Lebbeus Woods envisaged a world at war. The visionary architect, artist, and educator – who would have turned 73 today – drew cities under duress, buildings in the face of destruction, and landscapes confronting catastrophe. He imagined an underground city connecting divided Berlin, buildings designed for seismic hot zones that could move during earthquakes, and a utopian city that looked like an insect. He didn’t depict the world as it was, he depicted what it might be.
His drawings were not proposals. They were experiments: architecture for architecture’s sake, answering questions clients would not ask, disobeying laws, of nature and government. They explored the politics of architecture, imagining the ruptures (of all types) created by war, natural disaster, violence, governments, etc. Beautifully rendered with uncanny realism, the drawings border on science-fantasy. Yet they are eerily believable.
Remaining almost entirely in the realm of exploration, only one of his projects was built: a light pavilion at the Chengdu Tower, designed by his long friend Steven Holl. The project, a large 5-story installation in the façade of the building, expresses his disposition for dense lines, massive scale, and chaotic intervention.
Woods studied architecture at the University of Illinois and engineering at Purdue University. He worked briefly for Eero Saarinen before dedicating himself to experimental pursuits. For the sake of architects like him, whose ideologies cannot be supported by clients, he started the Research Institute for Experimental Architecture in 1988.