The Heinz Architectural Center at Carnegie Museum
of Art presents Lebbeus Woods: Experimental Architecture, the most
comprehensive American exhibition ever of works by one of the most
innovative and internationally acclaimed experimental architects working
today. The exhibition, on view from July 31, 2004 through January 16, 2005,
is presented as an engulfing architectural experience, designed and
installed by Woods and organized in collaboration with Carnegie Museum of
Art curator of architecture, Tracy Myers. A dozen projects dating from 1987
to the present are represented in the exhibition through models, original
drawings, photographs, and mural-sized digital reproductions of drawings.
The exhibition also features a new, site-specific installation that Woods
describes as a "drawing in space."
"The proposals of Lebbeus Woods are at the forefront of experimental work,
and it is our distinct pleasure to present this installation at the Heinz
Architectural Center," says Richard Armstrong, the Henry J. Heinz II
director at Carnegie Museum of Art.
Better known abroad than in his native United States, Lebbeus Woods is a
theorist who has devoted his career to creating radical new forms of space
that are responsive to the uncertainty and continual shifts of contemporary
society. Though speculative, his work is grounded in real-world conditions
and meant to provoke new ways of thinking. The exhibition is a physical
manifestation of his ideas.
"The kind of work that Lebbeus Woods does is very important to the
architectural profession," Myers says, "and the sorts of questions he
engages should be of interest to anyone who cares about the future of
culture and society. In much the manner that scientific exploration
advances understanding even when it produces inconclusive results,
experimental architecture stretches the limits of what is thought to be
tectonically possible despite the fact that it seldom produces buildings in
the conventional sense. We encourage exhibition visitors to similarly
stretch their minds and embrace Woods' challenging but stimulating ideas."
The Heinz Architectural Center's exhibition spaces consist of a long "spine"
corridor from which three small galleries and one large gallery radiate.
Because the spaces vary in scale and shape, the exhibition is not installed
in a uniform manner throughout the galleries but instead is conceived as a
variety of experiences. A video interview of Woods located near the
Center's main entrance provides the context for the exhibition and an
understanding of the architect and his work. Beyond the video there are no
explanatory materials, and the visitor is left to a uniquely
thought-provoking experience of what Woods calls "visual and spatial
The first small gallery contains Berlin Free Zone, Woods' 1991 series of
drawings that were created after the breaking down of the Berlin Wall. In
them, Woods questions the social shifts in the newly reunited city and
creates "freespaces"-individual "living labs" whose functions are determined
by their users, rather than by the architect, and which come together into
loosely formed and continuously changing communities. The 24 enlarged
digital reproductions in this gallery are arranged end-to-end and shown as a
frieze that is 76 feet long and 23 inches high.
Woods is an extraordinary draftsman, and the second small gallery houses 23
original drawings from Aerial Paris (1989) and several of Woods projects for
Sarajevo (1993-1994). In the former, freespaces are held aloft from Paris by
Earth's electromagnetic field. The latter propose reconstructing the
war-damaged city of Sarajevo by "healing" the ruined sections of buildings
using elements made from the remnants of the destruction, so that they serve
as signs of survival and reinvention. In both cases, Woods advocates living
experimentally when new conditions demand it. "Experimental architecture is
not for everyone," he says. "It is for people whose lives have been
transformed by an experience."
Completely filling the third small gallery is The Tangle, an impenetrable
thicket of bent aluminum tubing that invites entry while thwarting it. Built
on-site by Woods and a team of volunteers, The Tangle gives physical form to
the abstract idea of a "field of spatial potential."
In the Center's large gallery, a dense configuration of slightly tilted
model supports holds a group of eleven models of projects for Havana,
Zagreb, and other "zones of crisis." Rather than showing the models as
precious museum objects mounted on pedestals, Woods has created what he
calls "a constructed landscape that is formally and conceptually
consistent." Several of the projects represented by models are also on view
as drawings and digital reproductions elsewhere in the galleries.
Woods has re-shaped the Center's 80-foot-long spine by inserting 11
mural-size digital reproductions of drawings and photographs at varying
angles to the existing walls. The 10-foot-high panels on which the images
are mounted range in width from five feet to more than twenty feet, giving
the visitor an authentic sense of the spatial qualities of Woods' proposals.
An aluminum pathway that courses through the spine and other parts of the
galleries is imprinted with key words from the architect's writings. Rather
than forming a narrative or associating particular ideas with specific
projects, the words are meant to be evocative and allusive.
Woods practiced more traditional architecture for several large firms in the
late 1960s and early 1970s. In 1976, in order to pursue new ideas in greater
depth, he moved from "bricks and mortar" architecture to theory and
experimental projects. Woods was radicalized in 1987 after attending an
architectural conference in São Paolo, Brazil, where he was deeply affected
by the substandard "favelas," or squatter settlements built as housing by
the city's poor. "I realized that all my work up to that time was
insufficient in confronting urgent human problems, not only in São Paolo,
but anywhere," said Woods. "Architecture by its very nature had to confront
and begin to work on those kinds of problems."
Berlin, Zagreb, New York City, Sarajevo, and Havana are just some of the
cities where crisis and upheaval have prompted Woods to respond with an
exploration of ideas about architecture and heterarchy, freespace,
experimentation, and living in the most fulfilling way.
For Woods, the projects, including the exhibition, represent crucial
concepts that he feels have been neglected in the field of architecture.
"The architect has to take responsibility to participate in the rationale of
the building and not just to design," says Woods, who intends for visitors
to leave with an understanding of architecture's experimental component.