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Charles Jencks (1939 - )

Related: postmodern architecture - USA

The New Paradigm in Architecture: The Language of Postmodernism (1977) - Charles Jencks [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

“Post Modernism includes a variety of approaches which depart from the paternalism and utopianism of its predecessor, but they all have a double-coded language – one part Modern and part something else. The reason for this double-sided language are technological and semiotic: the architects seek to use a current technology, but also communicate with a particular public.” -- Charles Jencks


Charles Jencks, born 1939 in Baltimore is an architect and architectural theorist, famous for his writings on postmodern architecture. Although not inventing the term, his 1977 book The Language of Postmodern Architecture is often regarded as having popularised its use. In Edinburgh, Scotland, he designed the Landform at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. His late wife, Maggie Keswick Jencks was the founder of the Maggie's centres. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Jencks [Apr 2005]

Double Coding

Charles Jencks, a U.S. writer with degrees in English literature, architecture, and architectural history, has extensively defined Post-Modernism in relationship to the visual arts, especially architecture. He (1986) traced the term to Frederico De Onis' use of it in 1934 to convey a reaction to Modernism from within. Jencks noted that Amold Toynbee, in a 1947 publication, attached the label post-modern to a new historical cycle he delineated as a declining emphasis on values of individualism, capitalism, and Christianity - prevailing canons of Western cultures. Additional connotations of pluralism and world culture that were associated with Toynbee's label continue to accrue to Jenck's current definition. The term next was taken up in literary criticism, where conventionally it is not hyphenated, lhab Hassan applied it to experimentalism in the arts and avant-garde technology in architecture, trends that Jencks described not as Post-Modernist but as Late-Modern, "the continuation of Modernism in its ultra or exaggerated form" (1986, p. 10). For Jencks, Post-Modernism is "that paradoxical dualism, or double coding, which its hybrid name entails: the continuation of Modernism and its transcendence" (1986, p. 10). This double coding uses irony, ambiguity, and contradiction to allow us "to read the present in the past as much as the past in the present" (Jencks, 1987, p. 340).

Although, for Jencks, double coding is the most prevalent aspect of Post-Modernism, he distinguishes several other qualities that characterize it. Dissonant beauty or disharmonious harmony are concepts expressed in disjunctions and collision. "Oxymoron, or quick paradox, is itself a typical Post-Modern trope, and 'disharmonious harmony' recurs as often in its poetics as 'organic whole' recurs in the aesthetics of classicism and Modernism" (Jencks, 1987, p. 332). Cultural and political pluralism are manifested in radical eclecticism in architecture, and in enigmatic allegory and suggestive narrative, genres that emphasize ambiguity. Anthropomorphism and contextualism are favored tropes of Post-Modernists. The relations between the past and present is a valued subject: it risks deteriorating into mere parody, nostalgia or pastiche, but, ideally, results in anamnesis, suggested recollection, often producing a juxtaposition of related and opposed fragments. A will to meaning results in diverse and divergent content, appropriate in a pluralistic society, and in multiple meanings. Multivalence is a quality sought by Post-Modernists; Jencks (1987) explained, "If a work is resonant enough it continues to inspire unlimited readings" (p. 345). Such resonance depends on a complex relation to the past, either through anamnesis or through the displacement of conventions - tradition reinterpreted.. Consciously elaborated new rhetorical figures are employed to renew past conventions: ambiguity, double-coding, paradox, oxymoron, amplification, complexity and contradiction, irony, eclectic quotation, anamnesis, anastrophe, chiamus, ellipsis, elision, and erosion. A "return to the absent center" is one of the most recurring figures of Post-Modernism" (Jencks, 1987, p. 346). The viewer is the presence at this absent center, supplying possible interpretations that lead back to herself or himself. Readers undoubtedly will have noticed the interdependence among Jencks' defining qualities, each delineation evoking other aspects, but from a slightly different perspective, so that Jencks engages in a kind of Post-Modernist intertextuality in this writing about Post-Modernism. --Marilyn Zurmuehlen

The New Paradigm in Architecture: The Language of Postmodernism (1977) - Charles Jencks

Jencks is the principal author on postmodernism in architecture, chiefly through his The Language of Postmodernism, which has gone through six editions and many translations since its first publication in 1977. This book has been standard issue in most schools of architecture for over 20 years; Jencks himself taught architecture at UCLA for many years. The book at hand is a complete rewrite of the original editions, with two new chapters. It updates Jencks's survey of world architecture to include the last ten years of stylistic evolution, climaxing with such galactic masterpieces as Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, and Daniel Liebeskind's Jewish Museum in Berlin, Germany. Jencks, a transplanted Englishman, is a breezy writer. He glosses over differences in design, preferring to inscribe all schools and styles since the 1960s within the orbits of "multiple coding," "complexity," "heterogeneity," and "pluralism." He is such a readable writer that almost any library collection would benefit from this book. Peter McKee Kaufman, Boston Architectural Ctr. Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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