Lebbeus Woods

Architect Lebbeus Woods (1940-2012) worked predominantly in the mediums of exquisite drawings and sublime models rather than built buildings. In addition to his numerous books and published journal articles, he was a prolific blogger from 2007 to 2012. Woods’ blog site is hard to track down unless doing a web search specifically for the blog, since searching his name alone does not return the link to his blog on the front page of Google. This is a result of the search engine’s ranking algorithm favoring sites with recent updates. Since Woods’ passing, his blog has not been updated in eight years.

Woods’ post from February 6, 2008, titled ‘The Reality of Theory,’ at https://lebbeuswoods.wordpress.com/2008/02/06/the-reality-of-theory/ reveals a reality that certain visionary theoretical propositions are hard to realize at the time of its conception, especially pertaining to programmatic inventions. In this post, Woods recounts how he was invited to Sarajevo, Bosnia in 1993 and proposed exterior reconstruction of war-damaged buildings such as The Electrical Management Building with a radically new aesthetic and a repurposed program called “Freespace.” The blog post shows drawings, renderings and the depressing actual realization of the exterior reconstruction designed without Woods’ input. The theory of Freespace escapes praxis due to the constraint of finances and desire from the government to see it realized.

Freespace, a programmatic carte blanche for a sculptural formal realization, is a call for an enclosed spatial expression of liberty and freedom much like public urban parks. Most parks -that were not private gardens- were not seen in mass development until the 19th century. Much as how Woods’ Freespace seem novel now, the concept of truly public parks was once unimaginable before modern democratic societies eventually made them a reality. In the war-ravaged urbanscape of Sarajevo, it is not difficult to imagine an enclosed protective shell rather than an open area for a place of free assembly and unrestrained activity. Similarly, in the aftermath of the current COVID-19 pandemic, a place to assemble and express physical social connection may be required, and there may be enough empty buildings to realize such goals. Freespace as a theory can be actualized in reality.

In his blog post, Woods wrote: “More than all this, the people of the city had suffered years of deprivation, terror, and uncertainty, and many would be transformed by it. How, I asked, could architecture play any positive role in all of this? My answer was that architecture, as a social and primarily constructive act, could heal the wounds, by creating entirely new types of space in the city. These would be what I had called ‘freespaces,’ spaces without predetermined programs of use, but whose strong forms demanded the invention of new programs corresponding to the new, post-war conditions. I had hypothesized that “90% of the damaged buildings would be restored to their normal pre-war forms and uses, as most people want to return to their old ways of living….but 10% should be freespaces, for those who did not want to go back, but forward.” The freespaces would be the crucibles for the creation of new thinking and social-political forms, small and large. I believed then–and still do–that the cities and their people who have suffered the most difficult transitions in the contemporary world, in Sarajevo and elsewhere, have something important to teach us, who live comfortably in the illusion that we are immune to the demands radical changes of many kinds will impose on us, too.”