Lebbeus Woods, experimental architect, writer, professor, and visionary, died on Tuesday morning in his Manhattan loft. He was 72.
Woods exhibited, lectured on, and published projects worldwide, but in his life he was best loved for his drawings. The architect was widely known for his distinctive drawing style, and equally admired for his his willingness to embrace heavy subjects. With his drawings, Woods explored anarchy and the politics of space; death and destruction; and crisis, war, and conflict. He was a prolific critic of architecture theory and practice, and his blog maintained a cult following.
The architect began his career in the office of Eero Saarinen and Associates in 1964, but he soon went out on his own. In 1976, Woods began his long publishing career, printing his own work and contributing to various magazines and journals, including Pamphlet Architecture (issues #6 and #15). He would go on to author several dozen books—including Anarchitecture: Architecture Is a Political Act, Lebbeus Woods: Experimental Architecture, System Wien, The Storm and the Fall, and Radical Reconstruction—and was widely profiled in mainstream press.
In the year he dedicated to it, his blog attracted a large following. "I must say that it has been a privilege to have communicated with so many bright and energetic readers," Woods wrote on Aug. 11. With that post, Woods signed off on regular blogging, saying that he would be devoting the time to a book project. Dozens of fans thanked him for connecting with them. "It has been a unique experience in my life that I will always value highly," he wrote.
Woods began exhibiting his work in 1980, and to date his drawings and projects have been shown in at least 85 individual and group shows. His works are in the permanent collections of several major institutions, including, in New York, the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum; in Vienna, the Austrian Museum of Applied Arts, MAK; and in Paris, the Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art. He was the founder of the Research Institute for Experimental Architecture, an organization devoted the advancement of experimental architecture thought and practice.
Into his final days, Woods was busy with several projects, including his only constructed building, the Light Pavilion, an "experimental space" designed in collaboration with Christoph a. Kumpusch inside the Sliced Porosity Block by Steven Holl, FAIA, for the Raffles City complex in Chengdu, China. Woods had also been teaching an "Architectonics" course at The Cooper Union, where he has served as a professor of architecture most years since 1988. He has also taught courses at the Southern California Institute of Architecture, Harvard University, and Columbia University. His work is currently being exhibited in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)’s ""field conditions"" as well as at the Museum of Modern Art's "9+1 Ways of Being Political."
A major exhibit of Woods’s work will open at SFMOMA on February 16, 2013. Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher, assistant curator of architecture and design at SFMOMA, says that the museum has no plans to change the show in light of Woods’s death. “We are hoping to keep going on the installation,” she said, adding that it will include Woods’s work from the SFMOMA collection as well as from other institutions and private collections around the world. The exhibition, for which Woods was developing the design, does not as yet have plans to travel. “Right now, there is no tour, but we are open to exploring that,” Fletcher said.
While it is a grim thought, it is perhaps appropriate that Woods would pass during an event such as Hurricane Sandy’s landfall, a storm that transformed familiar Eastern seaboard settings into sites of chaos and disorder. A world upended is one that Woods always strove to depict.