Around London writes Jeremy Melvin
Jeremy Melvin, 28 October 2021
As London opens up after Covid, so the ecology of architecturally-related venues is starting to operate., writes Jeremy Melvin
Indeed there is one notable addition: the Cosmic House in Holland Park, the ‘manifesto of port-modernist architecture’ created by Charles Jencks and his wife Maggie Keswick Jencks has become a small scale venue to extend Charles’ considerable influence on architectural thinking. He was of course a prolific author (and strong supporter of WAF from its beginnings until his death in 2019), and whatever one’s stance on post-modernism – and Charles’ own was in a state of constant evolution – a very considerable figure in the architectural world.
The house was largely created in the early 1980s, both as a family home and as a manifesto. As such many of his architect friends contributed, including a Jacuzzi designed by Piers Gough which Charles’ and Maggie’s daughter Lily, now chair of the Jencks Foundation, remembers as never working though Charles liked it enough to have the family photographed in it. The story of the house’s architecture is well told in a little booklet written by the anointed ‘keeper of meaning’ Eddie Heathcote, who chairs the foundation’s steering committee. The house is open by appointment and will operate a programme of small scale exhibitions, talks and other events, as well as hosting residencies.
The Cosmic House | ©Sue Barr
Another exhibition well worth the trek to Walthamstow to see (until 30 January), is ‘Young Poland’ at the William Morris gallery. No doubt every architect of a certain generation will be familiar with the near palatial childhood home of the early socialist and inspiration of the Arts and Crafts movement, which was opened as a museum to its famous former occupant by the local MP, the Rt Hon CR Attlee in 1949. But few will be familiar with the Young Poland movement, which emerged around the town of Zakopane in the Tatra mountains in the late 19th century, with some of its members living through the upheavals that saw Poland re-emerge as an independent state after World War I only to fall under totalitarian sway 20 or so years later.
Indeed the artists behind Young Poland were very conscious of trying to understand and promulgate Poland’s cultural traditions in all forms of craft from woodwork to weaving, and to restore this culture as an integral part of European culture. Having been, as part of the Commonwealth of Poland and Lithuania the largest country by territory for much of the early modern period, the country was dismembered in 1793 by Russia, Prussia and Austria, with the first two, especially, eager to suppress any form of national consciousness. Working in the remote Tatra mountains under the slightly more benign Austro-Hungarian regime, Young Poland clearly demonstrated the strength of local culture. With much in common with Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement, it is appropriately located.
Model of the House under Firs, the apogee of the Zakopane style and a highlight of the exhibition, designed by Stanislaw Witkiewicz for Pavel Gwalbert Pawlikowski in 1899. Other objects, from right (behind model), Kilim wall hanging with highlanders, Kilim Association, c1910; Highlanders marching.
Even the RIBA has tried to join the party, with its first exhibition since Covid, on the totemic Becontree Estate in Dagenham, East London. This, the largest of the LCC’s housing projects (at least until the post World War II town extensions to decant Londoners to the provinces) was built from 1921 on compulsorily purchased agricultural land. The story is a potentially fascinating one, about the interaction of housing policy and design from the Addison Act to Margaret Thatcher and beyond, but you wouldn’t know that from this incoherent jumble of an exhibition.