The Cosmic House
Subjecting a home and family to an extreme experiment in Post-Modernism
The House is the brain child of the “angularly elegant” Charles Jencks. An architectural historian and theorist who subjected his home and family to an extreme experiment in Post-Modernism.
The House is pretentious, quirky, profound, silly and well worth a visit.
It is filled with symbols denoting solar years, black holes, quantum physics and more things beyond my understanding. I have never visited anything like it before.
There’s a mix of pop and classical culture, high art and kitsch, erudite seriousness and wacky silliness. Everything in the house has a meaning attached to it.
The design is a collaboration between the owners, Charles and Maggie Jencks, with the architect Terry Farrell and contributions from artists including Eduardo Paolozzi.
The alterations were carried out between 1978-1983. The original house was built in the early 1840’s.
It is the only post-war home in the UK which is Grade I listed.
Following Charles Jenck’s death, the house was opened to the public with the aim to “promote critical experimentation.” A generous bequest given the ridiculous prices neighbouring houses sell for.
“Every space is named thematically. Ceilings billow into sails, or tents, elliptical mirrored domes or are painted with swirling, cloudy skies. Philosophers, poets, astronomers and architects from many centuries and countries are represented in busts or frescoes. Floors have enigmatic messages stencilled on them.”
And after that breathless description, here is a brief pictorial tour…
The Solar Stairs go through the heart of the home. The 52 steps represent the solar year, each with seven lines producing a total of 365 grooves. At the top is a domed skylight, at the bottom is a black hole.
Around the stairs are four zones named after the seasons.
AS IF YOU COULD KILL TIME WITHOUT INJURING ETERNITY . THOREAU
Each bookshelf tells a story… shelves of Egyptian books have a pyramid form, Roman are domed, Medieval gabled, Late Modern simple and Jenck’s 35mm slides are stored in ‘slidescrapers.’
The garden is edged by 13 mirrored doors. 12 for each month of the year and the 13th at the end of the garden with the message:
The future… is behind you
I love the simplicity and the idealism of brutalism. But we can’t stay in one silo, wedded to one philosophy. We need to look beyond our sacred cows for inspiration.
The playful pluralism of the Cosmic House is the perfect antidote. This visit has stirred my curiosity in post-modernist architecture.
After all, we all need something to smile about.
Post Modernism was a reaction to the seriousness of Modernism. Its hallmarks were playful buildings which referenced classical designs and added a modern twist. It used a variety of unusual shapes, materials and bright colours. It broke the rules. It was open to all styles that had been before and liked to mix them up.
Jencks once told a journalist “If you can’t take the kitsch, get out of the kitchen.”
Maggie’s Centres were co-founded by Maggie and Charles Jencks after Maggie was diagnosed with cancer. They both believed that buildings can uplift people. Notable architects, including Richard Rogers, Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry, have designed centres.