Berlin (Germany) 2-4 April 1973
The matrix meeting
The inner circle of Team 10 assembled for a second time in Berlin in 1973. This meeting was occasioned by the completion of the first phase of the Free University, ten years after conclusion of the competition. The meeting took place both in the Free University itself and in the office of Woods and Schiedhelm, who as the project architect had been supervising its execution since 1965. As Woods had been living and working in the USA since 1968, he was involved only incidentally in the realization of the design. He was in any case unable to attend the meeting in person on account of a serious illness: he had been diagnosed with cancer some years earlier.
The Smithsons issued the invitation. In their circular letter, they suggested a theme for the meeting by proposing ‘to write down where we think we have arrived at in our Kuwait ›mat‹ building and why we have looked forward so long to being able to meet in the FU’. The theme of the matrix (or grid) as a concept and organizational principle consequently formed a thread through the discussions on the projects and ideas presented.
Woods died a few months after the meeting. During his final illness, tape recordings were sent to keep him up to date on the matters discussed and the critical comments on his buildings. He reacted with good-humoured irritation with a short poem addressed to those concerned:
On listening to the last tape (Berlin April 4 1973)
I really feel I must decline
To clutter the streets with overdesign.
A door that is more than a door is much
of a bore (except to the Dutch).
An unroofed space with grass, a tree,
Lightwell?, Courtyard?, wait and see!
The intellectual grid is all in your head.
But people (& pipes) need direct routes, instead
Of so much indeterminate art,
in which building is clearly to be the last part.
Enough pretentious verbiage & fraud & perversity.
A modest recommendation:
When next in Berlin, go and see the university.
These lines were mainly a response to the discussion about the material design
of the Free University and the functioning of the grid or matrix as an organizational
principle in the design process — a discussion spurred on above all by
the Smithsons. The tapes of the meeting do not make it clear if they themselves
brought their own design for the ‘Demonstration Building’ in Kuwait
City into the discussion. Although this was of a different order than the Free
University, the way the grid was deployed in both these projects prompted criticism
from both De Carlo and Van Eyck. The criticism related mainly to the fact that,
in both projects, the system lines of the grid also dictated the structure and
hence the spatial and programmatic layout.
De Carlo considered the matrix or grid to be an intellectual construct — an abstract, conceptual schema. This conceptual schema did not in his view necessarily coincide with the structural form or the spatial composition, but it did help to organize the materials, space and programme in relation to one another and in accordance with their own internal logic. Van Eyck’s criticism of the Free University mainly concerned the subordination of the spatial idea to the structural system, which had the result, in his view, that any need for articulation and definition of the elevations — the façades, internal walls and doorways — seemed to vanish, and the space hence turned into a void. As an illustration of this point, he mentioned the courtyards, which functioned more like light wells than the intended patios. The detailing of the façades suffered similar problems; those which faced into the enclosed courtyards were identical to those which faced out into the world. Finally, there were the fire doors that compartmentalized the internal streets without the benefit of any visual design attention to make the subdivision of the public space self-evident. The Smithsons recognized these deficiencies too but attached less weight to them. They thought the Free University gave reason for optimism, since they recognized in it a ‘language of an architecture of invention . . . an industrialized architecture that is capable of growth . . . and that can bend and go up and down to modestly follow its interior streets, as the elements of classical architecture in Bath were made to serve a new sort of town fabric and a new sensibility’.
De Carlo contributed to the discussion by demonstrating his study for the restructuring of the Italian seaside town of Rimini, in which he used abstract grid patterns aligned with existing directions in the urban structure. His purpose here was to counteract the indefiniteness and arbitrariness of the existing urban extension. The interventions within this grid — nodes of activities around stops on a proposed monorail, and the linearly arranged compact low-rise on undeveloped land — were elaborated in greater detail in accordance with their own logic, independently of the dimensions of the grid. He paid special attention to the design of dwellings in the neighbourhood of San Giuliano, for which he devised a building system that would allow the occupants to change and expand their homes in future years.
Van Eyck’s contribution to the theme of the meeting consisted mainly of his presentation of the competition design for the city hall of Deventer in the Netherlands. In this design, the qualities of the given situation and the dimensions and directions of the existing urban fabric presented starting points for the spatial organization and the form of the city hall itself. In the resulting matrix, the structural grid is derived from the spatial concept.
A contribution worth mentioning was that of Jullian de la Fuente, whose attendance at the meeting in Berlin was his first since the Royaumont meeting of 1962. He presented, among other things, his final version of the hospital in Venice, originally designed in the studio of Le Corbusier and developed further by De la Fuente after Le Corbusier’s death in 1965. In the introduction to his presentation he stated that the most significant influences for the hospital design were his knowledge of Blom’s ‘Noah’s Ark’ design (1962) and the developments in the competition design for the Free University (1963) which he had experienced at first hand.
Candilis, the only participant who spoke no English, presented his design for the Barriades in Lima. This project drew much criticism from the other participants. On the one hand, they thought it suggested growth and change but did not really allow or stimulate it. On the other hand, a restricted project of that kind could not address the real problems of the Barriades and its inhabitants.
Team 10 members present
organized by Woods-Schiedhelm
Giancarlo De Carlo
Aldo van Eyck
Guillermo Jullian de la Fuente
Oswald Mathias Ungers