Lebbeus Woods


The idea of resistance, whether political, cultural, or architectural, can only exist where

there is an entrenched regime of some kind to be fought against, to be resisted. The aim

of resistance is seldom to overturn the entrenched regime, but rather to provide a place,

so to speak, where all who are dissatisfied can operate more freely, relieved of the

necessity to conform.

The idea of resistance, whether political, cultural, or architectural, can only exist

where there is an established order. The aim of resistance is seldom to overturn this order,

but to provide a place, so to speak, where all who are dissatisfied with it can operate more

freely, relieved of a necessity to conform.

There is no such thing as a universal architecture of resistance. It is always

particular, responding to the specifics of a place and time. To write about it, to advocate

it, and especially to create it, one must choose the precise point of its pressure on a given

situation. For this reason, an architecture of resistance is transient, impermanent, even

ephemeral, because situations change, and with them the very need for resistance.

There may well be memorials to those who have resisted. But there can be no

such thing as a monument to resistance, except in the realm of absurdity.

There can be no permanent architecture of resistance.

Architecture of resistance is hit-and-run architecture. It is guerrilla architecture.

Its goals are short-term, immediate. Its ambition is to become manifest, then fade away.

When it is gone, the trace it leaves becomes part of the landscape.

There are two architectures of resistance. One takes its stand against some

external situation, usually involving politics and money. The second is internal and

struggles against the tendency to be too easily satisfied with one’s own ideas.

Today, an architecture of resistance has as many points to apply itself as it has

ever had. In spite of claims to global supremacy made by promoters of ‘the free market,’

the human world is increasingly fractured by disparities. Wherever a disparity exists, a

point of resistance is inevitably formed.

Architecture of resistance is different from avant-garde architecture. The avantgarde

is just that: the vanguard of the majority, scouts leading the way for most people—

those already in agreement--to follow. The avant-garde is a projection of the main

tendencies in society, the values, practices, the aspirations of the majority, and cannot

separate itself from them. The avant-garde is the mainstream, a manifestation of where it

wants to go.

Architecture of resistance is quite different. It does not believe in progress, that is,

in the additive, cumulative, linear progression of history, or in the extension of a narrative

of inevitability. Instead, it seeks to be effective in the present, for the sake of those who

find themselves without a place to be themselves. This includes, among others, its

architects, who resist received notions of what architecture is and does.

Architecture of resistance begins with an architect who resists.

The majority do not need architecture of resistance.

Architecture of resistance is minority architecture, on whatever basis minority

exists. It is anathema to critics and historians, who are concerned with elaborating the

interests of the majority. Minorities are left to look after themselves.

Yesterday, architecture was thought to be the salvation of humanity. The point of

resistance was its narrow idea of humanity.

Yesterday, architecture was thought to be technological. The point of resistance

was its lack of concern with culture.

Yesterday, architecture was thought to serve the interests of society. The point of

resistance was its lack of individual expression.


The idea of an architecture of resistance is novel and disquieting. It calls to mind a certain

negativity of attitude, one based on being against, when we would generally prefer to be

for. It also seems defensive. We resist when we feel an unpleasant or threatening

pressure, but not before, and not after the pressure has been removed, or ccommodated.

The satisfaction we feel when we successfully resist is more like relief than joy, and, in

the case of failure, more like resignation than defeat. There is a certain emotional flatness

to resistance that lays no ground for the future, but only preserves, at best, things of the

past that to an extent have already lost their potency. Resistance is not a very attractive or

appealing stance, even when it is rendered in heroic images of defenders at the

barricades. There is always the morning after.

The novel part is the joining together of resistance and architecture. By its very

nature, which is assertive and constructive, architecture affirms something—ideas and

beliefs that may be widely held in a society, or simply, the impulse to autonomy of the

architect. While it is entirely possible for architecture to be defensive and reactionary—

think of the advocates of the Beaux Arts tradition, or of Social Realism, resisting the

onslaught of Modernism—such architecture has no posterity, because it does not inspire

one. No one wants to live out an endgame equaling zero, for at the end of such resistance,

the most that can be hoped for is be at the place where we began.

The obvious counter to these hesitations is that architecture can resist by being for

something. It can resist a prevailing trend by advocating a different and opposing one.

The aim is not to hold existing ground, but to go in a different direction. The best

defense, as they say, is a good offense. We must admit, however, that in so doing we are

still being reactionary, because we have ceded the first move to that which is to be

resisted. In so doing, we have empowered it immeasurably. As Peter Cook once said,

“when we talk about the anti-house, we are still talking about the house.”

If architects really want to resist, then neither the idea nor the rhetoric of

resistance has a place in their resistance. These architects must take—or rather, have

taken--the initiative, beginning from a point of origin that precedes anything to be

resisted, one deep within an idea of architecture itself. They can never think of

themselves as resisters, or join resistance movements, or preach resistance. Rather (and

this is the hard part of resistance) they must create an independent idea of both

architecture and the world. It is not something that can be improvised at the barricades. It

takes time, and a kind of slow maturation, and a lot of trial and error. There are no shortcuts.

This is only just, because the trends to be resisted have not come from nowhere.

They have a history built over periods of time, a kind of seriousness and weight that

makes them a threat to begin with. They can only be countered by ideas and actions of

equivalent authority and momentum. One must respect one’s enemy.

In a fast-moving world such as the present one, however, there is not the time for

slow maturation, for a steady, measured evolution of ideas. Quite the opposite. It is the

pace of contemporary life, which outstrips any period before it and may be prelude to

even more rapidly self-transforming cultures to come, that defeats the idea of resistance.

Battling trends with newer trends, proposing ever more novel forms, techniques and

materials as an antidote to ever more novel forms, techniques and materials is not

resistance at all, but joining in the game. Contemporary culture has, in fact, modeled

itself on ideas of resistance, but in the competitive terms of the “free market.” Hobbes’

idea of the war of all against all is given the most complete form it ever had in the

marketplace—whether of products or of ideas that are as neatly and seductively packaged

as products--where sellers compete for the attention of continuously roving buyers

looking for the best deal at the moment. In the marketplace, everyone is ‘resisting’

everyone else, in a ruthless, but highly efficacious, game of shopping. The old master,

who has spent years experimenting, refining, perfecting ideas and techniques, competes

on a level field with young upstarts clever enough to produce overnight sensations. What

counts now is getting, not even holding for longer than it takes to buy, the shopper’s

attention. Resistance, in the sense of innovation, of difference, of competitiveness, is

now ubiquitous, the norm. It is the very thing to be resisted.

The present is a kind of vortex into which—like Poe’s maelstrom—everything,

especially the contradictory and the contentious, is being pulled down together to

unknown depths. An architecture of resistance in such a dizzy panorama is all but lost.


“If they give you ruled paper, write the other way.”

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

The world is so filled with injustices and oppressions, with absurdities made up to look

like self-evident truths, with bad ideas that will so clearly lead to disaster but are

instutionalized as good policies, with aggressions against human dignity, and insults to

common sense, that, as one school of thought would have it, human existence is nothing

but a sustained form resistance to all that would overwhelm it. Of course, most of us do

not see it that way. The mental processes called denial are palliative to anxiety produced

by feelings of having to resist. The entertainment industry enough distractions and

fetishes to insure that these processes are both widespread and continuously refreshed,

leaving few gaps for existential angst to seep in. Once the reality of experience has been

replaced by the fantasy of existence, the world begins to seem like a quite reasonable

place. No need to resist at all.


Until now, I have not thought much about architecture of resistance. Although many

people might judge that my work in architecture has been nothing if not a form of

resistance, I have never considered it as such. To say that you are resisting something

means that you have to spend a lot of time and energy saying what that something is, in

order for your resistance to make sense. Too much energy flows in the wrong direction,

and you usually end up only strengthening the thing you want to resist.

Certainly, there are things going on in the world and in the field of architecture

that I deplore. And just as certainly, they are things already well established and radiant

with power and authority. Nietzsche said, “I never attack people, but only ideas—only

successful ideas.” That got him in a lot of trouble. It did, however, leave us with a fine

literature of resistance.


The work in this publication gives us a fine example of what resistance is and what it can

do when the right people are rallied in defense of a clear and strong idea. At the same

time, it makes us aware that resistance can be a form of affirmation, where it is more

commonly a type of negation, an action against something unwanted. While there is an

implicit rejection of the previously proposed project for the site adjacent to the Schindler

House, the spirit of the works submitted by the invited architects has to do with

envisioning something better, without ever mentioning that which is being resisted.

It seems there is a moral lesson here, but also a danger.

The moral lesson is that resistance, in architecture or any other aspect of life, is

best when it takes the high road of creative thinking, rejecting not so much this or that

alternative, but any acquiescence to conventional thinking that yields a convenient

mediocrity. Even though it is true that every society needs its conventions and routines, it

does not follow that these must lead to an accommodation with mediocrity. To the

contrary, if a society is to remain vital and growing, it must continually raise the

standards its conventions, laws, and customs are meant to serve. The works of the

architects who have participated in this example of resistance do indeed heighten our

expectations of what could happen on this particular site, but also our idea of what

architecture as a creative force can bring to civic life. In that sense, the resistance has

already succeeded.

The danger is a little more complex. Of course, our heightened expectations will

be disappointed if the original proposal for the site is built in a way that ignores all the

ideas presented here. But that is not the most serious problem, even though the goal of

this resistance is to effect a change in what is built. One can lose the battle, but still win

the war. Rather, the problem is to be found in the very virtue that rescues this collective

effort from niggling negativity. Taking the creative high road has omitted any critical

analysis of the situation that would help us understand why the original proposal should

be resisted in the first place. To put it another way, it turns the whole process of

resistance into a kind of beauty contest, where the more conventional project is made to

compete in interest with dazzling architectural concepts and designs. It cannot win, in

terms of interest, but only by being built, which it can do—if at all--by falling back on

arguments about functional efficiency, costs, building codes, and other quotidian realities,

or simply by ignoring this whole effort and going ahead as planned.