12 Monkeys

Universal Studio and Lebbeus Woods

Neo-mechanical Tower (Upper) Chamber

In 1987, artist Lebbeus Woods took a graphite pencil and created his vision of a chair. The chair is shown inside a large chamber with a high ceiling, mounted on a wall in front of a suspended sphere, and with a visibly jointed grid forming the floor and wall. Hence the self-descriptive title "Neomechanical Tower (Upper) Chamber".

12 Monkeys

Universal Studios released the artful film 12 Monkeys in December of 1995. Bruce Willis plays the distraught time traveler, Joe. In the beginning of the movie, Joe is brought into the interrogation room and told to sit in a chair which is attached to a vertical rail on the wall. As Joe sits in the chair, it slides up the rail, suspending Joe helplessly several yards above the floor. A sphere supported by a metal armature is suspended directly in front of Joe, probing for weaknesses as the inquisitors interrogate him. Joe is unlucky enough to return to the chair three more times throughout the movie.

12 Monkeys

The Chair


Lebbeus' chair was originally published in Germany in 1987 in a catalog entitled Lebbeus Woods/Centricity. A colorized version of the chair was later published in the US in 1992 in a collection entitled Lebbeus Woods/The New City. On January 18, 1996, Lebbeus Woods went to the theater to see 12 Monkeys. Apparently he was not amused; a week later he notified Universal Studios that he considered the interrogation room to be an unauthorized reproduction of his work.

The director, Terry Gilliam, admitted that he reviewed a copy of the book that contained the drawing "Neomechanical Tower (Upper) Chamber", and that he discussed it with both the producer, Charles Roven, and the production designer, Jeffrey Beecroft.

Film Imitates Art

"They believe themselves crators, or innovators, when in actuality they are nothing more nor less than the executors of a physical and social order designed by those institutions presently holding political authority and power." - Lebbeus Woods, Anarchitecture - Architecture as a Political Act.

The court found that a comparison of "Neomechanical Tower (Upper) Chamber" and the footage of the interrogation room in 12 Monkeys demonstrated that "the movie had copied Woods' drawing in striking detail." The court cited the fact that the wall and floor were composed of a visibly jointed grid, the walls had the same worn texture, and a horizontal shelf and apron near the top of the vertical rail. The chairs themselves consist of four rectangular planes, arm-rests with diagonal supports, etching on the chair back. The court also noted the both spheres were suspended in front of the chair from a metal framework with similar surface designs.

This case is similar in ways to the Batman case, which involved a sculpture which was actually filmed as part of the Gotham City ambience, and was also reproduced in the scale models of Gotham City used for special effects.

The judge ruled for Woods, a result that would require Universal Studios pull all copies of the movie from world-wide circulation after only a month's run. Universal would be able to subsequently release film after the scenes in containing the offending chair had been excised to the cutting room floor, a fate that had befallen the Devil's Advocate. Showing that he had a sense of humor after all, Lebbeus Woods allowed Universal to continue distribution of the movie, chair and all, for a high six-figure cash settlement.