History of Our World

Lebbeus Woods | Radical Reconstruction, 1997

Posted in Architecture by B on November 18, 2009

Lebbeus Woods | Radical Reconstruction I

Sarajevo: New Tissue
Lebbeus Woods | Radical Reconstruction II

Sarajevo: New Tissue

Lebbeus Woods | Radical Reconstruction III

Sarajevo: Scar

Lebbeus Woods | Radical Reconstruction V

Sarajevo: Scab

Lebbeus Woods | Radical Reconstruction V

Sarajevo: Meditations

San Francisco: Wave House

Excerpt from the essay Radical Reconstruction by Lebbeus Woods:

Twenty Tactics of a New Practice – Challenge old ideas of shaping space, thus of living. After destruction, it is not possible to immediately resume the old, disrupted ways of living. Indeed, this can only be done by regressing to them, led by the resurgence of social, political and professional institutions under whose authority they once existed. But too much has been suffered and lost, too much learned at too great a price to be quickly forgotten. The spirit of invention that makes survival possible under the extreme conditions created by destruction makes possible the new ways of living in a city that will, in a sense, always remain in a paradoxical state of destruction and construction. That the dynamics of change, were at the same time political, technological, epistemological and personal, are the ingredients of what may correctly be called a creative form of destruction in the city’s day to day existence. Rather, it elevates the “paradox” to a more complex plane of experience for everyone. The spaces of the old city were shaped to sponsor conventionality. In their damaged state, they offer an entirely new possibility for understanding the origins of both space and habitation. The architect leads the way by codifying this new understanding only in terms of space, without the fixed reference of habitation. The architect is a designer of space, not of living. The spirit of invention demanded by perpetual transformation thrives best in space shaped by its own invention.

Lebbeus Woods is widely regarded as the most exciting and original architectural visionary today. His body of theoretical work and his extraordinary drawings have served as inspiration for architects, artists and legions of students. Radical Reconstruction contains essays and projects that addresses the relationships between architecture and war, political revolution/reaction and natural disasters. These projects define new approaches to the reconstruction of buildings and urban fabric damaged by unpredictable and largely uncontrollable forces of both human and natural origin.


Lebbeus Woods | Radical Reconstruction

Essays by: Lebbeus Woods, Aleksandra Wagner & Michael Menser

Princeton Architectural Press



Lebbeus Woods

Princeton University Press


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Doom Time, Lebbeus Woods, 2009

Posted in Architecture, Art by R on June 9, 2009

Flashed around the world in September 2001, the pictures of the World Trade Center towers lying in ruins were both horrifying and—though few would openly admit it—strangely stimulating. The former because we instantly realized, with despair, that many people had died in the towers’ collapse, and that many others would suffer as a result of it for the rest of their lives. The latter because such a grand scale of destruction evoked an essential truth about human existence, a truth so disturbing that it is usually cloaked in denial: we are all going to die.

Not only will we die, but so will all our works. The great buildings, the great works of art, the great books, the great ideas, on which so many have spent the genius of human invention, will all fall to ruins and disappear in time. And not only will all traces of the human as we know it vanish, but the human itself will, too, as it continues an evolutionary trajectory accelerated by bioengineering and future technological advances. What all of this means is that we cannot take comfort in any form of earthly immortality that might mitigate the suffering caused by the certainty of our personal extinction.

It is true that through works of art, artists can live on in the thoughts and actions of others. This, however, is more of a comfort to the living than to the dead, and while it may help a living artist maintain a denial of death effective enough to keep believing that working and striving is somehow lasting, it is an illusion, and a pretty thin one at that. In contrast, the solidarity that develops between people who accept the inevitability of oblivion is more substantial and sustainable. When we witness an accident or disaster, we are drawn to it not because of ‘prurient interest,’ or an attraction to the pornography of violence, but rather to an event that strips away the illusions of denial and reveals the common denominator of the human condition. For the moment of our witnessing we feel, however uncomfortably, part of a much larger scheme of things, closer to what is true about our existence than we allow ourselves to feel in the normal course of living.

Religions have promised immortality and certainty in afterlives of various kinds, but for many today this is an inadequate antidote to despair. There are people who want to focus on the present and in it to feel a sense of exultation in being alive here and now, not in a postponed ‘later.’ This desire cuts across all class, race, gender, political and economic lines. In some religious lore, the ruins of human forms will be restored to their original states, protected and enhanced by the omniscient, enduring power of a divine entity. But for those who feel this is too late, the postponement of a full existence is less than ideal. For them, the present–always both decaying and coming into being, certain only in its uncertainty, perfect only in its imperfection–must be a kind of existential ideal. The ruins of something once useful or beautiful or symbolic of human achievement, speaks of the cycles of growth and decay that animate our lives and give them particular meaning relative to time and place. This is the way existence goes, and therefore we must find our exultation in confronting its ambiguity, even its confusion of losses and gains.

The role of art in all this has varied historically and is very much open to question from the viewpoint of the present. The painting and poetry of the Romantic era made extensive use of ruins to symbolize what was called The Sublime, a kind of exalted state of knowing and experience very similar to religious transcendence, lacking only the trappings of the church and overt references to God. Hovering close to religion, Romantic ruins were old, even ancient, venerable. They were cleansed of the sudden violence or slow decay that created them. There was something Edenic about them— Piranesi’s Rome, Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey,” Friedrich’s “Wreck of the Hope.” The best of such works are unsentimental but highly idealized, located intellectually and emotionally between the programmed horror of Medieval charnel houses and the affected nostalgia for a lost innocence of much architecture and painting of the late nineteenth century.

Taken together, these earlier conceptions are a long way from the fresh ruins of the fallen Twin Towers, the wreckage of Sarajevo, the blasted towns of Iraq, which are still bleeding, open wounds in our personal and collective psyches. Having witnessed these wounds—and in a palpable sense having received them–gives us no comfortable distance in which to rest and reflect on their meaning in a detached way. Hence, works of art that in some way allude to or employ these contemporary ruins cannot rely on mere depictions or representations—today that is the sober role of journalism, which must report what has happened without interpretation, aesthetic or otherwise. Rather it is for art to interpret, from highly personal points of view, what has happened and is still happening. In the narrow time-frame of the present, with its extremes of urgency and uncertainty, art can only do this by forms of direct engagement with the events and sites of conflict. In doing so, it gives up all claims to objectivity and neutrality. It gets involved. By getting involved, it becomes entangled in the events and contributes—for good and ill—to their shaping.

Thinking of Goya, Dix, Köllwitz, and so many others who bore witness and gave immediacy to conflict and the ruins of its aftermath, we realize that today the situation is very different. Because of instantaneous, world-wide reportage through electronic media,  there no longer exists a space of time between the ruining of places, towns, cities, peoples, cultures and our affective awareness of them. Artists who address these situations are obliged to work almost simultaneously with them. Those ambitious to make masterpieces for posterity would do well to stay away, as no one of sensibility has the stomach for merely aestheticizing today’s tragic ruins. Imagine calling in Piranesi to make a series of etchings of the ruins of the Twin Towers. They would probably be powerful and original, but only for a future generation caring more for the artist’s intellectual and aesthetic mastery of his medium than for the immediacy of his work’s insights and interpretations. Contemporary artists cannot assume a safe aesthetic distance from the ruins of the present, or, if they do, they risk becoming exploitative.

How might the ruins of today, still fresh with human suffering, be misused by artists? The main way is using them for making money. This is a tough one, because artists live by the sale of their works. Even if a work of art addressing ruins is self-commissioned and donated, some money still comes as a result of publicity, book sales, lectures, teaching offers and the like. Authors of such works are morally tainted from the start. All they can do is admit that fact and hope that the damage they do is outweighed by some good. It is a very tricky position to occupy, and I would imagine that no artists today could or should make a career out of ruins and the human tragedies to which they testify.

Adorno stated that there can be no poetry after Auschwitz. His argument rested on the fact that the Holocaust could not be dealt with by the formal means of poetry, owing to poetry’s limits in dealing with extremes of reality. Judging by the dearth of poetry about the Holocaust, we are inclined to believe he was right. Looking at a similar dearth of painting, sculpture and architecture that engage more contemporary holocausts, we are inclined to extend his judgement into the present. Still, if we concede the impotence of plastic art in interpreting horrific events so close to the core of modern existence, we in effect say goodbye to them as vital instruments of human understanding. If we concede that, because of their immediacy, film and theater have been more effective, then we consign them to the limits of their own traditions. And so, we must ask, how have the arts dealt with the ruins of Sarajevo and Srebrenica, of Rwanda and Beirut and Iraq, of the Twin Towers’ site? How will they deal with the new ruins to come? Time itself has collapsed. The need is urgent. Can art help us here in the white heat of human struggle for the human, or must we surrender our hope for comprehension to the political and commercial interests that have never trusted art?

Today’s ruins challenge artists to redefine both their roles and their arts. People need works of art to mediate between themselves and the often incomprehensible conditions they live with, especially those resulting from catastrophic human violence. While not all works of art are universal, they share a universal quality, namely, the need to be perceived as the authentic expression of the artists’ experience. Without the perception of authenticity and the trust it inspires, art becomes rhetorical, commercial, and, by omission, destructive. What are the authentic forms of interpreting ruins—the death of the human, indeed, ultimately, of everything— today?



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Architecture School 101, Lebbeus Woods, 2009

Posted in Architecture by R on January 28, 2009

A school is—before all else—a faculty.

 It is obvious that without a faculty, a school could not exist, for there would be no one to teach the students who come to a school. Also, the better students, those who are most eager to learn, most ambitious for themselves, and most demanding, those, in short, with the most potential for becoming good architects, select a school partly because of its faculty—they understand well the dynamics of learning.

It follows that, without a good faculty, a good school cannot exist. A mediocre faculty can only create a mediocre school, never a good one, regardless of how much potential its students have. Only a great faculty can produce a great school, and it does so by helping students realize their full potential.

There are two aspects of a great faculty (let us put aside mediocre and say that good is fine, but why not calibrate higher?): they are very effective teachers, and they have active peer relationships. The latter refers to the exchanges they have with other teachers and critics within their school and to their creative activities outside the school, in the big, wide world of ideas and work. Peers demand of each other, first of all, a high level of dedication to architecture, meaning a high level of seriousness. A peer is an equal. No one who is serious (even playfully so) wants to waste time with anyone who is not. There is always a certain amount of competitiveness among peers, and not just for position. The true competition is for achievement: as teachers and as architects. Creative rivalry and intellectual disputation are good, even noble, forms of competition, and are to be encouraged, and appreciated.

However, achievement does not necessarily make an architect an effective teacher. Teaching requires several qualities operating in parallel.

The first is having something to teach. An architect, or anyone else, who wants to instruct young people should feel strongly about what they know and have an equally strong desire to communicate it with others, particularly aspiring architects.

The second is a commitment of time and energy to teaching. Dipping in and out of a studio or seminar in distracted bits of time stolen from a busy career is no commitment. Teaching cannot simply be a line-item on one’s CV. A teacher must spend “quality time’ with students, that is, being personally, fully engaged in the time—of whatever duration—he or she is with students.

 Third, a teacher must understand the difference between training and education. The term ‘training architects’ is an oxymoron. The trans-disciplinary nature of architecture, the depth and diversity of knowledge it requires, as well the complexity of integrating this knowledge into a broad understanding that can be called upon at any moment to design a building or project, goes far beyond what anyone can be trained to do. Still, some teachers try to train students, using all the finesse of training dogs. Even those who disclaim rote learning and ‘copy me’ methods can carry vestiges of attitude that amount to the same. A good test is whether the students’ work in a design studio is diverse and individual, or is similar or even looks like the personal work—the ‘design style’—of the teacher. The best teachers preside over the flourishing of individuals and their ideas, and the resulting diversity. Diversity is the essence of education.

Schools of architecture must require of students that they pursue in some depth a broad range of subjects. This is because architecture is the most comprehensive field of knowledge one can enter. It engages the whole of society, and must be informed by a society’s knowledge, practices and values. Philosophy comes first, as it provides a framework for ordering all the diverse bits and pieces. Then come the social sciences, literature and poetry, and art. These studies happen together with architecture and engineering courses, and, ideally, coalesce in the design studio. It is the task of the studio teacher to set up projects and programs that enable this coalescence—far from easy. To accomplish it, a teacher must have the requisite knowledge himself or herself, and an almost uncanny ability to state in plain language a problem, lay out a methodical series of scheduled steps leading to an articulated and attainable goal. It is up to the teacher to make sure the intended work is actually accomplished within the given time. There is nothing more discouraging and dispiriting than work left unfinished.

Not least in importance is the study of history. Knowledge of the histories of the many communities we share today in global society, as well as the history of architecture, towns, and cities, is crucial. Goethe said, “The best part of history is that it inspires us.” He was right. When we see what people have been able to achieve in the past, we realize that we can do the same, in our own inevitably different terms. Without a strong sense of this spirit of history, an architect can only drift with the currents of the moment. It is the responsibility of studio teachers to make this clear. 


Students are the other half of any school’s story.

Without good students, a good school cannot exist. However, it is much easier to find good students than good faculty. It is far easier to find great students than great faculty. As Raimund Abraham once said, “There are no bad students.” What he meant was that young people who aspire to become architects and have gone through an admissions and selection process have demonstrated in advance a potential that should be respected. If students try and yet do not do really good work, it is, with few exceptions, due to the failure of their teachers. In contrast, many architects who become and remain teachers do so for reasons other than their potential as teachers. There are many—competent professionals—who should never be allowed any contact with young, eager students bristling with talent and ambition. Bad teachers, especially those who imagine themselves as good, do irreparable damage. They kill the spirit.


This does not mean that outstanding students cannot emerge from mediocre schools—they can, and a few have. But their being outstanding is more the result of their own drive to learn and develop, in spite of the mediocrity around them. They are, in effect, self-taught. However, even the most self-determined students need some help along the way: the encounter with a rare teacher who stirs their imaginations, ignites their passions about a particular idea, or sets an example by the teacher’s own knowledge, integrity, and dedication. These are the qualities that describe the entire faculties of great schools.

This brings us to the other half of any school’s story. Yes, there are three halves. The third is a school’s administration, its dean and department chairs….

 (to be continued)



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