At home with “the godfather of postmodernism” in London

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Below, a jacuzzi rests on a marble dome by Baroque sculptor Lorenzo Borromini, inverted to form a basin; just as Jencks himself turned architectural thought upside down by proposing that buildings have a symbolic function and insisting that content is deeper – historically and in complexity – than mere functional formatting.

From left to right: La Maison Cosmique. Solar Stair is a cantilevered concrete spiral; the Jacuzzi, an inverted Borromini dome by Piers Gough. Sue Barr

Humor and irony (even puns, both visual and verbal) were Jencks’ specialty. But despite the lightness, he took seriously the ability, if not the duty, of architecture to embody humanity.

As I strolled through the lush back garden, past the shattered pediments (the de facto emblem of postmodernism) and gazed into a mirrored door marked The Future, I saw behind me the reflection of the Victorian era house , remodeled by Jencks to evoke in its transoms and arcades, his family: himself and his wife Maggie Keswick and their children, John and Lily.

Originally nicknamed Thematic House by Jencks, out of respect for its role as a manifesto, it was recently renamed Cosmic House and opened as a house museum overseen by Lily, herself an architect and landscape designer. The building is so important to 20th century design that it is the first post-war house to achieve Class I status. (The second is one in John Outram’s Sussex also in the postmodern style , a sure sign of renewal on the horizon.)

As well as embodying Jencks’ reflections on architecture, Cosmic House embodies his commitment to a plurality of voices and stories as opposed to monolithic thought (and ego) as enacted by the Enlightenment and ultimately , modernism. Designed in collaboration with architect Terry Farrell, as well as installations by Michael Graves, it incorporates works by Eduardo Paolozzi, Allen Jones and Jencks’ sister Penelope, who sculpted the three female busts embodying the months spring in this living room.

But it is the architectural library on the first floor that is perhaps the most alluring since it literally contains Jencks’ thought, in books with titles such as Ecstatic architecture, Bizarre architecture and 2015 Bastard kidnapping – a monograph on the work of Melbourne postmodernist practice Ashton Raggatt McDougall alias ARM.

These and dozens more are housed in a mini city of shelves evoking historic styles from Gothic and Classical to revivals of one or the other and, yes, even Modernism. A reminder that this, too, will pass.

“Every ism ends up being a wasm,” Jencks smiles.

  • The Cosmic House is open by appointment (groups limited to 15 people) at 19 Landsdowne Walk, London W11 3AH.

AFR Magazine’s November issue, featuring the Young Rich List, comes out Friday, October 29 in The Australian Financial Review. Follow AFR Mag on Twitter and Instagram.



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