cosmic house: charles jencks' postmodernist masterpiece opens to the public

cosmic house: charles jencks' postmodernist masterpiece opens to the public

an idiosyncratic house-turned museum

 

the ‘cosmic house’, the former london home of the globally renowned architectural historian and cultural theorist charles jencks, opened to the public as a museum last friday, september 24th. jencks, who passed away in 2019, was a writer, critic, and later a landscape designer, who was instrumental in formulating the ideas and theory around postmodernism and, through his books, making those ideas accessible and universal. born in baltimore, jencks studied at harvard and was inspired by le corbusier’s carpenter center to go on to study architecture — first in the US and then the UK.

 

the playful and postmodern house is now welcoming visitors — book your visit here!

cosmic house: charles jencks' postmodernist masterpiece opens to the public
the garden façade with a representation of the family of four through the repeated ‘jencksiana’ motif
all images by sue barr

 

 

spiritual home of postmodernism

 

it was here, in london’s holland park neighborhood, where jencks and his wife maggie purchased a victorian villa in 1978. the couple worked with architect terry farrell to devise the cosmic house within its walls, with the interior featuring contributions from and collaborations with other architects and artists such as michael graves, piers gough, eduardo paolozzi, and allen jones. beginning in the 1980s, the property became the spiritual home of postmodernist design in the UK, and regularly hosted conversations with the leading architects and thinkers of the time.

cosmic house: charles jencks' postmodernist masterpiece opens to the public
the cosmic oval at the entrance sets up the major and minor themes that visitors will find throughout the house

 

 

inside the cosmic house

 

the house’s symbolic architecture, complex iconography, and cosmic references are all imbued with jencks’ characteristic learning and wit. upon entering the property, visitors are greeted with the ‘cosmic oval’, a space that serves as an introduction to the themes that visitors will find throughout the rest of the house. the ground floor features rooms dedicated to each of the seasons. the ‘winter room’ has a fireplace designed by michael graves with chinese scholar’s rocks replacing the fire’s flames. graves designed another fireplace for the ‘spring room’, this one crowned with female representations of the three months of spring by penelope jencks.

cosmic house: charles jencks' postmodernist masterpiece opens to the public
the new exhibition room with the evolution of scientific representations of the sun in the ceiling lights, looking out to the time garden, with a malachite floor and sculpture by charles and lily jencks of the sun and earth above

 

 

the sundial room, with its intimate radial seating, faces south over the garden, while the ‘dome of water’ is a jacuzzi designed by piers gough — an adapted and inverted version of a borromini dome. the entire residence is connected by the ‘solar stair’, a cantilevered concrete spiral that descends towards eduardo paolozzi’s ‘black hole’ mosaic at its base. upstairs, the ‘four square room’ is charles and maggie’s bedroom with many iterations of the subdivided square motif with mirrors and split levels creating spatial jokes and ambiguities.

cosmic house: charles jencks' postmodernist masterpiece opens to the public
the dome of water is a jacuzzi designed by piers gough, adapted and inverted from dome by borromini

 

 

in the next room, the ‘architectural library’ served as charles’ study with a tent-like roof painted to be like the sky. designed by charles himself, the space features a ‘city of books’ where each shelf relates to the thematic style or individual architect whose books are collected therein. externally, the building’s rear façade facing the garden serves as representation of charles’ family of four through the repeated ‘jencksiana’ — a face-like stagger and curve motif that was applied to the windows as well as the interior fittings.

 

after maggie’s passing in 1995, charles continued to live at the cosmic house with his children, john and lily — who now leads architecture and landscape firm lily jencks studio. today, the structure is recognized as one of the world’s most important examples of postmodern architecture, and is the UK’s only grade I listed post-war home. starting on september 24, 2021, the house will be open to the public for small groups, providing an opportunity to explore the remarkable interior close up. ‘my parents designed the cosmic house as a playful polemic,’ shares lily, who has co-designed a new exhibtion space within the former residence. 

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by The Cosmic House (@thecosmichouse)

 

 

the jencks foundation

 

lily will also serve as director of the newly established jencks foundation, which will cultivate and build on the legacy of charles’ provocative and wide ranging work. the foundation will act as a cultural laboratory and promote critical experimentation in historic, artistic, and scientific research through grants and residencies, alongside a related program of exhibitions, lectures, and publications. 

 

the foundation will also oversee and preserve jencks’ archive and extensive library, and open these key resources to encourage the study of the architecture and culture of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. ‘with the jencks foundation we hope it [cosmic house] will continue to provoke the cultural conversation, and provide a platform for those engaging with the broadest and deepest meaning in architecture, helping with the patient search for its cosmic context,’ lily jencks continues.

cosmic house charles jencks post-modernist masterpiece designboom 180010

the architectural library is charles’ study with a tent-like roof painted to be like the sky, with its ‘city of books’ designed by charles so that each bookshelf relates to the thematic style or individual architect whose books are collected therein

the foundation’s inaugural program will develop from interpretation of and research into the archives of the house, and its first exhibition will be an exploration of materials relating to the design of the building itself. ‘the jencks foundation will become a new cultural hub in london,’ adds eszter steierhoffer, artistic director of the jencks foundation. ‘its public program will revolve around thematic seasons inspired by the jencks archive. it will foreground the hybrid connections between architecture and other disciplines, and invite artists, designers and researchers to experiment with the postmodern.’

 

‘I was anointed ‘keeper of meaning’ by charles jencks,’ says edwin heathcote, chair of the steering group. ‘it is the most typically and wonderfully jencksian job description. the cosmic house is a manifesto of postmodernism, rich, kitsch, and endlessly inventive. the jencks foundation aims to be for contemporary architectural and cultural discourse what the house was for its era, a place of conversation, thinking and meaning.’ visits to the cosmic house can be booked online through its website.

cosmic house: charles jencks' postmodernist masterpiece opens to the public
the spring room with fireplace designed by michael graves, crowned with female representations of the three months of spring by penelope jencks

 

 

in 1995, charles jencks and maggie keswick jencks founded maggie’s, a charity providing free cancer support and information in architect-designed buildings across the UK and online. see designboom’s coverage of maggie’s centres — designed by firms such as heatherwick studio, steven holl architects, and foster + partners — here.

cosmic house: charles jencks' postmodernist masterpiece opens to the public
the four square room is charles and maggies bedroom with many iterations of the subdivided square motif with mirrors and split levels creating spatial jokes and ambiguities

cosmic house charles jencks post-modernist masterpiece designboom 18006

the winter room has a fireplace designed by michael graves with celia scott’s bust of hephaestus looking over the room with chinese scholar’s rocks solid dynamics replacing the fire’s flames. the view shows the layering of space with views into the spring, summer and autumn rooms

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the architectural library
the architectural library
the architectural library
the architectural library
the solar stair
the solar stair
cosmic house: charles jencks’ postmodernist masterpiece opens to the public
 
the sundial room faces south over the garden the room with radial seating around a sundial
the sundial room faces south over the garden the room with radial seating around a sundial
the solar stair is a cantilever concrete spiral with eduardo paolozzi's black hole mosaic at the base
the solar stair is a cantilever concrete spiral with eduardo paolozzi's black hole mosaic at the base

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