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Indepth Arts News:

"Lebbeus Woods: Experimental Architecture"
2004-07-31 until 2005-01-16
Carnegie Museum of Art
Pittsburgh, PA, USA

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 energy."

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.

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