials, including design studio courses, did not require us to sit behind a computer screen. It was mandatory for us to know how to draft by hand. Two years later, it was required for students to know how to draft on the computer, not as an option. I received my architectural education during the transitional period when computers were starting to play a major role in creating projects. Since this transitory period began in my third year, I was behind on my computer skills compared to those 1st year students who were two years behind me. The shifting of architecture into the digital age is not necessarily a bad thing, but preventing students from familiarizing themselves is. For example, future architects and practicing architects no longer have to draft by hand. This allows drafting to become less time-consuming, drawings to be saved digitally and for drawings to be duplicated effortlessly.

"Fake Estate," a project that Matta-Clark created by purchasing tiny lots of land from New York City, is documented through film and photography that made me start to think this was more of an architecture exhibit rather than an art exhibition. The photographic documentation process allows one to learn about the site. By creating panoramic photographic documentation of the visual corridor, surrounding infrastructure, and the human movement pattern that impacts the site, one can find out what gives it its uniqueness that exists only within that particular site. The movies Koyaanisqatsi by Godfrey Reggio and Caro Diario by Nanni Moretti are perfect filmic displays of a surrounding environment’s impact on a site. If you have not seen this documentary, it is a must see. It showcases a delicate weaving of the inter-relationships of politics, economics, infrastructure, science, aesthetics, and time as elements that take affect within space (site) and architecture.

Along with computer aided drafting is the 3D modeling programs. In architecture design courses and the professional practice, creating models simultaneously while drafting allows students and architects to fully understand the form and function of the space while understand the relationship that is has to adjoining spaces. In architectural education 3D programs are useful yet extremely dangerous, if abused.

Looking at works "Bingo" and "Splitting" made me think of my first year in architecture school where I was taught to draft and draw a sectional drawing through a house. It also reminded me of learning how structural elements create the physical house and building. It is an artistic twist on an architectural representation of a building section. When designing a building, a 3D program allows one understand space in conjunction with physical model building and drafting the view that exist beyond a wall. I am not stating here that there is one correct method for creating architectural form and space, but there are architecture schools and professionals that create form derived from mathematical formulas. Architecture and space traditionally is created by site analysis, understanding the programmatic elements, combining the precedent analysis with the programmatic elements to create one of a kind unique space. Those spaces combined with structural elements and mechanical elements create a building.

During my last two years in architecture school, I noticed that the introduction of 3D computer programs was changing the traditional method of architecture. Form created by any method whether it maybe mathematical, through translating John Cage or Brian Eno’s music into three-dimensional architectural form, or by simply arranging wood blocks to create a layout of space; each is assigned its function and programmatic elements. Function and program are the key elements of creating space. I have to admit that since I was introduced to 3D programs, I have become heavily dependant on the computer itself. Physical model building seemed like a thing of the past until I had a professor who made me rethink the basics of architecture.

Lastly, his original sketches and notes on display were something to look at. His notes consisted of sketches of objects or concepts that he was working on and written notes that were no longer than five words long. When you read these notes, you realize they don’t make any sense at all. Architects and architecture students alike are generally known to be the worst writers out there. Their sentence structure is fragmented with poor grammar and I cannot say that I am a great writer myself. I went home after this exhibit and dug into a box with all my old sketchbooks. I could not stop laughing. These notes that I took whether it was comments from my professors, ideas that came to my mind, or criticisms and comments that I have received during my presentations were noted in five word sentences, and it made no sense to me. If the person who wrote the notes cannot understand it, nobody can.

This is a miraculous show, powerful and makes you think about the fundamentals of architecture and even perhaps George Costanza could have become a real architect instead of referring himself to Art Vandaley, the architect. If you have an architectural background, this is a show that will make you think of your days in architecture school; and if you are familiar with architectural history you will notice how his works are influenced by his education from Cornell University and the genius minds who were behind that architecture department in the 1960s.


April said...

Thanks for all the interesting blogs Todd. Keep up the good work!


becky said...

That was an awesome post! Did the author go to UVa architecture school in the late '90's/early 00's, b/c it sounds exactly like my experience there, esp. the reference to John Cage, if it's the same John Cage.
I was getting my Masters in Landscape Architecture there during that time.

One thing to add about the described computer transitional period - the majority of professors in my program were self-confessed luddites, they were barely able to master the art of emailing and were easily awed by internet research. If they sat on a jury and saw a wall full of slaved-over computer images and one schematic hand-drawn sketch, they focused on the one hand-drawn sketch. They didn't seem to be able to relate to the computer generated images (which often aren't too different from perfectly drafted drawings, but perhaps in their eyes, they were miles away, and this could be the case). This was fine with me, as I just about flunked out of all the computer classes I took there, in spite of all of Earl's excellent teachings!

Anyway, thanks for the info about the show - it was flying beneath my radar before I saw this post!