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COSMIC HOUSE

Charles Jencks's house of wonder is open to the world

23rd Nov 2021

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Unveiled in all its glory to the public this Autumn the Cosmic House is a postmodern masterpiece that's testament to Jencks's uninhibited flair for the fantastical.

Encased by greenery on Holland Park’s tree-lined Lansdowne Walk sits Cosmic House; the former home of famed architectural historian, Charles Jencks. Meticulously designed alongside architect Sir Terry Farrell and constructed between 1978 and 1983 amidst the fast-emerging movement of Post-Modernist architecture, it’s a space that bears all the hallmarks of Jencks’s curiosity, dynamism and experimental style. An ode to progressive architecture, the home was the UK’s first Grade I Listed Post-Modern house and has recently reopened to the public as a museum, also serving as the hub of the Jencks Foundation –  a charity founded to champion critical experimentation and to encourage creativity to flourish.

Rejecting the pillars of simplicity and minimalism of Modernist architecture, the aptly named Cosmic House was initially designed to explore and dissect the meaning of time, the seasons and space; a tangible representation of the intangible. The exterior, characterised by its curved forms, asymmetric structure and wraparound mirrored doors, is a striking indication of what awaits on the other side, the backdrop for Jencks’s fantastical imagination to take flight.

Inside, the main floor of the house, the Cosmic Oval entrance hall has a staircase unfurls up through the upper floors, with 52 steps, each divided into seven parts to indicate the year. It's encircled by four large rooms dedicated to the seasons. Spring features a grand fireplace by American postmodernist Michael Graves, the wall lightly stencilled with plants. Winter holds another Graves fireplace, this one with an orange pillar rising forth from the centre with a bust of Hephaestus, the Greek God of fire. Summer's dining room is bright, with Egyptian style sunburst chairs and Autumn, the kitchen, bears Hindu temple motifs. Moving around these four rooms there is access to a sundial room, with seats arranged around a sundial, and a terrazzo and bronze whirlpool bath in the shape of a Borromini dome – each space more dazzling than the next. The newly installed exhibition room has a malachite floor, hovered over by sculptures of the sun and earth, and overlooks the Garden of Time.

The recent restoration of Cosmic House was overseen by Charles's daughter Lily Jencks, an architect herself, and the Director of the Jencks Foundation. Now the public are invited to view the space in all its glory and pore over the drawings, sketches, and models of the influences that defined the awe-inspiring design of the Cosmic House, with an exhibition: Cosmic, Comic, Cosmetics: Themes and Designs for a Home, running until August 2022.

All photos courtesy of Sue Barr