Representing Force / Lebbeus Woods and the Havana Projects

Harvard Graduate School of Design / Masters in Design Studies Thesis / 2016

Advisors: K. Michael Hays, Erika Naginski

 

The drawings of Lebbeus Woods, as the architect Toshio Nakamura noted, are hard to explain. Nevertheless, as we examine the span of his work, certain similarities arise; notions that provide an approach to what appears as a chaotic oeuvre. Within this gamut of imaginary worlds and fantastic structures, force emerges as a dominant factor. This project aims to investigate one of Woods’ overlooked works, situating it as turning point in his career, and as demonstrative of his quest in the presentation of that physical energy.

 This thesis examines the ‘Havana Projects’ in relation to Woods’ attempt at representing the unrepresentable forces within architecture; the physical, intellectual and emotional energies, as he refers to them, which architecture holds within. The ‘Havana Projects’, unlike later works, do not present these forces by themselves and as is, but rather imply and suggest them; in Havana, architecture and force are given the same role on the stage.

Through a reading of work’s historical context of the early 90’s and on the backdrop of various articulations of postmodernist architecture, as well as the specific cultural conditions that Havana proposes, this paper will follow Woods’ division of the ‘Havana Projects’ into three separate yet related works: The Meta Institute, The Vieja Walls and The Malécon. This essay will suggest a reading of each of these as a basic notion in architectural representation – Institute, Wall and Infrastructure – and relate them to the corresponding and respective concepts of Image, Form and Vector. By reading the work through these concepts, and emphasizing the role of Havana as an ideological site and opportunity for Woods, this essay will suggest a Marxist understanding of Woods’ endeavor, in which the relation between architectural, ideology and labor comes to light.

With this understanding, the ‘Havana Projects’ come forth not as proposals for a city in crisis, but rather as educational tools for a discipline in crisis; an epitaph for architectural revolutions and the sociopolitical power of architects. They reveal a strategy in Woods’ work in which the architect – no longer a heroic builder nor a servant of market economy – becomes an anarchist instigator of uprisings, and architecture, attempts hopelessly to step out of the realm of ideological representation and emerge as a mediator between ideology and force.

 

This project was supported by a generous thesis-term travel grant from the David Rockefeller Center for Latin-American Studies.