One October morning in 2003, Lebbeus Woods shattered the sleepy air in Los Angeles with a swift and decisive re-deployment of his famed Foundation Cartier installation, The Fall. 1,400 steel rods were drilled into the polished concrete floors running SCI-Arc’s quarter mile. In a single night of cloaked activity, Woods and a gang of student volunteers made Maya, Rhino and all computer pyrotechnics, then all the rage, seem irrelevant with a forest of bent steel rods that seemed to react to the forces of the building…and seemingly appeared out of nowhere.
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In the night, this gang of crazed drillers and rod benders struck constellations of holes into the floors. Drill bits were broken and some of the holes were chipped and unclean, looking deformed and imperfect like little screaming mouths, the building’s vulnerabilities revealed. Some looked more chiseled out than drilled. The rods followed and populated the broad avenues of the studios as if the floor were shooting up filaments or was in places suspended by alien veins. In other places the rods appeared as tangled transmission lines. Here they were intricate skeletons. There, the fractured nests of fantastic silver birds. So many conditions and strategies of dispersal and congestion beset the building. The floor thickened and rose up, a dense and disturbing psycho-spatial tide. Those rods seemed to result from consciousness, but upon completion, manifested the unconscious even more so, becoming a forest of chance, a sequence of threats to an unsuspecting architecture school.
When I arrived that morning the school was quiet. From the near-empty parking lot the building seemed to be exploding with acute sunlight on the inside. I pushed a glass door open and side-stepped through the first series of rods. I felt like I was one of the first to discover what had transpired. Of course I wasn’t the only one. A few other early-morning drifters and coffee sippers were roaming around trying to figure out what it all meant. As the morning advanced more and more students milled about, some in their own worlds, some in little chatting groups, taking it all in. Then Lebbeus arrived and everyone walked quietly with him as if on pilgrimage, he at the front, walking slowly through the rods, touching and pushing some of them as he made his way from one end of the school to the other.
When Lebbeus had come to SCI-Arc he was granted the freedom of a master in his own realm. Carte blanche, someone who was on that gang had told me. Only a handful of people, that late-night tribe of disciples, knew what he had in mind. For everyone else, the attack of the rods was a complete surprise. After it was done he would modestly assert that it was in fact the students who created the work. He was merely the instigator, he insisted. But this was the nature of his work. He understood how big it could become and how it lived outside of him, beyond any of us. Perhaps this is what he liked best about architecture: letting it go and watching it gather force.