Jencks, Charles PhD

Charles Jencks is a renowned cultural theorist, landscape designer, architectural historian, and co-founder of the Maggie’s Cancer Care Centres. His best-selling books include The Language of Post-Modern Architecture, Adhocism, The Architecture of the Jumping Universe and The Architecture of Hope (on Maggie’s Centres). His recent landscape work is summarised in The Universe in the Landscape. Scotland is home to several of his most exciting landscapes including The Garden of Cosmic Speculation and Jupiter Artland, outside Edinburgh. His continuing project The Crawick Multiverse, 2015, commissioned by the Duke of Buccleuch, culminates annually in a three day festival of performance art and public debates with the world leading cosmologists and scientists.

Born in Baltimore Maryland on June 21st, 1939, Charles Alexander Jencks followed his parents – the composer Gardner Platt Jencks and Ruth DeWitt Pearl – to Connecticut and Cape Cod. Summers in this idyllic refuge of dissident artists and intellectuals had a strong influence on his outlook. After getting degrees at Harvard, in English literature and architecture, he moved to the UK in 1965 where he has lived ever since. In 1970 Jencks received a PhD in architectural history, studying under the radical modernist Reyner Banham, from whom he learned much especially how to enjoy disagreements. The fruits of this confrontation turned into his pluralist critique of the reigning dogma, Modern Movements in Architecture, published by Penguin books 1973, which became a best-selling textbook for fifteen years. It criticised the suppression of the outlying modernists – the Expressionists, Constructivists, Organicists who did not fit the party line – and showed how Modernists had collaborated with Vichy, Mussolini and Hitler. In short, the book revealed the dark sides of Modernism without either supporting a return to the past or a single style.

This ‘criticism from within’ led directly to Jencks’ The Language of Post-Modern Architecture, 1977, and seven later editions continuing into the 21st century. The new PM movement was defined as based on pluralism and hybridity, combining opposite codes of architecture that could adequately express the contradictory requirements and tastes of a global society. It was defined variously as ‘the loyal opposition to modernism’, ‘the continuation of Modernism and its transcendence,’ and ‘the double-coding of modernism with other codes’ – or, in 2007, ‘Critical Modernism,’ the fifth edition of his What is Post-Modernism?