From its classical dome bathtub to its vanishing ceilings, godfather of postmodernism Charles Jencks turned a terraced house into a monument to his madcap ideas. What was it like to live there?
The first challenge facing visitors to Charles Jencks’s house is choosing which knob to push on the front door. Two identical brass fixtures flank the entrance to 19 Lansdowne Walk in Holland Park, the first indication that this is no ordinary west London pile. Push the correct one and you enter a bewildering oval lobby lined with numerous mirrored doors and topped with a ceiling of intersecting ovals that appears to taper upwards to infinity. The faces of Pythagoras, Erasmus and Hannah Arendt peer down from a mural, above a frieze of gnomic inscriptions about the cosmos. There’s a lot to digest already – and you’ve barely stepped through the front door.
As an architecture critic, cosmic landscape designer and all-round polymathic funster, Jencks was never one for half measures. His Cosmic House, as 19 Lansdowne Walk is known – which opens to the public this Friday, two years after his death – stands as a madcap monument to his voracious appetite for ideas. As the godfather and chief promoter of postmodernism, or pomo, he spent a lifetime championing eclecticism, wit and meaning over what he saw as the bland, faceless tedium of modernism. And he lived his theories to the max.