Mat-building and the Universities of the 60s


2011 DPA 27-28_Mat-building and the universities of the 60sA number of European new universities of the 1960s foreshadow Alison Smithson’s mat-building definition of 1974 (AD, sep. 1974); so much so that there seems to be a close relationship between post-war higher education ideals and mat-building compositional systems.

As Karl Kiem (2008) has pointed out, during the nineteen sixties European universities are not more institutions intended for the elite. On the contrary, they are to be opened to a broad section of population. And as a consequence, new universities of the 1960s should be designed not as a representative ‘monument’ but as an effective ‘instrument’ destined for the masses. This fact could be inferred not only from one of its paradigms, the Free University Berlin, but also from virtually all of the so-called mat-universities of those years, such as Dublin, Zurich and Toulouse-Le-Mirail projects by Candilis-Josic-Woods, or the less known but not less suggesting cases of Bochum, Marburg, Loughborough and Odense universities, to name but a few. In Spain, both the “Universidad Autónoma de Madrid” and the “Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona” competitions stand out as two compelling examples of what already is an international phenomenon.

At that precise moment in the recent history, uncertainty, flexibility and growth seem to be common features of both the university programmes and the mat-building just as it would be defined afterwards by Alison Smithson. As a result, the architect’s task is not more a matter of imagining forms and spaces, but involves a process of dispassionate organization. That is the way by which the relational thinking of Structuralism, the close-knit interconnections of a mat-building and the new idea of a faculty (conceived to be a departmental structure which favours an open and free knowledge exchange, instead of an isolated building) take part in a coherent architectural program.

“Los mat-buildings y las universidades de los 60 / Mat-building and the universities of the 60s,” with Débora Domingo Calabuig and Jorge Torres Cueco. DPA 27-28 (2011): 46-51.

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