Charles Jencks: New British architecture (May 19, 1976)

Charles Jencks introduces his lecture by describing his infamous diagram that describes and predicts architectural trends of the past and future. He also shows other diagrams that characterize systems and constructs an idea of cyclical time versus reversible time.

Jencks begins with post-World War II England and discusses the political desires of reconstruction in English cities through the “townscape philosophy.” He describes the vernacular style of social acceptance and the beginning of playful syntax as a design tool. Jencks then talks about movements that rejected this novel idea and goes on to talk about Modernism’s survival in London before it was wholly rejected by English academia.

Jencks touches about the architectural scene in London after 1951 as an era of reinvention and thinking about social housing, as well as, how the Greater London Council implemented these theories at an urban scale that eventually failed. Jencks moves on to describing the Smithsons as a radical addition to the acceptable British norms and the emergence of Brutalism as a signifier of cultural change. He continues describing the art’s evolution through the projects of Denis Lasden and others.

Jencks discusses the Smithsons evolutionary process and their interest in topographical form, during which he also touches about Brutalism’s reversal back to post-war “Townscape” ideals. This moves him into the influential work of James Stirling and his ability to use distance and form to create illusions and circulation resulting in an extremely expressionistic style. Using projects like the Leicester Engineering building and Olivetti Training Center, Jencks describes Stirling’s style, ambitions, and demise.

Jencks begins describing the history of the Pop movement from its 1950s beginnings to the emerging contemporary trends, citing Reyner Banham. He also uses the work of influential artist Richard Hamilton and his collages as a means of describing the intentions of signs and machine aesthetics that aim to deface Modernism.

Jencks moves onto contemporary British architecture by discussing the work of Cedric Price, Norman Foster, Ralph Erskine, and others. He uses Price’s Thinkbelt Project to describe Foster’s early influences, using Foster’s IBM Center and Black Piano to illustrate this further. Jencks also gives a brief account of how, toward the mid-70s, English architects begin to assemble and pull together many traditions of British architecture into collective cohesion, a theme that comes into much more prominence during the Post-modern period.

Jencks answers questions revolving around contemporary, English architectural practice. He also discusses Archigram’s waning influence as Peter Cook begins to break stride with the group. Finally, Jencks goes into detail about Stirling and his downfall in English architectural circles before he ends his lecture.

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