Post-Modernism began in 1977 with the publication of Charles Jencks’ book The Language of Post-Modern Architecture. In it he claimed that modernism ended on March 16, 1972 but he was wrong, it was only with his book that the new movement was born.
Charles Jencks is perhaps the single most important architectural theorist of the later Twentieth Century.
Jencks was vital to identifying and championing the emerging style of younger architects.
Jencks articulated this new movement, which he called Post-Modern, in books and articles. Although he did not invent this term, arguably his understanding of it has become the dominant one within architecture.
Post-Modernism is a playful and kitsch style, which references past styles in a melanage de la mode, as it were. It veers just the other side of tasteful.
Jencks suggested that this new architectural language was characterised by its ‘double-coding’, a complex system of signs and symbols that allowed architecture to speak more than one language, to be simultaneously popular and pretentious.Cosmic House, Guide Book
His house in Holland Park is the physical embodiment of this style. An object lesson in pomo and understated excess.
It was commissioned between 1978 and 1983 by Maggie and Charles Jecnks with support from Terry Farreell and other architects. Rightly called the ‘“spiritual home of the Post-Modern movement”, it is a total work of art (or gesamtkunstwerk) between the Jencks and their architects.
The house is full of multi-layered cosmic references from the four seasons on the ground floor, to solar and astral symbolism.
The most obvious indicator of the House’s Post-Modernism is the clash of styles which merge into each other on the open plan ground floor. The Summer Room and Kitchen are decorated in a heavy modular neo-Mughal style, an ironic play on the slightly dated phrase “an Indian Summer”.
Next to it the Spring Room, is a Neo-Renaissance court. Three busts of April, May and June are raised above the fireplace on an extended plinth. A seating area surrounds the fireplace. Everything is carefully proportioned. The triglyphs on the coffee table are taken from the Parthenon.
The other indicator of the post-modern style is the element of play. Jencks had a cracking sense of humour from doors with two knobs to the creation of a jacuzzi, an inverted Dome of Water, based on Borromini’s San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane in Rome.
The house is based around shared spaces and conviviality.
The idea of sign and symbol is also important to postmodern theorists.
Jean Baudrillard, an important French Post-Modern theorist, argues that there were four different stages of an image, from reflecting the basic reality to bearing no relation to any reality whatever. This last phase he called a simulacrum, a copy without an original.
In its playing with style and symbolism, do we also see something of this merging of the boundaries?
The Architectural Library is described as “a city within a house with a city”, a “microcosmic interior skyline”. The shelves are designed to resemble the architectural style of the books they hold. The shelves with the Egyptian books are topped with a pyramid, the Roman shelves with a dome and so on. Overtime, as new books were added, this system broke down.
The room has a unique shape with a domed roof designed to protect a tree that overhung the house. It also has stepped seating with allowed Jecnks to use the room to give lectures.The room is based on Antonello da Messina’s Saint Jerome in his Study in London’s National Gallery.
Egypt was just one element of the eclectic styles brought together in the post-modernist church. Its influence in the Cosmic House is subtle and strong.
Throughout the house, Egyptian motifs can be found alongside other items. Small alabaster obelisks and Korean Scholar Rocks predominate in several rooms. In the Spring Room, the lamps are shaped light pyramids. This symbolism was important to Jencks. Rem Koolhaus, was commissioned to design the Spring Room but his work was turned down in favour of Michael Graves, because it was not symbolic enough.,
In the Hall of Mirrors, a mural running beneath the ceiling depicts the important thinkers and architects that inspired Jencks. Among them is Imhotep, the first architect, he who invented the pyramid. In the original design by William Stok, he seems slightly bored by Pythagaros but in the final design their conversation is more intent.
Yet perhaps this influence is most strongly felt in the Egyptian Room, a small study-cum-snug just off the Spring Room. On one side a small desk looked out over the leafy garden and on the other side, a cosy sofa covered in an Eastern khatim. Above it Victorian period watercolours of Egyptian sites. In this room, the Egypts of differing ages clash.
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