'Lebbeus Woods is An Archetype': Woods Remembered at Sci-Arc, Honored in Mechudzu

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What I learned from Lebbeus Woods was the notion of experimental architecture. Neither utopian nor dystopian, but exactly undecidable and unstable in its vision. His work evoked past, future and, in a deformed manner, present worlds.  If there was any ideal he called for, it was that of a free “anarchitecture,” neither fixed building or defined society, but something floating at the tip of his pencil.”  — Aaron Betsky

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For a man who built almost nothing, the late Lebbeus Woods was extraordinarily influential. Woods, who died almost a year ago (October 30, 2012), created what former New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff described as “dark and moody renderings that made him a cult figure among students and academics. Foreboding images of bombed-out cities populated by strange, parasitic structures, they seemed to portray a world in a perpetual state of war, one in which the architect’s task was to create safe houses for society’s outcasts.”

3816_UmbrellaHis renderings inspired many architects who have gone on to shape the actual cityscape with “unstable” and “undecidable” forms, among them LA’s Thom Mayne and Eric Owen Moss, director of SCI-Arc (his Umbrella building shown left). He also influenced production designers (famously testing copyright when a chair design of his was copied without credit for the movie 12 Monkeys). And he had a secondary career rendering other architects’ work in luscious presentation drawings.

“Lebbeus Woods work was cloyingly rich and energetically inspiring. Our work shared an interest in mechanical form, but his imagery was far enough over the line that it made our stuff look soberly responsible—a great help with clients. — Wes Jones

Lebbeus Woods is an Archetype (which includes recently uncovered video footage from a 1998 interview with Woods); and host a panel in which SCI-Arc alumni and teachers of a younger generation — Hernan Diaz Alonso, Dwayne Oyler, Alexis Rochas and Christoph a. Kumpusch – will discuss Woods’ influence on them.  Kumpusch worked with Woods on his only permanent structure “The Light Pavilion” located in Chengdu, China, pictured right (photo: Arch Daily).

“And then there was the End of Architecture conference in Vienna, and again, it was Woods applying the politics of pen and ink, insisting not that architecture had ended, or could ever end, or should end, but rather that architecture was only and always concerned with experimental beginnings. That’s the Woods archetype.” — Eric Owen Moss

Lebbeus Berlin

“The most intrinsic contribution of Lebbeus Woods made was that fact he compounded  Social-Science into Architecture. I, believe, he began with a very simple question: ” What does it mean to build?” — Mas Yendo

The Research Institute for Experimental Architecture and Mechudzu

One of Woods’ legacies is the Research Institute for Experimental Architecture (RIEA) which he helped found in 1988, with the goal of supporting “proven experimental architects.”  One of those architects is Bryan Cantley, the last recipient, before Woods’ passing, of RIEA’s book series award, Mechudzu.

Cantley is currently a professor at CSU Fullerton, where he is “trying to keep an exploratory approach to architecture alive in a suburb away from the ferment of Los Angeles.” He reflects on what Lebbeus Woods meant to him.

But they instill in us a sense of potential. They cause us to ‘think different’, as did the successful and poignant Apple advertising campaign of the late 1990’s. They are the radicals among us, and their voice is even more important today in a world of drones, over-globalization access, and tech saturation.

Architecture needs visionaries such as he. Architecture should explore and herald works that question not only the definition of architecture, but the internal political dialogue among those who build and those who teach and those who live the discipline.  Lebbeus was the man who, though I only met him once to tell him how much I enjoyed his work, told us it was ‘ok’ to pursue idea over building, vision over actuality. He told us through his models and drawings and words, that is was more than ok, it was necessary to ask questions. The questions others were not asking.

Architecture generates change, at its base level. Experimental architecture allows for inquiries of change to be cultivated without suppressive forces. Architecture asks questions… building answers [some] of them. I think we must start with a question Lebbeus asked, with a question I ask, and a question that most architects and designers ask when they truly investigate the kernel of design- What does architecture do?”

Below: Interaction initiated image from Mechudzu: New Rhetorics for Architecture, by Bryan Cantley

“The scenographies, narratives, and dramaturgies found in Lebbeus Woods’ work did not merely describe phenomena such as cybernetics, chaos, freedom, and human oppression.  His work in my estimation literally manifested these conditions.  They could be felt. That is what he built.” — Neil Denari


 “The asymmetry of his forms suggested a post-apocalyptic world, and he plumbed issues like politics, the environment, and shifting climatic, cultural, and community structures. It not only anticipated THE conversations but continue to stay relevant and strikingly salient for several decades.” — Edward Cella, owner of Edward Cella Art + Architecture