LEBBEUS WOODS

Architect, artist and theoretican with
a radical passion for utopia.

Lebbeus Woods’ Manifesto was shown in the permanent MAK architecture collection 1992–2012 among experimental works by Raimund Abraham, Günther Domenig, Driendl*Steixner, Frank O. Gehry, Zaha Hadid, John Hejduk, Coop Himmelb(l)au, Frederick J. Kiesler, Daniel Libeskind, Thom Mayne – Morphosis Architects, Eric Owen Moss, Carl Pruscha, Helmut Richter, Rudolph M. Schindler and Lebbeus Woods.

Statements

It’s funny how, when you listened to Leb sometimes, you might conclude that, intellectually, he was extremely pessimistic.  A cynic even.  And yet when you look at the work, the ambitions for architecture, the precision, and the density of the drawings transcended any sense of pessimism. Quite the opposite. The act of doing that work makes Leb an enduring voice for the prowess of architecture as he insisted it be defined.  Drawing transformed him, and he transformed drawing, and together they transformed the discourse.  We ain’t forgetting.

Eric Owen Moss

Many of the great and not so great (including myself) architects like to think that they don’t, they won’t, they shouldn’t sell out, compromise, retreat (maybe), but they / we do, but I knew one who didn’t, not clear to me why, or how, or even it was worth it, but he didn’t, that by itself it not necessarily amazing, what make it quite extraordinary, is that his voice, his visions, were extraordinary, the eminence of an unique virtuosity, and that is an strange commodity and as such very valuable, is easy not sell out when you have nothing to sell, is incredible difficult when your offer is immense. But he knew that his visions were fragile, but because of that fragility they are durable, unique and relevant. Sometimes we get lost in what we think is the idea of success, the true artists, the really true artists work for the infinite times, the true success is the capacity of that work to inspire better work, to don’t settle for easy solutions, to make the time that we put in the work count, if we are capable of that, then not selling out will become a natural state of affairs.

It has to be clear by now that I’m talking about Lebbeus Woods, early on, he was a huge influence and reason why I decided to stay in architecture, and recently he become a reason for understanding the complexity and cynicism that sometimes cripples architecture, particularly through the sharp writing on his blog.  In a strange way he had the capacity to cut through those miseries, and somehow transform them in a dark, fragile, optimism, that maybe, maybe was the key for him, and maybe the clue for us, on how about to learn to don’t sell out, not even once.

Lebbeus, cheers
Hernan Diaz Alonso

Los Angeles, October 2012

PS: A while back Peter Noever invite me to do a show at the MAK in Vienna, and Peter had the beautiful tradition to invite an architect to talk at every opening, I was absolutely amazed when I discovered out that Lebbeus will be that architect, once again, peter surprise me with his ability to relate influences. It was one of those moments to treasure, for the obvious reasons of him being of one my heroes, but mostly because that day, we become some sort of friends.

Architect for architects

I remember meeting Lebbeus as part of the group of avant-garde architects, Manifesto, you managed to put together for the Havana Project in 1995. I was very impressed by his former drawings on Sarajevo and his vision for Havana as a city growing from a wall. He had a very touching and inspiring way to shake routine and make the impossible look possible. By shattering conventions he opened wide gaps in the perverse walls of conformity. He was an architect for architects.

I had the privilege to be there during most of the discussions of the whole group on how to address the task of designing for Havana, and later to translate the texts for the Spanish version. Among the other fascinating creators involved in the Havana Project, Lebbeus had a unique personal glow, not easy to identify. It took me some time to realise that it was like a mythical peplum that recover exceptionally nice persons.

Havana, 5 November 2012
Mario Coyula

Participants of “Vienna Architecture Conference”, 1992 (ltr: Lebbeus Woods, Thom Mayne, Steven Holl, Peter Noever, Wolf Prix, Eric O. Moss, Zaha Hadid, Helmut Swiczinsky, Carme Pinós), background: art intervention “Domestication of a Pyramid” by Magdaléna Jetelová

The Havana Project

Participants of “Havana Project”, 2nd from left: Aleksandra and Lebbeus Woods. Foreword by Fidel Castro Ruz

Projects for the old city of Havana by Lebbeus Woods, 1995
(from the publication “The Havana Project”, edited by Peter Noever, published by Prestel, Munich/New York)

“The Havana Project”, Exhibition at The Schindler House (3 April – 11 September 1996), MAK Center for Art and Architecture, Los Angeles, USA

Quotes on Havana by Lebbeus Woods

Havana opens one fundamental question: how, as an architect, would I create a stimulus for emergence of very small pieces that I don’t necessarily control – and how can those pieces, made on individual initiative, contribute to the larger “order”? That is what has interested me always, and especially here, because the place itself is both made and unmade with and without such an approach.

For me, the very possibility to show you what I am thinking about, while I am thinking about it, both through words and in drawings, is a rare opportunity. Our professional life creates very few situations like this one.

To use the phrase that Peter Noever invented, we are all able to function on some level as “exotic project-makers” – in other words, artists, people who can squeak out by random luck an exotic project that gets a lot of publicity. Everyone says this person is a great architect-artist and yet, the world goes on pretty much without any reference to this particular kind of exotic project.

So I want to put to myself a question in front of this group, because I am really curious: is your ambition for architecture anything other than to make exotic projects? Or is there a desire to make present the public, or universal, dimension inherent in the idea of architecture? And then how do you reconcile that with the exotic project that by random luck you manage to get through? I Think this is the important question – otherwise, it’s just about a series of lucky shots.

Let me raise one final question, which Zaha actually provoked with her comment. If it takes time to develop this new program, this new client, or as Thom mentioned, some kind of new position – I mean, if we have something in common, it’s going to take a while to find out what it is and also to articulate the differences.

Then what about the next time we meet? When will that happen, and where? Or, should it happen? Is this it? This was the event and that’s the end of history?

—Lebbeus Woods

(from: “Manifesto: The Ground Zero Condition” in “The Havana Project”, edited by Peter Noever, published by Prestel, Munich/New York)

Project by Lebbeus Woods for the Vienna Festival
curated by Peter Noever, studio Lebbeus Woods, New York, 2003

Lebbeus Woods: A Celebration

The Cooper Union, New York
25–26 April 2014

This Media Message by Peter Noever, Vienna, was specially made on the occasion of “Lebbeus Woods, a Celebration” held at The Cooper Union, New York, 2014. The video is based on Lebbeus Woods' Manifesto 1993 and was for more than ten years the backbone of the permanent collection space of experimental architecture 20th/21st century at the MAK Vienna.