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Remembering the Futuristic New York of Lebbeus Woods

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Lebbeus Woods, the New York architect known for his futuristic concepts, died early this week, leaving behind a visionary legacy that combined science fiction and architecture. One of his most famous drawings is "Lower Manhattan," a piece he created in 1999 that shows how a future New York formed a different spatial relationship with the Earth by draining the East and Hudson Rivers to expose the land below Manhattan (right).

In an interview with BLDGBLOG, Woods explained, "The exposure of the rock base, or the underground condition of the city, completely changes the scale relationship between the city and its environment. It's peeling back the surface to see what the planetary reality is. And the new scale relationship is not about huge blockbuster buildings; it's not about towers and skyscrapers. It's about the relationship of the relatively small human scratchings on the surface of the earth compared to the earth itself."

In August, woods examined the idea of Manhattan's future again, this time looking more at actual scientific information of epic changes in the earth, like major earthquakes, and rising sea levels. His vision is post-apocalyptic, to say the least: "Eons before the planet becomes mostly water, with the continents broken up and dissolved, Manhattan will become an island adrift on a vast, rising ocean. Though still inhabited, it will bear only slight resemblace to the city we know today. Most skyscrapers will be gone, because of their unsustainability—the few remaining will be maintained as relics of the past. Central Park will be gone, too, replaced by a great landfill on which are built cheap houses and shacks."

Woods was a professor at the Cooper Union, and when Thom Mayne's 41 Cooper Square was erected, several architecture critics looked at the influence of Woods' work on the building. ArchiTakes specifically points to the above drawing by Woods, noting that it "closely prefigures Mayne's stair atrium at 41 Cooper Square, down to its envelope piercing tip." ArchiTakes also wrote, "While a closely shared sensibility can be credited, it's tempting to see more at work in 41 Cooper Square: a specific homage to Woods. What better gift could Mayne leave at Wood's doorstep than the chance to walk through one of his own visions?"
· Lebbeus Woods, Architect of the Imaginary Realm, Dies [NYT]
· Without Walls: An Interview With Lebbeus Woods [BLDGBLOG]
· Architecture Meets Science Fiction at 41 Cooper Square [ArchiTakes]

41 Cooper Square

41 Cooper Square, New York, NY 10003