The Cosmic Home evaluate – a dizzying home for all seasons | Structure

“A failure of latest structure,” wrote the critic, theorist and architect Charles Jencks 45 years in the past, “has been considered one of communication.” He believed buildings ought to communicate, that they need to imply one thing to their inhabitants and passersby. “An architect’s major and closing position,” he additionally stated, “is to precise the meanings a tradition finds important.”

Jencks himself beloved to speak. He favored to speak, to debate, to disagree. He was a maniacal guide engine, elaborating and (generally) elucidating his theories in publication after publication over a interval of 40-plus years. He was sociable and witty. He and his spouse, the backyard designer Maggie Keswick, had been beneficiant and public-spirited: the UK’s Maggie’s most cancers centres, conceived by them whereas she was dying of the illness, bear witness.

Whereas Jencks planted his vital flag on a specific method – postmodernism – he might be a staunch buddy of architects resembling Zaha Hadid and Norman Foster, who had completely different views of the world. Greater than something he believed in pluralism, the concept “an architect should grasp a number of types and modes of communication”.

The Cosmic Home. {Photograph}: Sue Barr

All of which human and mental qualities shine from the paint and MDF and mirrors and swags and marquetry-patterned terrazzo and topiary and portray and sculpture of the Cosmic Home, a four-floored Victorian residence in Holland Park in west London, which Jencks and Keswick purchased in 1978. Along with the architect Terry Farrell they made the inside right into a manifesto of Jencks’s concepts and a theatre of their private and non-private lives. Now, following Jencks’s needs earlier than his dying in 2019, aged 80, the home has been opened to the general public. A Jencks Basis, to “promote vital experimentation”, is predicated there. A gallery on the decrease floor flooring, curated by the inspiration’s inventive director, Eszter Steierhoffer, reveals exhibitions drawn from Jencks’s archive.

The primary flooring of the home, just a few steps up from the road, is high-ceilinged and large-windowed. A central cylinder, containing a spiral staircase, is surrounded by 4 good-size rooms, themed across the 4 seasons. Winter is dominated by an imposing fire by the American postmodernist Michael Graves, with pillars and lintel painted to seem like polychromatic marble, with a burnt-orange pillar rising above the centre of the fireside to bear a bust of the Greek god of fireplace Hephaestus, modelled by the sculptor Celia Scott on the artist Eduardo Paolozzi. Jencks insisted she added a beard that Paolozzi didn’t have, to make him look extra classically divine.

Spring has one other Graves fire, the wall behind flippantly sprinkled with stencilled crops, Jencks having rejected a design by Rem Koolhaas and the artist Madelon Vriesendorp as insufficiently vernal, regardless of the latter’s protestations {that a} sample of colored parallelograms evoked Dutch tulip fields. Summer season is the eating room, brilliant, with chairs like Egyptian sunbursts and an Allen Jones portray of a nude dancing to a bearded outdated satyr’s lute. Autumn is the kitchen, with motifs from Hindu temples (an Indian summer season, you see) and wood spoons made into architectural ornament.

The master bedroom.
The main bedroom, harking back to Charles Rennie Waterproof coat. {Photograph}: Oliver Wainwright

There may be extra. The spiral stair is what Jencks referred to as an “summary realisation of the photo voltaic 12 months”. Its variety of steps denote the weeks of the 12 months. The face of every is incised with seven traces, for days of the week. On the backside of the stair is a round plaque within the flooring, by Paolozzi, which represents a black gap. You may ascend by way of this stair to a library like the within of a ceremonial tent, the place books are thematically organized in a small metropolis of building-like bookcases, and Jencks’s many 1000’s of 35mm transparencies are saved in slim vertical cupboards referred to as “slidescrapers”. The higher flooring embody a main bedroom harking back to Charles Rennie Waterproof coat’s white timber interiors, a moon-themed dressing room, kids’s bedrooms additionally laden with that means. Plus Keswick’s notably undecorated examine – “I perceive, Charles, every part has to symbolise one thing,” she as soon as stated, “however symbolism stops at my door.”

It’s also possible to go all the way down to a decrease floor flooring that features a whirlpool bathtub by the architect Piers Gough, made to seem like the inverted dome of a Roman baroque church. You may exit right into a backyard whose symmetrical clipped hedges culminate in an arched wood pergola framing a mirrored door. “THE FUTURE” is inscribed upon it. You may return to the home by way of a double staircase in atypical metal, operatic and industrial directly.

The whirlpool bath designed by the architect Piers Gough.
The whirlpool bathtub designed by the architect Piers Gough: ‘just like the inverted dome of a Roman baroque church’. {Photograph}: Sue Barr

There may be nonetheless extra: numerous references to quantum physics and theories of the universe and structure from historical Egypt to Russian constructivism. All over the place you go there are layers and framings, glimpses from one room into one other, and slivers of mirror that fold areas and their human inhabitants into the partitions and ceilings and multiply the iconography to infinity. The decor is by turns ingenious and cheesy. A bent to the preposterous and grandiose is rescued by wit and playfulness. An apparent comparability is to Sir John Soane’s home and museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, one other dense private cosmos layered and mirrored by its structure.

This can be a written home. Tom Wolfe, whose dandyish model Jencks favored to emulate, described in his guide The Painted Phrase how the theories of artwork critics had been translated into artistic endeavors. The Cosmic Home might be referred to as the Constructed Phrase, the place a author’s ideas are made into architectural area. Even the place the material is just not exactly saying one thing, the ornament tends to be have traces incised within the surfaces, like some undeciphered textual content or musical rating.

As a supercilious pupil and nascent critic, I used to be sceptical of Jencks’s method. It appeared too literal and clumsy. I nonetheless am: if structure communicates, it does so in a much less linear method than language. I discover fashionable astrophysics extra great than any try to characterize it in constructing will be – structure can discover its personal marvels in different methods.

However you’ll be able to solely be moved by the constructive vitality of this place. Aside from the rest the Cosmic Home, in part of London now colonised by oligarchic wealth, have to be cosmically, eight-figure invaluable, so it was beneficiant to show it to public use. Property apart, it expresses the religion that structure means one thing and that it may be explored with seriousness and delight. “No different career is particularly chargeable for articulating that means and seeing that the setting is sensual, humorous, stunning and coded as a readable textual content,” wrote Jencks. “That is the architect’s job and pleasure.”

The Cosmic Home, 19 Lansdowne Stroll, London W11, is open from 12.30-5.30pm, Wednesday to Friday, from April to December

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