*This text was written in response to the brief “Keywords”, an updating of Raymond Williams’ 1976 book Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society.
Long have those in the creative world pushed back against the ‘establishment.’ Be it government, organized religion, commercialism or capitalism, in the eyes of creators, these menacing entities represent ideals against which to combat. In the realm of the built environment, many architects have an interest in the concept of ‘anti-architecture’, or shying away from restrictive, traditional norms of the buildings we inhabit. The word anarchitecture emerged onto the cultural scene in 1974, coined by a group of artists who produced a collaborative exhibition by the same title. The group established the term colloquially and it has become synonymous with one individual in particular, Gordon Matta-Clark, who is considered the chief representative of the Anarchitecture Group.
In its most basic description, anarchitecture means “against architecture.” However, the second half of the word implies a broader sense of the word architecture rather than it’s widely accepted definition. As most know it, architecture is the art or practice of designing and constructing buildings; however, term is also used to describe the complex or carefully designed structure of something. The prefix ‘anti-‘ (or in this case, the abbreviated version ‘an’) has several words associated with it: opposed to, against, preventing, suppressing, reversing, undoing, or the opposite of. Fuse these two together and you get anarchitecture, a cultural backlash against the traditionally accepted norms of buildings, cities, and urban planning as a whole. In a written interview to the IVAM Centre Julio Gonzales in Valencia, Richard Nonas, another member of the Anarchitecture Group explains:
“We knew it had to be a kind of ‘anti’ name, but that by itself seemed just too easy. And we were not at all clear what the second half – the cultural thing to push the ‘anti’ against – should be. Architecture did not start out being the main point for any of us, even for Gordon. But we soon realized, however, that architecture could be used to symbolize all the hard-shelled cultural reality we meant to push against, and not just building of ‘architecture’ itself. That was the context in which Gordon came up with the term anarchitecture.”
It is of interest to note other intrinsic words which come to mind when one says anarchitecture aloud. Anarchy, for example: a state of disorder due to absence or non-recognition of authority. The definition of anarchy and the concept behind anarchitecture are one in the same. Gordon Matta-Clark, who was formally trained in architecture at Cornell University in New York, rejected his formal education and the utopian idea of beauty, permanence, and traditional function in architecture. Tying into the group’s principles of anarchy and entropy, Matta-Clark’s humor and ability to reveal different perspectives comes through in his use of puns. In his notebooks where he expressed writings, words, phrases and concepts of Anarchitecture, he scribbled down “An Ark Kit Puncture // Anarchy Torture // An Arctic Lecture // An Orchid Texture // An Art Collector;” phrases which were put on display during the Anarchitecture exhibition showing how language can be manipulated for artistic purposes.
In his research paper for the Tate entitled Towards Anarchitecture: Gordon Matta-Clark and Le Corbusier, author James Atlee says:
“Where Le Corbusier offered a mass-produced utopia, built on strictly functionalist foundations, Matta-Clark offered a model of what could be achieved by both individuals and at the level of the small collective, that through informal but intense discussion and shared experience could act as a hothouse for new ideas. Which, if we are still trying to pin down the word ‘Anarchitecture,’ is probably as good a definition as we are going to get.”
Atlee’s description of Gordon Matta-Clark’s approach to the built environment supports notions of adaptable architecture; an anarchitecture that can be shaped by and for the multi-purpose requirements of the public.
Atlee, James (1 April 2007): Towards Anarchitecture: Gordon Matta-Clark and Le Corbusier (Tate Papers, Issue 7). http://www.tate.org.uk/research/publications/tate-papers/towards-anarchitecture-gordon-matta-clark-and-le-corbusier
Kimmelman, Michael (9 September 2005): ART REVIEW; Inspiration From Real Estate Rejects. The New York Times. Retrieved from: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C0CE2D71231F93AA3575AC0A9639C8B63&pagewanted=1
Spatial Agency, The Anarchitecture Group 1972-1975. http://www.spatialagency.net/database/the.anarchitecture.group
Gordon Matta-Clark. Wikipedia entry. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Matta-Clark on 11/10/2012.