Architecture and Design
A sign to me is a one-liner, a symbol is very complex and my house is a series of symbols.—Charles Jencks
The Cosmic House is one of the key landmarks in the development of Post-Modernist architecture. A hugely influential distillation of the ideas at the heart of Post-Modern thought in culture and science, it is a remarkable testament to the polymathic talents of Maggie and Charles Jencks.
Built between 1978 and 1983 the house subverts the genteel architecture of Holland Park, exaggerating, caricaturing and embellishing the white stucco until it becomes a microcosm of contemporary architectural theory, semiotics and historiography. An almost human character is imposed on the architecture with each element related to the human body and then to the larger cosmos. It is an architectural essay about our relationship to proportion, building, culture and the universe.
Densely packed with ideas, symbols and motifs, its architecture embraces an entire cosmos of architectural allusion, history, metaphor and reference. Switching between pop and classical culture, between high art and accessible kitsch, it became a built manifesto for the architecture that emerged in reaction to the slowly solidifying canon of Modernism as it faded in the late mid-century. Designed in collaboration with architect (Sir) Terry Farrell, and built between 1978 and 1983, the house became a forum for conversation and dialogue at the epicentre of the Post-Modern moment and the cultural discourse around ideas, history, science and aesthetics.
The spaces are characteristically Post-Modern with multiple changes in levels, shifted axes, fragmented forms, architectural quotations, views obliquely across spaces and glimpses of neighbouring spaces enticing the visitor around the interior. Unusually for an interior of this period it remains substantially as it was designed, built and lived in with all its original bespoke furniture and fittings intact.
The Cosmic House represents a synthesis of ideas about science and the arts embodied in everything from its front door to its furniture. It is a true PoMo Gesamtkunstwerk in which the Jenckses and their friends designed everything and integrated art, furniture and ideas into the architecture and design. Michael Graves designed the fireplaces and Piers Gough the jacuzzi. Works by Eduardo Paolozzi and Allen Jones are integral to the design of the interior. Rem Koolhaas was commissioned to design the Spring room, although the design was never executed as it was deemed not suitably symbolic.
The house might be seen as a contemporary parallel to Sir John Soane’s House completed a century and a half earlier. Both houses were intended as expressions of personality, ideas and as tools for teaching and illustrating the history and potential of architecture. Like Sir John Soane’s House, The Cosmic House has its own complex narrative, a story which unwinds as the visitor wanders around and in which the house itself becomes a character.