Lebbeus Woods, 1940 - 2012

Lebbeus Woods passed away last week.  It is almost impossible to overemphasize the impact that this "paper" architect has had on the world of architecture.  A long-time professor at Cooper Union, he directly influenced generations of students at one of the most important schools in the world, during its most profoundly influential period.  But it was his publications with their hauntingly beautiful images that have become some of the most seminal works in post-Modernist era.

His drawings of re-imagined urban landscapes are stunningly beautiful even in their dark, vaguely dystopian vision. His most widely read work, Anarchitecture: Architecture is a Political Act, is so visually striking that its message is easily lost amidst the revery of the drawings and models on display.  But make no mistake, Woods' work was not just so-much eye-candy.

Crucial question - what is an inconsistent pattern? The cities of an experimental culture will be formed on inconsistent patterns, and will produce them.  These will be their chief products, the result of a way of living driven by the need for clarity on shifting landscapes of the ephemeral.

I attended undergraduate and graduate schools of architecture during the height (or maybe bottomless, self-flagellating, pit) of post-structuralist architectural theory.  Architects, insecure in their creation of forms, looked under every academic, esoteric rock to find some secure impetus to justify the nature of the work - imposing forms upon others.  I won't go on about the absurdity and idiocy of the near-abandonment of 3,000 years of architectural history and practice for the tawdry attractions of French philology.  It happened, I witnessed it, even dipped a toe in it.

"Politics of construction: who designs, who builds, who owns, who inhabits?"

Woods' work shattered it.  He, among others, placed architecture back in the realm of buildings, the act of building, and the meaning of actually making buildings.  And the images he produced cemented that argument with an outrageous glorification of forms, color, plasticity and imagination.  Though his vision of shattered cities and expropriated spaces were often dire and almost always devoid of people, what comes through is the joy and beauty of making.  That may sound contradictory to what I said above, but it is not.  Great architectural ideas have never been planted so firmly as when they are not merely texts or images, but the synergistic amalgam of both, like LeCorbusier's Toward an Architecture and Robert Venturi's Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture.

I would avidly place Woods' Anarchitecture in that lofty neighborhood.  He was the most important and influential unbuilt architecture of the last century.  Not too bold a statement I think, and not befitting enough of his animating vision.

by Boulder architects M. Gerwing Architects