Monday, October 08, 2012

CGAA Design: Lebbeus Woods

Lebbeus Woods
Lebbeus Woods is one of those rare artists who belongs to no specific category of creative study. He is by trade an architect, but in his work he expands far beyond this definition. Or, that is to say, his work expands the world of architecture far beyond what is traditional. Woods is best know for his approach rather than his completed and "realized" projects. Little of his work is built but his studies and designs have become the inspiration for idea generation across all creative fields. He sketches in abstract and unplanned methods, with lines and shapes of bold colour trying to look for something that sparks a new design. He rethinks and reanalyses space, reforming areas with drastic changes that are designed to reinvent a landscape. The importance of Woods for a CG artist is that his beautifully rendered works, which are as close to concept art as they are architecture, reflect a way of thinking rather than just a design.

In an interview with BLDGBLOG he discusses his approach to the Lower Manhattan image shown below.

"I made the drawing as a demonstration of the fact that Manhattan exists, with its towers and skyscrapers, because it sits on a rock – on a granite base...

I wanted to suggest that maybe lower Manhattan – not lower downtown, but lower in the sense of below the city – could form a new relationship with the planet. So, in the drawing, you see that the East River and the Hudson are both dammed. They’re purposefully drained, as it were. The underground – or lower Manhattan – is revealed, and, in the drawing, there are suggestions of inhabitation in that lower region." [1]

This stunning example begins to explore the unique genius that Woods has become famous for. The work lives in a re-purposed world where the concept is key. Woods is not restricted by build plans or budgets, but simply ideas. This is an approach that is key when producing concept art. One must think beyond the apparent and instead think about a logic and idea.

The sketchbooks and note pages from Lebbeus Woods are just as beautiful as his final renders and drawn plans. Lines and shapes are formed and highlighted, exploring any possibility without restraint. Notes and ideas overlap as he uses the page to completely explore his thought process. They represent his brain on the page in the truest sense of the term. I studied Woods' work during my foundation year and this was a concept that I still try to maintain today. Use a sketchbook for everything, take notes, draw out ideas, sketch and analyse thoughts. A sketchbook is the best way to explore every possible aspect of a project. The best ideas can fall apart once they leave your head and hit the page, or small thoughts can blossom into concrete notions that inspire a new project.

The more work Woods creates the more it becomes apparent that thought and idea are key.

Architects, however, are today routinely indoctrinated against the dumb box. Even advertising urges us to “think outside the box.” Why? Because it is thought we all hate the box for being too dumb, too boring, and we want to escape it. If we do escape, by buying the advertised product, we usually find ourselves inside another dumb box populated by boring people just like us. It is clearly possible to live an extraordinary life inside a dumb box. Question: is it possible to lead an extraordinary life in anything other than a dumb box? [2]

Due to this importance on idea, Woods' work has expanded beyond architecture, his work has influenced film and design in a huge way. So much so that Woods sued the producers of 12 Monkeys after they stole from his piece "Neomechanical Tower." From Half Life 2 to Alien 3, Woods has had a profound effect on the world of concept.

Over the past thirty years, my thoughts have followed a single line, in many parallel ways. It can be summarized in a single question: what is the place of one person - any individual - in the complex, ever-changing landscape of the world? It is a question without a fixed or universal answer. Still it must be asked. - Lebbeus Woods [3]

Woods is a superb example of what design can become. It centres on ideas and thought, expanding the normal into something extraordinary. He ignores the restraints of everyday life and thus has become one of the key inspirations for modern design. For more information check out the lecture below or visit

References and Further Reading


  1. Lebbeus Woods produces such amazing work - His designs are crying out to be turned into a CG environment project.

  2. Yep, definitely. His sketchbooks alone are a treasure trove of beauty.