The late architect Lebbeus Woods was famous for proposing radically unorthodox spaces. With his drawings of twisting, ruptured buildings—some of them pierced by strange spacecraft-like appendages—he argued for architectural interventions that would upend political and social hierarchy. With the exception of his only permanent built work, the Light Pavilion in Chengdu, China, Woods didn't leave behind any inhabitable structures. But he did design one, and the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) recently assembled it in Bloom Square in downtown Los Angeles.
Based on a 1997 drawing of the same name, "Earthwave" is an 18-by-18-foot, two-and-a-half-ton steel frame filled with dense whorls of skinny steel bars. Woods and collaborator Christoph A. Kumpusch originally planned to construct it for the 2009 Biennale of Architecture and Art of the Mediterranean in Reggio Calabria, Italy, but the project was never built.
Now, four years later, SCI-Arc will celebrate the opening of "Earthwave" this Friday. On view through December 1, the piece kicks off the SCI-Arc show "Lebbeus Woods Is an Archetype." (The second portion, an exhibition at the SCI-Arc gallery, will open October 11.) It's the only Woods creation you can walk through this side of Chengdu!
"Earthwave" (1997), by Lebbeus Woods, is the drawing that inspired the sculpture.
Picking up where he and Woods had left off in 2009, Kumpusch and a team of students from SCI-Arc and Pratt Institute spent four weeks constructing "Earthwave." They trucked in the steel components and assembled them in the SCI-Arc parking lot. Earlier this month, the team moved the spindly structure three blocks to Bloom Square and lowered it via crane onto the plaza—a rather arresting image that itself sounds like something out of Woods's "Centricity" series.
Aside from the chance to experience a Woods drawing in 3D, the best thing about the installation is its placement on the street next to regular buildings. Though the architect's works on paper show his imaginative structures implanting themselves in standard-issue housing blocks and city streets, we rarely get the chance to experience that strange juxtaposition from our own sidewalks.
"It was important for us to show that what he drew was intended to be built, and also important to get it out on the street," says Eric Owen Moss, director of SCI-Arc and principal of Eric Owen Moss Architects. "If you read some of the obituaries, there's some speculation that he was a sci-fi guy. This is completely untrue, although he was certainly interested in various manifestations of new technologies. What he drew was plausibly buildable."
All photos © Joshua White/Courtesy SCI-Arc