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Continued Circulation

The work of Ludwig Leo offered ‘two fingers’ to those who would divide the architectural world into the drawn proposition versus the built proposition

Ludwig Leo (1924-2012) was a German architect described variously as ‘enigmatic’, ‘shy’ and ‘reclusive’. His specific avoidance of the limelight, and his general avoidance of people, perhaps explains why he is unknown to the Anglo-Saxon world. By all accounts, he made an art out of not being seen. 

Nonetheless, Ludwig Leo was a unique architect, whose skill and vision were widely praised by his peers and protégés. OM Ungers once openly conceded to his students: ‘I know you guys prefer his work to mine’, while Leo’s brilliance is about the only subject that Leon Krier and Peter Cook actually agree upon.

‘The silhouetted figures that populate his buildings are all in action – talking, walking, working, crowded and rowdy in a lecture hall’

Like Cook, Leo is probably better known for his incredible drawings rather than his built work, although with two notable exceptions: the ‘Pink Pipe’ of 1967 (more formally known as the Circulation Tank, or Umlauftank) and the DLRG boathouse completed in 1973. Leo’s drawing style is a strange mix of dry engineering populated with a rich interior life.

Every conceivable element is dimensioned with a vaguely autistic precision, meanwhile the silhouetted figures that populate his buildings are all in action – talking, walking, working, crowded and rowdy in a lecture hall, drinking tea, getting into cars. In a restaurant they huddle around a table, or casually lean against the bar, hands in pockets, deep in conversation with the barman, scanning the room. The vivacity of the scenes almost suggests these people are indifferent and unaware of the architect; they are simply getting on with their lives.

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In the foreword to the book, Peter Cook refers to Leo as a kind of German Glenn Murcutt: a one-man office, without assistants, working with determination and in solitude. However, the sheer imagination of Leo is astonishing, particularly when one considers how successfully he translated the little figures into the real world. His DLRG boathouse is a triangular wedge of a building with a massive funicular hoist rising from the water. In the drawings, a whole cast of figures are engrossed in loading speedboats onto the crane, only to marvel as they fly up to hangars on the upper floors. The mechanical fantasy would seem pure madness if there weren’t such beautiful photographs of the finished structure – replete with real-life imitations of those drawn people.

As the first book in English, it is charged with bringing this important architect to a wholly new audience, one removed from Ludwig Leo in both space and time. It does so with elegance, and is a beautiful design object in itself, quite apart from the high quality of the drawings and engaging texts.

Archigram were heavily influenced by Leo’s work, which Peter Cook summarised by saying, ‘[The work] offered “two fingers” to those who would divide the architectural world into the drawn proposition versus the built proposition (which I have now come to recognise as a cunning ploy by the threatened mainstream to sideline bold ideas.)’

Ludwig Leo: Ausschnitt

Editors: Antje Buchholz, Jack Burnett-Stuart, Gregor Harbusch, Michael von Matuschka and Jürgen Patzak-Poor

Publisher: AA Publications

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