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Charles Jencks on Architecture and Theory

Interview Date: 04-01-2012
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What is exactly the new paradigm in Architecture?
The new paradigm comes out of the way science in the 1980s formulated a complexity paradigm around an understanding of self-organizing systems. So, we now know that the opposition between mineral things, like crystals and life is closer together than we thought. And we know that even like this architecture and life are somehow related. So, the complexity paradigm which also it organized the universe is a very interesting way of considering the paradox between the dead and the living and the continuities of pattern making which underline architecture, computer science and life. So, I think the new paradigm as shown now is the late stage of post modernism, the second stage.

The post-modern, if we talk about it as post-modern, the first stage of complexity and contradiction, of complexity of Jacobs, all these complexity theories of 1960 have been reabsorbed on a completely new scientific paradigm. So, now we can say that we understand the universe as a complex self-organizing system; and cities complex and self-organize, and you and me in the same paradigm. In this way, we’re beginning to understand, we don’t understand much, but we’re beginning to understand and feel. Maybe feeling is more acute. We’re beginning to feel these common ideologies, which under modernism we suppressed. In modernism there was a deterministic system which made a very clear distinction between creation, which is put on one side and automata. Now, we’re renegotiating all these situations. So, in architecture, the new paradigm is representing this flowing pattern making situation.

Can an architecture book influence ordinary people, non architects, to deal with architecture and demand better urban environment? How can this be done?

It’s very hard to predict how this can be done. Obviously, architecture books have always influenced to a certain degree the public, but, the thing is the general public is changing. Also, a book, unlike film, is a static way of thinking and looking at architecture, it is more like a diagram, a frozen diagram, whereas a film and other media, computerized animation is a way of considering it. So, if you ask what would be the perfect book of architecture today, that would be a book in which you could press the page and it would animate a diagram and when you want it, to disappear. It could be like a hypertext. So, it doesn’t exist. It could, though. They say that anything you can think of that doesn’t contradict a law of physics can happen.

How would you characterize modern architecture nowadays? Is the world financial crisis an opportunity for everyone to reconsider the ways that we design and construct the buildings and the urban environment?

Obviously, there are opportunities in the economic downturn. If you just look at the last ten years of architecture, we’ve lived through a very complex mixture. The world inflation, main capitalist inflation, has allowed iconic buildings to merge that would have never occurred in another period. Most of them are very questionable, if not terrible, but still there aren’t great buildings that have been created in this period of economic inflation. I think you have to say, never in the history of the world has so much volume been built at such an inflationary scale and that is incredibly negative in some respects. I think if you look around this area you can see that. This is an inflation area, which we are in. The buildings are too big, the landscape is mostly tar, the form itself, although designed by brilliant architects, is itself inflated. Le Corbusier said in his “Towards a new Architecture” in his advice for the dwelling: “Choose a house one size smaller than your parents”. Now, we should choose a house three times smaller than this inflation. 

Although, having said that, I think that in the period of the economic downturn clearly architecture is going to go through an incredible restructuring and the architectural firms will have to be very lightweight and light on their feet and fast-moving and tough. I heard that fifty percent of the people have to leave architecture. So if you’re looking for campuses, shopping centers etc capitalism is the most creative constructing system in the world and it’s in its major crisis today I think. But, at the same time, given the fact that the governments are refloating like man, if you talk to the “big bangs” at the moment they’re saying it’s an incredible explosion, real explosion. That’s because America still owing so much money at the world, actually architecture is coming back. So, we’re living in both collapse and upswept and if you’re confused like me, it’s understandable.



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.


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Charles Jencks

Charles Jencks

Architect
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Bio

Charles Jencks divides his time between lecturing, writing, and designing in the USA, the UK, and Europe. 

He is the author of the best-selling The Language of Post-Modern Architecture (re-issued as The New Paradigm in Architecture, 2002).  He has also written numerous other books on contemporary arts and building, including What is Post-Modernism?  (fourth edition, 1995) and The Architecture of the Jumping Universe (second edition, 1997). 

His celebrated garden in Scotland is the subject of his book The Garden of Cosmic Speculation (Frances Lincoln, 2003) and in 2004 the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, won the Gulbenkian Prize for Museums for his design, Landform Ueda.  Landform projects have also been completed in Italy, France, and China.

He is the author of The Iconic Building, the Power of Enigma, (Frances Lincoln, 2005), Critical Modernism, (Wiley 2007), and  The Architecture of Hope with Edwin Heathcote,  (Frances Lincoln 2010).

:: Profile at ArchiTravel 

:: Photo information and credits:

1 > Bonnington Cells of Life
Credit image Portrait: © Charles Jencks

2 > Porrack Universe Cascade
Credit image Portrait: © Charles Jencks

3 > GCS DNA Garden
Credit image Portrait: © Charles Jencks

4-5 > Wu Chi sculpture in Beijing
Credit image Portrait: © Charles Jencks

6-7 > Parco Portello in Milan
Credit image Portrait: © Charles Jencks