31-5-1940 - 30-10-2012
LEBBEUS Woods, an experimental architect who inspired colleagues and architecture students with radically inventive designs and installations that evoked futuristic worlds and cityscapes, has died in Manhattan. He was 72.
Although Woods' designs were rarely constructed, they were considered widely influential and were exhibited in museums around the world, including a recent show at New York's Friedman Benda Gallery.
At a time of growing commercialism in architecture, Woods pushed firmly in the opposite direction, eschewing conventional boundaries.
In that spirit, he flew to Sarajevo in the 1990s as the former Yugoslavia was being torn apart, entering the city while it was still under siege to create drawings of an imagined postwar capital that combined elements of destruction and rebirth, with appendages he called "scabs" or "scars" attached to damaged buildings to represent healing.
"He picked very poignant and contemporary political contexts to make drawings and try to intervene," said Eric Owen Moss, a Los Angeles-based architect and friend of Woods. "He was trying to see the world in a different way."
In a famous drawing of Lower Manhattan, with eerie resonance in recent days, Woods conceived of a time when massive dams would be used to contain the Hudson and East rivers, depicting the island atop a giant gorge, its granite foundation exposed and an underworld below. In another well-known work, he drew a detailed, imaginary tomb for Albert Einstein, a heavenly spaceship that would circle the earth on a beam of light.
Woods may not have expected those drawings to become reality. But in a 2008 interview, he made clear that although his work was often described as fantasy, he believed many of his designs could in fact be built.
"I'm not interested in living in a fantasy world," he said. "All my work is still meant to evoke real architectural spaces. But what interests me is what the world would be like if we were free of conventional limits. Maybe I can show what would happen if we lived by a different set of rules."
Los Angeles architect Thom Mayne, another close friend, called Woods' influence on the field immeasurable.
"He was an unparalleled character, a man of ideas, of concepts, really a moral centre for architects," said Mayne, who said he and others turned frequently to Woods for productive advice and criticism of their own work. "Architecture wasn't what he did. It's who he was. There is no other Lebbeus."
Woods' designs have often been compared to the imagery of science fiction and his influence can be seen in several films of the genre.
Among Woods' survivors are his wife, Aleksandra Wagner, and three children.