Born in Lansing, Michigan, Lebbeus Woods (1940–2012) dedicated his career to probing architecture’s potential to transform the individual and the collective. Woods, who sadly passed away as planning for this exhibition was underway, had an enormous influence on the field of architecture over the past three decades, despite the few built structures to his name. Working deftly with pencil on paper and on intricate models with collaborators, he created complex worlds—at times abstract and at times explicit—that present shifts, cycles, and transience within the built environment.
Lebbeus Woods, Architect brings together significant projects from the past thirty years. Woods’s architecture is emblematic of a period of exploration and theory that emerged in the field in the 1980s. As someone attuned to the human condition, he was more concerned with architecture’s ability to inspire and change our collective understanding of what is possible than with the formal arguments of architectural practice. His prescient proposals offer new architectural typologies and anticipate the need for spaces of uncensored communication, particularly in the face of changing political landscapes and natural calamity. Some structures suggest a disparate alternative, while others acknowledge existing circumstances rather than erase them; they drift above, embed within, or occupy the underground. The architecture on view here, presented through extensive drawings and models, offers an original perspective on humanity’s ability to resist, respond to, and create in adverse conditions. He once said, “Maybe I can show what could happen if we lived by a different set of rules.”
This exhibition marks the first presentation of an architect’s work at the MSU Broad. Zaha Hadid, the architect who designed this museum, was a longtime friend and colleague of Lebbeus Woods. Each architect contributed tremendously towards a burgeoning experimental architecture discourse, and Hadid has spoken publicly of Woods’s impact and influence on her practice. Lebbeus Woods, Architect offers visitors further insight into the context and significance of this building by bringing it into dialogue with Woods’s provocative ethos and transformative designs, which find formal and conceptual echoes in the structure and spaces of these galleries.
About Lebbeus Woods
Born in Lansing, Michigan, Woods studied at the Purdue University School of Engineering (1958–60) and the University of Illinois School of Architecture (1960–64). He worked for Eero Saarinen and Associates, and Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo Associates (1964–68) before moving into private practice. Woods concentrated on theory and experimental projects since 1976, exhibited, lectured, and published his projects worldwide, and wrote numerous articles of criticism about architectural practice and theory. Woods was a professor of architecture at Cooper Union, where taught until his death in 2012. His works are held in the collections of major museums internationally, including MoMA, the Whitney, MAK Vienna, and the Getty Research Institute. Woods’s projects and writing can also be explored in the archives of his blog at lebbeuswoods.wordpress.com.
Lebbeus Woods, Architect is organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The presentation of Lebbeus Woods, Architect at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University is made possible by support from Bill and Linda Demmer; the Elizabeth Halsted endowment fund; the Nellie Holmes Loomis endowment fund; and the MSU Broad's general exhibitions fund.