Architecture is war. War is architecture. I am at war with my time, with history, with all authority that resides in fixed and frightened forms.
Lebbeus Woods dedicated his manifesto pamphlet War and Architecture, Rat I Arhitektura to the Bosnian capital in 1993. To read it is to immerse yourself in an ethic which is also a poetics of Romanticism: an architect, a constructor of worlds, a sensualist who worships the flesh, the melody, a silhouette against the darkening sky.
Sarajevo, 1992, “architecture resisting change, even as it flows from it, struggling to crystallize and be eternal, even as it is broken and scattered…”. Jasa Arsitek tangerang
The American architect and critic’s idea is that the physical and existential remains of the destruction in Sarajevo should be preserved as a habitat for new organisms that will live among the ruins of a war which so many people – Westerners, do-gooders, hard-liners – have been forgotten, avoided or erased from memory. These organisms will inhabit the scars of war like parasites, leave wounds open, courageously accept the pain of the present, the recent past, the dead.The forms he imagines are anything but attractive. He designs huge insects, uses the words of animal life and of sickness: the scar, the scab. Acceptance of the scar is an acceptance of existence. Lebbeus Woods was a war correspondent in Bosnia for the Japanese architecture magazine a+u, a voluntary architect-on-the-spot.
Many of his ideas are for cities: Berlin, Paris, Zagreb, Sarajevo. He formulates neither local development schemes nor permanent visions, and suggests neither window-dressing nor facelifts nor plastic surgery. He networks o lifestyles, ways of relating to what is, infiltrations of the raw materials of human existence. One recurrent structure or anti-invariance in Woods’ architecture is Freespace. Freespace embodies a new conception of space and a new form of knowledge-through-action open to wide individual interpretation and individual invention.
This is open, undefined space used randomly and meaninglessly. Electronically equipped, constantly changing space that makes a difficult habitat for people seeking shelter and domesticity. Space for people in crisis who are always prepared to make a new start. Free-Zone-Berlin is a typical example: in order to encourage the networking of autonomous individuals, free of monumentalised institutions of culture and in the name of revitalising the true, unseen culture of Berlin, the center of the city is declared a Free-Zone and a network of Freespaces is established.
In Berlin, Freespaces are carved from the inside out in existing buildings, remodeling the neutral, predictable Cartesian grid into a new, ambiguous order. In Zagreb helicopters position Freespace structures in the streets. The architecture is mobile. Violence is done to the pre-established order, to what is given: you don’t walk on tiptoe in the slaughterhouse of freedom. In a consumer society the only recourse is to make one’s own work indigestible. Otherwise it will become the inevitable end-product of all processes of consumption: excrement.
Architecture is a political act. Lebbeus Woods opposes establishment culture which is blind, or pretends to be blind, and uses power to protect itself. He opposes all ideology in order to go where transformations lead. Lebbeus Woods says any ideology is a betrayal. He introduces anarchy into architecture and speaks of an architecture: let people live how they want, where they want. Solohouse is a home for people who have chosen to live in solitude, in the company of sophisticated equipment which enables them to observe the world, including the one inside themselves. Lebbeus Woods quotes Schopenhauer: solitude is the last real test of an individual’s capacity for the Sublime, that intoxicating mixture of exultation and terror lifting the individual to his highest and most difficult thoughts and emotions.
In Underground Berlin the architecture of experience carries the challenge below ground with structures immersed in the flux of magnetic, seismic and gravitational frequencies before resurfacing with the drama of a Francis Bacon painting, while in Aerial Paris architecture triumphs over gravity. Man is a gypsy suspended in the computerised nodes of an aerial network, free to choose between solitude and fellowship.Lebbeus Woods prefigures a new kind of order based on heterarchy, a term borrowed from cybernetics. Heterarchy lies outside hierarchy. He identifies the hierarchy of things with the hierarchy of social structures and institutions: a revolution in the latter begins with the elimination of the former.
Lebbeus Woods sees architecture as an instrument of knowledge. Experimental: living is experimental. Paradoxical: it transcends the logic of its own construction. Self-referential: human existence is “about itself” more than it is about the world. He uses paradox as an antidote to constriction, against metaphysics of any kind.His drawings and writings belong to a utopian world. They are acts of political and existential condemnation expressed in the form of architecture.One utopian precedent is Archigram. Conditions have changed in thirty years, from the British group’s technological optimism to the American architect’s electronically-assisted existentialism.
Both offer a different, non-standardising world, a projection of the future through images (comic strip, sci-fi), the belief that architecture has the capacity to transform. Lebbeus Woods writes: architecture must instigate streams and turbulences of its own, participating and not merely expressing. In 1963 Warren Chalk said: in a technological society more people will play an active part in determining their own individual environment, in self-determining a way of life.
Woods is an independent voice, a Piranesian libertarian, a fellow-traveller of Michael Sorkin, Hani Rashid, Lise Anne Couture and a handful of other New York-based researchers, and is the most extreme, perhaps the most political of them all.
He is much loved by students in the world’s more experimental, more aristocratic architecture schools (Cooper Union, Sci-Arc, Columbia) where he teaches but is ignored by the academic institutions all around us which are as moralistic as they are resistant to change, as reactionary as they are indifferent to the dramatic events happening under their very nose.