Lebbeus Woods, 1940-2012


Lebbeus Woods, visionary of conceptual architecture, died Oct. 30 in Manhattan at the age of 72. The cause of his death has not been announced.

Woods’s designs and installations, which sought to redefine our conception of space, were exhibited in museums and galleries internationally. His work often reimagined cities in relation to current events. For example, he traveled to Sarajevo while it was under siege, and imagined the postwar city through a series of works depicting bombed buildings with appendages he called “scars” or “scabs” to depict healing.

His works also inspired science-fiction filmmakers. He sued the makers of the 1995 film 12 Monkeys, claiming that director Terry Gilliam copied his 1987 design Neomechanical Tower (Upper) Chamber in one of the film’s sets. The film studio settled out of court.

“I’m not interested in living in a fantasy world,” Woods told the New York Times in 2008. “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 could happen if we lived by a different set of rules.”

Born in 1940 in Lansing, Mich., Woods attended the University of Illinois and Purdue University and worked for Eero Saarinen Associates from 1964 to 1968. He was a longtime professor at Cooper Union, in New York. His commitment to conceptual architecture was exemplified in his founding of the Research Institute for Experimental Architecture, in Bern, Switzerland, in 1988. He constantly expanded his influence through speaking at worldwide symposiums and maintaining a popular blog.

Woods’s works are included in numerous public collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, and the Getty Research Institute for the Arts and Humanities, Los Angeles.

The only permanent structure Woods has built is the Light Pavilion, in a Steven Holl-designed housing complex in Chengdu, China, and completed in October. Made in collaboration with Christoph A. Kumpusch, a colleague at Cooper Union, the Light Pavilion was designed with the sole purpose “to expand the scope and depth of our experiences,” according to Woods’s blog.

An exhibition of Woods’s work is in development for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and is set to open in February 2013.