Issue 211
Winter 2019/2020

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Feb 19, 2020

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Winter 2019/2020 (6.12MB)

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Charles Jencks

LATTERLY, THE TALL, gangling Charles Jencks was recognised by his floppy brimmed hat and his Dr Who-like droopy scarf. But it wasn't only his singular appearance that drew attention. This Baltimore born academic, son of Gardner Jencks, a pianist and composer, was author of over 30 books on architecture, designer of fantasy gardens and an apologist for post-modernism.

Jencks's extravagantly-fronted home, Cosmic House, in London's Holland Park, was adapted in collaboration with post-modernist architects, Terry Farrell and Michael Graves and sculptors Celia Scott and Eduardo Paolozzi.

Teeming with symbolism, the house has pediments, columns, a sundial window seat, and a jacuzzi in the shape of an inverted classical dome.

Like some other high-profile Americans like Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, not to mention our own Richard Branson with his Virgin Galactic Space Flights, Jencks wanted to colonise the moon or some other planet, cosmology being a contemporry obsession as polar exploration was in the early 20th century.

He expressed it in landscape projects, starting with the garden at his Dumfries-shire home, which he created as a microcosm of the universe, with his second wife, Maggie Keswick. He went on to design other landscapes in Edinburgh, Milan, New York, Cambridge and South Korea. In north-east England, his Lady of the North is a 34 metres high recumbent woman with grassy mounds as breasts.

Jencks's detractors tended to dismiss some of these landscapes as ‘cod-scientific kitsch' and Crawick Multiverse, based around space, astronomy and cosmology and built in 2015, on a disused open cast coal mine near Sanquhar, could be said to answer this description.

Yet one of Jencks's most distinguished and enduring achievements has been the founding of 24 Maggie Cancer Centres across the UK and abroad. When his wife, Maggie, was diagnosed in 1993 with cancer, they founded together centres that would welcome cancer sufferers and give them support, so they would not "lose the joy of living in the fear of dying."

These centres were designed by a strong band of architects, which included Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid and Rem Koolhaas.


Landscape architect, garden designer, writer
(June 21, 1939 - October 13, 2019)


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