A little over a year ago the visionary architect Lebbeus Woods died. I never got around to writing up a reflection on his passing, something commemorating and celebrating his lifework. Thankfully, many whose opinions and insight I respect did.
What follows is thus a pastiche of images by Woods and text from two articles — one by Sammy Medina (then at Architizer), with whom I’ve collaborated in the past, the other by Kelly Chan (then at ArtInfo), a fantastically overproductive architecture critic who I know through Sammy — as well as a quote from the British author Douglas Murphy on Woods’ oeuvre.
Not much I can really add to their comments, really, except to point out a few intersecting themes that unite them (for good reason, too, as I think they hit upon something):
- First, there is the contrast of Woods’ career with those of his contemporaries Daniel Libeskind and Zaha Hadid, both of whom transitioned from speculative architectural drawing in the late 1970s and 1980s to become “starchitects” by the mid-1990s. Douglas, Sammy, and Kelly all stress Woods’ disappointment with the naked careerism of his former peers.
- Second, related to the first point, there was Woods’ refusal to capitulate to the imperative to build in a reactionary age. This wasn’t an act of simple asceticism, I don’t think, but rather a recognition of historical reality.
- Finally, there is the comparison that both Sammy and Kelly made of Woods to the pioneering Italian draughtsman Piranesi — whose work, according to Manfredo Tafuri, prefigured that of the twentieth century avant-garde. Piranesi, like Woods, built very little during his lifetime. Both are instead remembered for their resolute commitment to “paper architecture,” whose unsettlingly speculative content served to disenchant the triumphant conservatism that had overtaken architecture in their time.
With that, I’ll conclude. Enjoy.
On the passing of Lebbeus Woods
Guardian quotes Douglas Murphy as follows:
Around the end of the 1980s Lebbeus Woods was just one of a number of radical architects making their name through the production of imaginary projects; elaborate drawings and paintings occupying a milieu somewhere between fine art and architecture, which allowed many to interrogate the conventions of their discipline. Open a book on the experimental architecture of that period and Woods’ heartfelt and haunting drawings regarding the siege of Sarajevo share space with early works from the likes of Daniel Libeskind and Zaha Hadid. But unlike so many of that generation who eventually made the career transition from avant-garde upstarts to global superstars, Lebbeus Woods never got rich by building rubbish. Continue reading