"In my work, architecture is meant to embody an ideal of thought and action, informed by comprehensive knowledge of the physical world." Lebbeus Woods wrote those words in 2011, almost four decades into his expansive career as an architect, artist, professor, and big thinker. His name might not be one of the first to come to mind when considering the field’s bold-faced icons from the last half-century, but an upcoming exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) will explore the visionary’s unique perspective through 175 pieces on display—many of which are intricate pencil-on-paper illustrations—that span his impressive, and somewhat unconventional, oeuvre.
Architecture is often considered a largely physical practice, and architects are judged on how their constructions inhabit a tangible, real-life environment. Woods, however, excelled at imagining elaborate structures that existed in a completely conceptual dimension. His complex speculations and strange drawings eschewed kitschy retro-futurism for something more complex, his creations tinged with a dystopian edge worthy of the finest sci-fi. As the museum points out, his output “lies almost solely in the realm of the imagined, proposed, and the unbuilt,” while “[opening] up new avenues for exploring, charting, and inscribing space.”
Sadly, Woods passed away last October at the age of 72, a mere two months after posting a goodbye of sorts on his blog, which he had been updating for almost four years. This exhibition should provide an integral primer for those interested in exploring his singular outlook.