Posts tagged with "Charles Jencks":

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Looking back on the great architects, designers, and curators we lost in 2019

As 2019 draws to a close, we’re looking back on some of the events that made it memorable. We’ve rounded up this year’s funniest, most important, and most controversial stories, as well as homages to some of the people we lost. The world is a little less bright without these iconic designers, but from the Louvre pyramid to a series of architecturally-diverse cancer care centers, their legacies live on. I.M. Pei  Louvre pyramid designer I. M. Pei passed away at 102, bringing an epic career of international acclaim to a close. Born in 1917 in Guangzhou, China, Pei moved to the U.S. to attend architecture school at the University of Pennsylvania and later MIT, following by the Harvard Graduate School of Design. He founded Pei Cobb Freed & Partners (formerly I.M. Pei & Associates) in 1955 and decades later won the 1983 Pritzker Prize for projects such as the Mile High Center in Denver, Colorado. Among Pei’s other notable projects is the National Gallery of Art, East Building, in Washington, D.C., and the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong. Kevin Roche Legendary Irish-born American architect Kevin Roche passed away at age 96 in March. His namesake firm, Roche-Dinkeloo, was founded in tandem with partner John Dinkeloo after the death of their boss and mentor Eero Saarinen in 1961. A modernist architect trained by Saarinen and Mies van Der Rohe, Roche designed over 200 buildings in his lifetime including the Ford Foundation headquarters in Midtown Manhattan and the Oakland Museum of California. He was the 1982 Pritzker Prize Laureate and won an American Institute of Architects Gold Medal in 1993.  Florence Knoll Bassett Midcentury modern designer Florence Knoll passed away at age 101 this January. Considered one of the most influential furniture designers in history, her sleek and minimal pieces became commonplace throughout American postwar office spaces and later in homes. In 1955, she took over Knoll Inc, the company started by her husband Hans in 1938, which continues to manufacture furniture by designers such as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Eero Saarinen, and Knoll herself, among others.  Phil Freelon Phil Freelon, one of the lead designers of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, died at 66 this July. The Durham, North Carolina-based architect founded his eponymous firm, The Freelon Group, in 1990 and was responsible for projects like Atlanta’s National Center for Civil and Human Rights, the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco, and Houston’s Emancipation Park. The studio was acquired by Perkins+Will in 2016 and Freelon stepped in to lead its regional office. Henry Urbach  Former SFMOMA curator Henry Urbach passed away at 56 this summer, and his friends and family are opening new dialogues on the subject of mental health in his memory. Urbach, who more recently served as director of Philip Johnson’s The Glass House, suffered from Late-Onset Bipolar Disorder. He was an accomplished curator, having started his own New York-based experimental design gallery in 1997 in which he hosted over 55 exhibitions. At SFMOMA, he accumulated hundreds of works for the museum’s permanent collection and collaborated with Diller Scofidio + Renfro on one of his most famous shows, How Wine Became Modern: Design + Wine 1976 to Now Cristiano Toraldo di Francia Superstudio cofounder and iconic Italian architect Cristiano Toraldo di Francia died in July. In his 78 years, his work helped shape generations of avant-garde designers such as Rem Koolhaas and Zaha Hadid. Best known for starting the radical collective Superstudio in the late 1960s, Toraldo di Francia produced highly regarded drawings, videos, and lithographs through the practice, eventually exhibiting work in the Milan Triennale, the Venice Biennale, and at the Museum of Modern Art, among other institutions. Up until his death at age 78, Toraldo di Francia designed and built several projects throughout Italy and taught at various universities throughout Europe, Japan, and the U.S.  César Pelli  César Pelli passed away in July at the age of 92, leaving behind the legacy of an international firm and a monumental portfolio. Considered the father of the modern skyscraper, the Argentine architect designed some of the most famous towers in the world: the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, The Landmark in Abu Dhabi, and the recently completely Salesforce Tower in San Francisco. Pelli moved to the U.S. in 1952 and worked for Eero Saarinen in Michigan for a decade. From 1977 to 1989, he served as dean at the Yale School of Architecture in New Haven. During that time, Pelli received the commission for the 1984 expansion and renovation of the Museum of Modern Art, which more or less forced him to open his own studio, Cesar Pelli & Associates. After over 20 years designing projects like the Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., among others, Pelli renamed his practice to Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects in honor of his long-time partner Fred Clarke, and son Rafael. Charles Jencks Landscape architect and historian Charles Jencks died this October at age 80. Remembered for his embrace of theory, built practice, and connecting the cosmos, Jencks designed whimsical gardens and earthworks that promoted tranquility and play. He is best known for founding Maggie’s, a cancer research institute named after his late wife and whose patient rehab centers have attracted architects like Steven Holl, Frank Gehry, and Zaha Hadid. In the middle of his career, Jencks authored several books on the subject of "Post-modernism" before taking up landscape design. Stanley Tigerman Chicago architect and theorist Stanley Tigerman died in June at 88 years old. Known as a member of the Chicago Seven—a group of architects that rebelled against the doctrine of modernism—his design style was fairly eclectic in his early years, gaining a reputation as an iconoclast, until later when he adopted a more organic approach to architecture. He established his own eponymous firm, Stanely Tigerman and Associates (later renamed Tigerman McCurry Architects), in the early 1960s and completed over 175 buildings in his six-decade career. Among his most prominent works were the Daisy House in Indiana, Lakeside Residence in Michigan, the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, and the POWERHOUSE Energy Museum in Zion, Illinois.
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Sean Griffiths on the fun of debating with the late Charles Jencks

Charles Jencks possessed an authoritative but genial way of speaking that nevertheless harbored a hint of arch skepticism. The worst place to encounter it was in a hotel lobby where jet-lagged and disoriented after arriving for some conference or other, you would hear your name exclaimed in a gentle yet ominous greeting and turn around to be confronted by Charles Jencks, who, giving the impression of having comfortably settled into his surroundings some hours prior to your arrival, was already in full Charles Jencks mode. To experience this was to be subjected, in advance of having properly formulated an argument you had anticipated making, to a precise and lengthy deconstruction of said argument before you had even made it to the hotel room. Such behavior was, of course, entirely in keeping with a number of attributes that characterized Jencks’s life and work, not least among them energy, enthusiasm, erudition, precision, and good humor. Generous yet critical, serious yet funny, acutely focused yet magpielike in his ever-curious observation and appropriation of what was going on around him, he was the very personification of the multivalence and “double-coding” that he promoted in the architecture he admired. And of course, as one would expect in such a figure, the prodigious output of groundbreaking, if not uncontroversial, theorizations of architecture, which made him a figure of profound significance in the architectural discourse of the last 50 years, was interwoven with other equally important concerns, each of which on its own would amount to a considerable legacy. There was his thriving land-art/landscape practice whose commissions comprised curving and spiraling landforms, sometimes designed with his daughter, the landscape architect Lily Jencks. These were inspired by Jencks’s interest in cosmology and contemporary physics but also recalled the ancient pagan monuments of Britain, his adopted country (Jencks was born in Baltimore, Maryland). One is sited adjacent to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh. Unlike others bestowed with exotic titles, like The Garden of Cosmic Speculation, this one is modestly entitled Landform and functions, as my daughter and I once discovered, as an excellent tobogganing slope, thus perfectly exemplifying the Jencksian ambition for design to be simultaneously highly philosophical and fun. Perhaps of greater significance was his central role, alongside that of his wife, Maggie Keswick, in the development of Maggie’s Centres, the world-famous series of sanctuaries for cancer patients, each designed by an architect of note, providing sites of holistic support for those going through the traumatic process of dealing with cancer. These have become among the most highly sought-after commissions for architects across the world as well as havens for those enduring the distress of illness. Jencks’s compassion was also exemplified by his commitment to campaigns against injustice. A fierce opponent of the Iraq War and a supporter of the rights of the Palestinian people, he was nevertheless circumspect in flaunting any specific political allegiance while exuding a liberal attitude to life and culture. Despite his concomitant Post-Modernist rejection of the grand narratives of Hegelianism and Marxism, a little of the former seeped through in his famous evolutionary flow diagrams that charted and illustrated the historical development of architectural movements. These compositions were little works of art in themselves and exhibited Jencks’s determination to categorize diverse strands of architectural practice and thought under the rubric of a series of “isms.” Thus, we got Post-Modernism, Ad-Hocism, Bio-morphism, Reactionary Modernism, and so on. This ongoing process of nominalism was a corollary to the way he saw architectural meaning as being carried by linguistically-based semiotic systems of signs and symbols. Nowhere was this more evident than in the title of his most successful and famous work, The Language of Post-Modern Architecture, a truly seminal text that heralded the arrival of Post-Modernism as a serious architectural movement. But his reliance on linguistic tropes was also considered a weakness by critics who did not accept that the sociopolitical dimension of architecture was reducible to a series of visual codes whose currency was ambiguity and irony, rather than an engagement with architecture’s underlying means of production. In pursuing such a route, Jencks was a product, as well as a shaper, of his time, a period when the social democracy that had underpinned the postwar, modernist transformation of Britain and Europe was in retreat, and technologies of communication began to displace industrial forms of production as the determinants of cultural outputs. Despite this, Jencks was acutely aware of how rebellions against the status quo are eventually co-opted by the dominant ideology. In answer to his famous claim, made in The Language of Post-Modern Architecture, that architectural modernism died on July 15, 1972, with the dynamiting of the Pruitt-Igoe housing project in St. Louis, I once put it to him that Post-Modernism had subsequently died on September 15, 2008, the date that Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy and ignited a financial crisis whose political legacy we still grapple with today. Jencks, of course, demurred, pointing out that the real and “happy curtailment” of Post-Modernist architecture had actually occurred in 1987 on account of the fact that by then, most of its major protagonists had accepted commissions from the Disney Corporation. Even when acknowledging that you were right, he made sure that you knew that he had been right before you were. Charles has gone now, and the world of architecture is certainly a less interesting place as a result. Sean Griffiths is an artist, architect and academic. He practices architecture through his company Modern Architect and serves as a professor of architecture University of Westminster and as a visiting professor of architecture at Yale University. He was a founding director of art and architecture practice FAT (Fashion Architecture Taste) between 1991 and 2014. 
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Buzz Yudell reflects on the cosmic force of the late Charles Jencks

Provocateur, philosopher, and polymath Charles Jencks had a kaleidoscopic perspective on the forces and complexities of the cosmos. From his student days onward he was voracious in his interests, explorations, and speculations. At Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, he cut a swath with his precocious wit, preternatural eloquence, and confident banter. He was lanky, elegant, and a bit of a dandy and knew how to provoke, entertain, and charm. Charles never gave a lecture, led a symposium, or even held forth over lunch without changing the magnetic field forces of the space. He was a passionate teacher; powerful because he both provoked his students and invited them to jump into the scrum of debate. Once they learned that he liked nothing better than to be challenged, the whole world of analytic and critical thinking opened up to them. The force of his personality and power of his intellect was leavened by his wit, warmth, and occasional self-deprecation. Charles was determined to bridge theory and practice. He made his mark early with polemic and influential books. But wherever possible he sought to test his theoretical propositions with material challenges in situ. He used a series of small but densely composed projects to posit, test, and expand his thinking. This began with the Garagia Rotunda, a modest studio at his family’s beach house in Wellfleet on Cape Cod, where he explored the use and improvisatory opportunities of readymade components. Next, the Elemental House in Rustic Canyon, Santa Monica, California, riffed on and reworked a 1950s western ranch house while celebrating the elements of earth, air, water, and fire. He reached an epiphany of embodied symbolism with the Thematic House in London where the cycles of seasons, sun, and moon are celebrated. He often invited friends to collaborate. Terry Farrell collaborated on the Thematic House, where Michael Graves contributed to the Winter Room. Over several years Tina Beebe and I had the pleasure of collaborating with Charlie and his wife Maggie Keswick Jencks on two houses. I worked with Charlie and Maggie on the planning and architecture of the Elemental House, where Tina worked on the color and materials and Maggie led the garden design. Charles Moore contributed to the Water Pavilion. Tina then worked with Jencks and Maggie on colors and material for the London house. For Charles, all aspects of his work and life were integrated. Whether home or traveling, he was constantly writing, sketching, and testing ideas with undiminished enthusiasm and unrelenting purpose. Most of our design meetings were set at home and coordinated with drinks and meals. When in Los Angeles (where he taught at UCLA), he and Maggie hosted convivial Sunday lunches on their terrace and delighted in convening old and new friends with the most diverse interests possible. It was all part of connecting the dots and mysterious forces of the cosmos. Charles savored debate, spanning from the Socratic to the operatic. He valued disruption long before it became a meme of the tech and business worlds. And if one was reticent to partake, he would tempt and taunt until ignition was achieved. Maggie was his great muse but often an important counterpoint, as well. Tina remembers a particularly robust debate in London. Charles was making the point that every aspect and every detail of the house had to be infused with meaning. Maggie and Tina were arguing that sometimes the meaning is inherent in the experience and does not need to be literally described. As the debate got more heated, these two strong women achieved a standoff with Charlie—not an easy feat, even when double teaming. Finally, exasperated, he exclaimed: “I don’t care what it means, as long as it means something!” After a brief pause, the argument was defused over drinks and all was commodious again. Maggie also bridged theory and practice. Her poetically written book The Chinese Garden: History, Art and Architecture helped to establish the foundation for her work as a landscape designer both for herself and for commissions. At the Elemental House, she was inspired by John Milton’s poems L’Allegro and Il Penseroso, creating an imaginative garden that embodied the dualities of joy and contemplation. This partnership between Maggie’s deep understanding of the landscape and Charlie’s evolving interest in the forces and symbols of the cosmos reached new heights in their collaboration on The Garden of Cosmic Speculation at Portrack, their country house near Dumfries, Scotland. This veritable gesamtkunstwerk was organized as a cosmic narrative, which one experiences through a compelling landscape sequence and metaphoric meander through the Quark Walk, the DNA Garden, the Fractal Terrace, and other cosmic phenomena. This was a seminal work that inspired the next phase of his exploration. The project unified art, architecture, and landscape, creating environments of great lyric and choreographic beauty. It was informed and structured by theory but animated by the experiential delight of its forms and materials. The work at Portrack became the basis for a fecund new period in Charlie’s creative life. He continued his writing and teaching, but increasingly focused on a new body of commissioned landforms for museums and sites around the world. The Jencks’ wonderful daughter Lily became a collaborator and continues to lecture and design at the intersection of landscape, art, and architecture. In parallel, Jencks curated the architecture of some 22 Maggie’s Centres. Designed by eminent architects, these spaces provide healing environments and supportive care for cancer patients. They are based on Maggie’s belief that people should “not lose the joy of living in the fear of dying.” As I think of Charlie, I imagine him now fully engaged in the cosmos, extending his insatiable curiosity and deep understanding into all the forces and cycles of life. Buzz Yudell was a friend and collaborator of Charles Jencks. He is a partner at the Santa Monica-based firm Moor Ruble Yudell Architects & Planners. 
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Architectural historian Charles Jencks dies at age 80

Charles Jencks, the architectural historian, cosmic gardener, and cofounder and director of Maggie's, has died, according to the RIBA Journal. Jencks was best known as the promoter of Post-modernism (he specifically demanded an uppercase “P” and dash after “Post”), having authored the seminal The Language of Post-Modern Architecture. He was also the author of Meaning in Architecture (1969) with George Baird and continued to publish books on the subject of Post-modernism, including Radical Post-modernism, an issue of Architectural Design with FAT. Born in Baltimore in 1939, Jencks attended Harvard, studying English literature in undergraduate, and then architecture at GSD. He later moved to the U.K. and completed a Ph.D. under Reynar Banham. Jencks would stay in the U.K. for the rest of his life, owning homes in both Scotland and England. He founded the Charles Jencks Award, which recognizes “major international contributions to the theory and practice of architecture.” Jencks turned to landscape design later in life, building the Garden of Cosmic Speculation, and a series of earthworks at Jupiter Artland. After his wife Maggie died in 1995 from cancer, he founded Maggie’s, a cancer research institute whose Maggies Centres have become a notable architecture program, featuring works by Steven Holl, Frank Gehry, and Zaha Hadid. AN will follow this announcement with a longer obituary.
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Herzog and de Meuron just won the 2015 Charles Jencks Award for their contributions to architecture

Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron have been named the winners of the 2015 RIBA Charles Jencks Award, an annual prize named for British architect and critic Charles Jencks recognizing “major international contributions to the theory and practice of architecture.” The duo—winners of the 2003 Stirling Prize—has long been innovators in the field, and have reached new levels of success as architectural chameleons who are known as much for China’s “Bird’s Nest” stadium, the centerpiece of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, as they are for their luxury condominiums in New York. "We are delighted to be the winners of this year’s RIBA Jencks Award. We feel especially happy about that prize since it honours theory as well as practice. Despite the many texts and books we have published, we still have doubts about the longevity of texts written by architects," the firm said in a statement. "The title of a few books may be remembered over time—the relevance of their content, though, ages faster than expected... We therefore always did our best not to separate theory from the built work. Buildings don't follow theory but the best buildings always allow for theoretical interpretations of all kinds." Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron will receive the award at a ceremony at RIBA's London headquarters on October 29. The jury was led by David Gloster and included Charles Jencks, Serpentine Gallery director Julia Peynton-Jones, and Architectural Association director Brett Steele, and RIBA president Stephen Hodder. Previous winners of the award include Zaha Hadid, Foreign Office Architects,Peter Eisenman, Cecil Balmond, UNStudio, Wolf PrixCoop Himmelb(l)au, Charles Correa, Steven Holl, and Eric Owen Moss.
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For the first time in 43 years, the Vanna Venturi House is for sale!

The Vanna Venturi House in Philadelphia is for sale. That’s right, the Vanna Venturi House. Robert Venturi’s 3 bed, 2 bath, 1,986-square-foot work of seminal Postmodern architecture can be yours for only $1,750,000. Located in a quiet Philadelphia neighborhood, the house is for sale for the first time in 43 years. The house was built in 1965 and is best known as “Mother’s House,” Robert Venturi’s manifesto that exemplified many of his concepts outlined in Complexity and Contradiction. Many consider it the first self-consciously Postmodern building in the world. The subtle changes in composition and the juxtaposition of classical forms and contemporary language are classic, playful Venturi. Take a look around the interior in AN's tour of the house from 2011. Inside, original Carerra marble floors remain in the entryway, while an oversized fireplace warms the living room, which also features built-in bookcases and a Venturian chair rail. Skylights and shifting volumes give the rooms plenty of light and shadow. The house is located in Chestnut Hill and has been featured on a 2005 postage stamp. The house is also in the school district of Jenks Elementary, which is an ironic and double-coded bonus.
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Postmodernism Post-Denial

Postmodernism, the exuberant, eclectic, and ironic style born out of the death of the modernist dream in the 1960s and 70s, was the subject of the two-day-long "Reconsidering Postmodernism" conference last weekend, presented by the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York. The two marathon days of lectures, panels, and videos was filled with the original rock stars of the postmodernist world, including architects Robert A. M. Stern and Michael Graves, theorists Charles Jencks and Tom Wolfe, urbanists Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and a small but passionate younger crowd who couldn’t help but revel in the rambunctiousness of their vaunted forebearers. The beginning of postmodernism, an active topic at the conference, was assigned multiple dates. It was either with the demolition of the Pruitt-Igoe low-income houses in 1972, which Charles Jencks defines as “the day modernism died,” with the publication of Robert Venturi’s Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture in 1966, perhaps with the opening of Morris Lapidus’ first bodacious beach resort in 1949, or it even could have been at the beginnings of modernism itself, when hairline cracks in the modernist utopian vision had already begun to form. There were even Italian precedents: in the 1950s Torre Velasca, designed by Ernesto Rogers in Milan, and the Venice Architectural Biennale of 1980. Something about the conference compelled people’s interest in the big, chronically under-discussed themes of architecture. Andres Duany championed a broader classical canon, through his 175 (and counting…) orders of classicism. A discussion of stylistic evolution was continually present, causing architectural writer Witold Rybczynski to come to the conclusion at one point that taste is more important than style. “This is something we don’t discuss, but should” was a phrase uttered by many over both days. The conference showed that postmodernism is still controversial, but also that it is extremely alive today, proving to be a resilient and long lasting force in architecture. Reasons for this were debated. Barry Bergdoll, the Phillip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design at MoMA, asked if postmodernism was an attitude or a movement, suggesting the possible eternality of the mode, and that PoMo is not only analogous with the Mannerist or Hellenistic phases of architectural history, but actually the same thing. If modernism discarded everything that came before it, and began from “level zero,” as Gropius said it did, then postmodernism is letting everything flood back in, picking up where the world left off, and making a joke of it to lighten the mood. The “joke” of postmodernism was an important conference theme and recurred frequently. Humor mitigates the promotion of dogma, which was seen as a cause of modernism’s failure, and forces postmodernism to embrace its own flaws. Jokes also accept the world for what it is. As one conference-goer said, “The world isn’t as black and white as it used to be.” Humor was fantastically present over those two days. ICAA president Paul Gunther’s opening remarks on the morning of day one called postmodernism “A case of multiple personality disorders” before becoming a bit more serious and stating, correctly, that the purpose of the next two days was to “overcome the denial of postmodernism.” If not completely embraced by all in attendance, the conference at least succeeded in doing that. At the end of day two, with everything having been said, the final panel was oddly mellow and subdued. Perhaps nobody wanted to leave the reunion, or perhaps the gauntlet was being handed to the young people in the room, like Sam Jacob of the U.K. architecture firm F.A.T., architect and writer Jimmy Stamp, or any others of the wacky new generation of postmodernists.

Only in Venice, kids, only in Venice!

From our roving correspondent Alex Gorlin, who was party-hopping the other night:
Among the guests at Aaron Betsky's 50th birthday celebration on Thursday were Henry Urbach, curator of Architecture at SFMOMA, Laurie Beckelman, UCLA's Sylvia Lavin (who was complaining to Jeff Kipnis about the mosquitoes), Susan Grant Lewin the PR Queen—she barely made the "haj" to the party—the Modern's Barry Bergdoll with Bill Ryall, his partner, Reed Kroloff and Casey Jones. Last and certainly not least was Katherine Gustafson, the Zaha of landscape design, who appeared in a regally flowing white toga-like gown. The setting was her "Garden of Paradise" at the Arsenale,  a coyly-renamed installation in the Garden of Virgins, with vegetables and flowers culminating in a swirling ridge of grassy mounds above which floated giant white ballons and what looked like the remains of a parachute. All in all, an elegant evening, although with no lights on, it was pitch black and so far away that one can only imagine half the guests, a little tipsy perhaps, falling into canals on the trek home.
Robert and Holly Ivy hosted their annual Architectural Record party at the same time as Aaron's fete, causing high anxiety and handwringing among the smart set who wanted to attend both. Many cleverly thought they could go to the Garden of the Virgins and then sprint over to the Accademia Bridge where Bob's soiree was held, not knowing of the tremendous distance between the two. Bergdoll, Kroloff  and Jones, and David Rockwell showed up late in the evening exhausted by the trek. Hans Hollein was already there, looking somewhat fearsome, as were Joseph and Mrs. Rykwert, Charles Jencks, and AN's own Bill Menking and Diana Darling."
—Alex Gorlin