Lebbeus Woods, "Einstein Tomb" (1980)
Some sad news: Visionary architect and artist Lebbeus Woods has passed away at the age of 72. New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman tweeted the shocking announcement this morning saying: "Deeply sorry to have just heard that Lebbeus Woods, a true visionary architect and astonishing draftsman, died this morning. A great loss." He would later write that Woods had been "fading for some months, sadly, but he kept teaching to the end", and that he had died in his sleep.
Earlier this year, Woods had been at work on realizing his first "built" project, the Light Pavilion. The large-scale sculpture is embedded in one tower of Steven Holl's "Sliced Porosity Block" development in Chengdu (nearing completion), whose construction Woods documented on his much-cherished blog. He was also preparing a book, he wrote in a send-off note dated August 11, 2012 announcing that he would be ceasing blog updates.
Heralded for his virtuous drafting skills and fervidly imaginative works, Woods was the rare architect who built little (in fact, close to nothing), yet commanded an influence far beyond the parochial halls of the field. His career significantly shaped adjacent creative professions, perhaps most notably in the literary and visual spheres of science-fiction and Hollywood films. Woods, in fact, worked briefly as a conceptual artist on Alien 3, an experience which he detailed, as he would on a great many topics over the last several years, on his blog here.
It was through his blog that Woods, with great perspicacity, acumen, and wit, broadcasted not just appraisals of his past and current works, but, just as memorably, his opinions on (and frequent distaste for) the mundanity of contemporary architecture. Tied to this development was the failure of a generation--Woods's own--of spectacularly promising architects who in recent years have squandered their talents, playing down their most distinguishing tendencies and advancing work conveniently divorced from both polemic and political agenda in the pursuit of clients, fame, and other vanities. "She has let me down," Woods logged in an entry this past February about his contemporary Zaha Hadid and the sleek, soulless architecture she and others have made fashionable. "And what makes it worse", he continued, "is that she apparently couldn’t care less."
Unlike those architects, Woods would never lose his rogue streak, producing work throughout his near 40-year long career practically combusting with militant intent and revolutionary zeal. His large canon of drawings, etchings, lithographs, and installations were experimental to the core and which constantly questioned the nature of architecture's capacity to effect change in prevailing structures of ideology and the social domain alike. Through these, Woods didn't advocate wholesale utopias or realizable future cities, so much as wield (and sustain) inestimable critiques on the state of architectural production. With his passing, the field loses its own Piranesi.