Mid-C19 house, remodelled in 1979-1985 by Charles Jencks with Terry Farrell Partnership.
Reasons for Designation
Cosmic House , 1979-1985 by Charles Jencks with Terry Farrell Partnership, is listed at Grade I for the following principal reasons:
* a built manifesto for Post-Modern architecture, in which the architectural design, decoration, colour and artwork are invested with multiple layers of meaning;
* a resourceful plan, and a characteristically post-modernist spatial treatment incorporating inter-penetrating spaces, changes of level, diagonal vistas and shifted axes;
* an inventive exterior design, which modulates from a formal and contextual street front to the free-style classicism of the garden elevation;
*`Jencks’s most ambitious built work, it illuminates his developing thinking and influential writings on Post-Modernism;
*`the building has been little altered since its completion.
* an early example of Post-Modern architecture in England, conceived by Charles Jencks, a critic and theorist widely credited with defining and fostering the movement internationally.
19 Lansdowne Walk, a half-stuccoed, terraced villa in North Kensington, was purchased by Charles Jencks and Maggie Keswick in May 1978. The house forms part of terrace of three houses built in the 1840s by the builder William Reynolds and originally named Hanover Terrace Villas. The group was part of the wider development of the Ladbroke Estate to a layout of 1823 by Thomas Allason. Jencks and Keswick approached Michael Fisher of Fisher Associates to execute their own ideas for the reconfiguration and redecoration of the house. Two lasting principles were established at this stage: that the street front should be contextual in its materials and decoration; and that the garden elevation should be more spatially elaborate, with a series of stairs and terraces framing conservatories. Internally, they envisaged a semi-open plan, with space contained by anchor points such as chimneys, columns and ceiling beams. By October 1978, realising that Fisher’s office was not of sufficient size to realise their intentions, they engaged Terry Farrell, then in partnership with Nick Grimshaw. Jencks knew both from the Architectural Association (AA) and invited them to lecture there and at the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1976.
From the autumn of 1978 to February 1979 Jencks, Keswick, Farrell and his project architects worked together on the design. The semi-open plan was further refined with the introduction of shifted and diagonal axes and fragmented classical forms. The stair was moved to the centre of the house, and its solar symbolism may have prompted the seasonal theme for the principal ground floor rooms. Another design issue concerned the remodelling of a C20 addition to the west of the original house to house Jencks’s architectural library above a kitchen and dining room. Anticipating problems gaining planning consent, Farrell suggested spatially compressing the addition so that its upper storey was open to a shaped roof, while stepping the floor structure up towards the street. Jencks suggested introducing a double-curved profile to the roof, an idea inspired by the use of such forms by the Austrian baroque architect Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt.
The design of the rear elevation continued to be reworked until 1983, arriving at the present configuration of paired conservatory bays sharing access to a central stairway leading down to the garden. Farrell, in consultation with solar energy expert Ralph Lebens, suggested that the south-facing conservatories could generate passive solar energy which could be transferred to a heat store at the basement of the house (Jencks and Farrell 1986, p 18). The elevation was conceived by Jencks as a family of forms based on a face-like stagger and curve motif. This ‘Jencksiana’ was applied to several elements, including windows and interior fittings. Jencks and Keswick were influenced by a 1979 stay at the Schindler House in Los Angeles (of 1921-1922 by Rudolf M Schindler) where window-wall panels open onto the garden. Joe Foges, a member of Farrell’s team, suggested that the front windows of the conservatories could be lowered or raised electronically, like giant sash windows (Jencks and Farrell 1986, p 21).
The design team, working with structural engineer David French, then finalised the main floor plans and refined the interior details, including the Solar Stair and the semi-circular ‘Moonwell’, a void bringing natural light to the darker area adjoining the party wall. After the main structural ‘shell’ was completed in early 1983, the fitting out and decoration of the interior proceeded to Jencks’ designs while individual elements were commissioned from artists, craftspeople and architects (noted in the Description below). The couple asked several of their architect friends to design rooms; while approaches to Robert A M Stern, Jeremy Dixon and Rem Koolhaas did not bear fruit, Michael Graves supplied designs for the living room fireplaces and Piers Gough of CZWG designed the basement Jacuzzi.
Charles Jencks (b.1939) is an American architectural historian, cultural theorist and landscape designer, best known for his influential writings on Post-Modernism. Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Jencks studied English literature and architecture at Harvard University. In 1965 he moved to London, teaching at the AA while studying under the architectural historian Reyner Banham at University College, London. His 1970 doctoral thesis became the basis for ‘Modern Movements in Architecture’ (1973), which treated Modern architecture not as a single phenomenon but as a series of discontinuous movements. From this critique, and drawing upon the writings of Jane Jacobs, Robert Venturi and others, Jencks developed from around 1975 a thesis of Post-Modern architecture based upon pluralism, complexity and symbolism. This was articulated in ‘The Language of Post-Modern Architecture’ (1977), a key architectural polemic of the later C20. In 1980 Jencks was involved, with Paolo Portoghesi and others, in organising the architecture section of the Venice Biennale, a significant moment in the exposition of Post-Modern architecture.
While best known as an architectural writer, critic and lecturer, Jencks has pursued a variety of design projects, including the Garagia Rotunda, Truro, Massachusetts (1976-1977) and the Elemental House, Los Angeles (1980-1982, with Buzz Yudell) and the Cosmic House. For the latter he designed a set of symbolic furniture, some of which was produced commercially by the Milanese firm Sawaya and Moroni. In 1978 Jencks married Maggie Keswick; after the Cosmic House was substantially complete the couple embarked upon the design of the Garden of Cosmic Speculation for her family home at Portrack in Dumfries, Scotland. He developed its sinuous landforms and other symbolic programmes in subsequent Scottish commissions at the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh (1999-2002), Jupiter Artland at Kirknewton (2003-2010) and the Crawick Multiverse near Sanquhar (opened in 2015). After Keswick’s death in 1995 Jencks co-founded Maggie’s Cancer Care Centres, for which he has designed several gardens.
(Sir) Terry Farrell (b 1938) is a pre-eminent British architect and urban designer. After graduating from the University of Newcastle School of Architecture, Farrell took a Masters in Architecture and City Planning at the University of Pennsylvania, where his tutors included Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, pioneers of Post-Modern architecture. While working for the London County Council in 1961-1962, Farrell designed the Blackwall Tunnel Ventilation Towers (1961-1964, Grade II). There he met Nicholas Grimshaw, with whom he established a partnership in 1965. Associated with the British High-Tech movement, their works include 125 Park Road, Westminster (1968-1970, Grade II) and the Herman Miller Factory, Bath (1976, Grade II).
As Farrell later wrote, his collaboration with Charles Jencks on the Cosmic House ‘[set] off a train of events that would culminate in the end of my partnership with Nick Grimshaw’ (Farrell 2003, p 131). In 1980 the partners separated and established separate practices. Other notable Post-Modernist projects by the Terry Farrell Partnership include TV-am studios, Camden Lock (1981-1983); Thames Water operations centre, Fobney, Reading (1981-1982); Comyn Ching, Seven Dials (1983-1987, Grade II); Embankment Place, Charing Cross (1987-1990); Alban Gate, 125 London Wall (1988-1992) and SIS headquarters, Vauxhall (1990-1994). More recent work includes the Home Office, London (completed 2005) and the Great North Museum, Newcastle (completed 2009). Farrell established an office in Hong Kong in 1991, leading to a productive practice in Asia, projects including Beijing South Station (completed 2008).
Charles Jencks did much to define and foster Post-Modern architecture, while as a practitioner Terry Farrell was responsible for some of its key works in England. Post-Modernism, a movement and a style prevalent in architecture between about 1975 and 1990, is defined in terms of its relationship with Modernism. Like Modernism, Post-Modernism is represented in philosophy, literature, design and the visual arts, and can therefore be understood as a wider cultural and intellectual formation. Post-Modern architecture is characterised by its plurality, engagement with urban context and setting, reference to older architectural traditions and use of metaphor and symbolism. As a formal language it has affinities with mannerism (unexpected exaggeration, distortions of classical scale and proportion) and the spatial sophistication of Baroque architecture. Post-Modernism accepts the technology of industrialised society but expresses it in more diverse ways than the machine imagery of the contemporary high-tech style.
The origins of the style are found in the United States, notably in the work of Robert Venturi and Charles Moore which combined aspects of their country’s traditions (ranging from the C19 Shingle Style to Las Vegas) with the knowing irony of pop art. A parallel European stream combined an abstracted classicism or a revival of 1930s rationalism with renewed interest in the continental city and its building types. In England, the American and European idioms converged in the late 1970s, to produce works by architects of international significance, including James Stirling, and distinctive voices unique to Britain such as John Outram. The revival of the British economy in the 1980s found voice in office projects by Terry Farrell and others in London, while practices such as CZWG devised original yet contextual imagery for housing developments in Docklands and elsewhere.
Mid-C19 house, remodelled in 1979-1985 by Charles Jencks with Terry Farrell Partnership.
MATERIALS: the house is of load-bearing brick, partly clad in stucco with plastered and painted surfaces internally. The floors, roof structure and window frames are of timber, while internal fittings are constructed from medium density fibre (MDF) and other materials. The cylindrical stairwell and rear conservatory bays are of reinforced concrete while the garden stairway is of steel construction. There is a slate roof to the main house and that to the western addition is clad in lead.
EXTERIOR: the street (north) elevation largely preserves the appearance of the original, 1840s terrace. The main house is of four storeys including basement and attics. The lower portion, openings and cornice are finished in stucco with rustication to the raised ground floor, while the first-floor is of contrasting London stock bricks. There are two bays, a narrow entrance bay to the left, from which breaks forward a wide bay which houses the principal rooms. The original Italianate stucco decoration is largely confined to the entrance portico and the principal first-floor window which has a balconette with guilloche-like balusters supported on consoles and a moulded segmental arch over the architrave.
Jencks’ interventions to the north elevation include the front door and fanlight which, with its double doorknobs and applied mouldings, makes up an anthropomorphic figure. Into the fanlight is incorporated in abstract form the initials of his family. The cornice is pierced by dormer windows whose stepped and arched forms echo those of the rear elevation. The western annex, a C20 addition remodelled by Jencks, is of three storeys and three bays. Its design picks up the rusticated stucco and fenestration of the main house, while the parapet balustrade reproduces a flattened version of the guilloche motif (nicknamed ‘rabbits’ by Jencks and Keswick). The hipped roof has an ogee profile, clad in lead. It is surmounted by a small roof terrace, enclosed by a square gridded balustrade.
In the side (west) elevation, the twin stacks of the 1840s house are transformed into a pair of ‘London columns’, with stepped bases and sunburst capitals. A central glazed section lights the central stair, the central portion of which is semi-circular in plan to resemble an engaged column. At first-floor level multi-paned windows have been inserted into the outer brick bays. The central windows of the western addition are ordered into a full-height bay, unified by spandrels of square tiling and steel grids framed by rusticated stucco bands. The balustrade is pierced by a dormer window with the stagger-and-curve ‘Jencksiana’ motif, crowned by a gridded openwork pediment.
The garden (south) elevation is of brick and the rear windows of the main house are grouped into wide bands of stucco. The dormer windows have ‘Jencksiana’ motifs of different sizes and designs. A pair of two-storey conservatories, breaking forward, have a reinforced concrete frame, painted white. Their glazed infill and the balustrade to the roof terrace repeats the ‘Jencksiana’ forms. Flanking the conservatories, and breaking forward of them is an arched basement entrance with oversized voussoirs and a voided keystone. It is surmounted by a small roof terrace, served by a double flight, closed string stair of steel. The four ‘Jencksiana’ openings can be read as a family group, with the two dormer windows representing the children of the household; the east conservatory, the mother; and the west conservatory, the father (Jencks 1985, p 105-6). Thus the motifs become more explicitly anthropomorphic on the more private garden elevation.
PLAN/INTERIORS: in general terms, the original cellular layout has been opened up to create a fluid, semi-open plan, framed by the central stair and extending out into two rear conservatories. Diagonal vistas were created by cutting through walls at certain points, while disparities between front and back elevations were resolved by the technique of shifted axes, derived from Jencks's study of C18 French architecture. The layouts are also characterised by the use of circles, arcs and ellipses.
The GROUND FLOOR was designed for the reception of visitors and the entertaining of guests as well as the needs of the occupants. The principal rooms, occupying the wider bay of the C19 house and the western addition, follow a seasonal programme. This was prompted by the plan, in which the principal rooms radiate around the central Solar Stair; and by a design for a house based on the four seasons by the C18 Flemish architect Jean-François de Neufforge (Jencks and Farrell 1986, p 10-11).
The entrance hall, elliptical on plan, was conceived by Jencks as a ‘cosmic oval’ and reflects his growing interest in science and cosmology. The walls comprise a series of panelled doors with double doorknobs, framed mirror glass and a moulded cornice. Some open onto cupboards while others are false. Stencil lettering of Jencks’ design describes the major themes of the house: ‘THE COSMIC LAW IS / TIME’S RHYTHM WHICH / RULES SUN & MOON / THE FOUR SEASONS TOO / GIVING HEAT & LIGHT / OVER ALL ARCHITECTURE / EGYPT & CHINA BEGIN / ARCHETYPES & READYMADES / THE FOURSQUARE MOTIF / WINDOWS ON THE WORLD / THE 5 BUILDING ARTS / IN FREE CLASSIC STYLE / TWENTY-TWO FACES / AN ECLECTIC WHOLE / OF PERSONAL SIGNS / OWLS, LILLIES, CATS / FIX A PLACE IN TIME’
Above is a mural frieze by William Stok depicting historical figures from different cultures engaged in conversation, including the ancient Egyptian architect and royal physician Imhotep, Pythagoras, a Chinese poet, Hadrian, Abbot Suger, Erasmus, a Jesuit astrologer, John Donne, Borromini, Prince Hito, Thomas Jefferson and Hannah Arendt. Into the softwood floor is inlaid a series of rectangles inscribed into ovals, representing the early and sky. This geometric sequence is repeated in a series of nested domes suspended from the ceiling, which is based on domes by the C17 Italian architect Guarino Guarini. It is adjoined by a cloakroom and a WC (‘the Cosmic Loo’ in Jencks’s programme) which features an elaborately-framed mirror and mirrored ceiling.
The north-facing front room, dedicated to Winter, is en suite with the rear Spring room. There are entrances to the principal stair and entrance hall and a narrow, staggered diagonal opening to the Autumn room to the west. The floorboards of Winter and Spring are painted ultramarine blue with a gloss finish, while their ceilings share a quadrant motif with a mirrored surface. Bookcases line the east wall of both rooms, their doors having double doorknobs and panes of clear glass. They mark one of the themes of the house: ‘windows on the world’ (Jencks 1985, p 151). The winter fireplace was designed by Michael Graves and executed in MDF painted to resemble red marble. It takes the abstracted form of fluted uprights carrying a lintel with a projecting square keystone. An engaged column in contrasting yellow and dark green supports a bronze bust of Hephaestus, a portrait of Eduardo Paolozzi by Celia Scott. The walls of the Winter room are painted grey against which the chimneybreast is picked out in dark blue, with the bust framed by six bronze stars.
The south-facing Spring room is painted in a lighter grey. Graves also designed the Spring fireplace, which omits the projecting keystone of the Winter fireplace and is decorated with a pale yellow colour scheme. He also designed tall plinths, formed of groups of four slender pillars for three bronze busts by Penny Jencks, symbolising April, May and June. Also of Graves’s design is the stencilled abstract flower motif. Framing the conservatory are a pair of ‘London columns’, with fluted bases concealing hi-fi speakers, square shafts incorporating bookcases and flaring capitals incorporating translucent scallop lamp shades. A staggered diagonal doorway to the dining room mirrors that to the north. A sunken, semi-circular window seat occupies the projecting conservatory bay. The central window can be lowered mechanically with an electric mechanism. The bench was designed to resemble a series of terraced arcades when viewed from the garden terrace; from above, it suggests an arch with the central step in place of a dropped keystone. A central, semi-circular table is inscribed with a sundial, from which the room takes its name, ‘Sundial Arcade’.
East of the Spring room is the Egyptian Room, a small study with a lower ceiling. A built-in bench has inscribed ornament representing Nile mud and pyramid forms, while the cornice is decorated with a lotus frieze. On the party wall, on axis with the Spring fireplace, is a series of nested and recessed architraves around a false door with mirror panels. This structure, which conceals service pipes, is intended to recall an Egyptian ‘false wall through which the departed looks back at the world he has left’ (Jencks 1985, p 135).
The south-western portion of the ground floor is occupied by the dining room, named after Summer and painted in a yellow shade. Exposed rafters radiate out diagonally from the Solar Stair, symbolising the sun’s rays. The ceiling beams rests on twin ‘heat and light’ columns with stepped brick capitals and bases, column radiators for shafts and uplighters. To the east and west is an internal clerestorey with views to the Architectural Library above. The columns frame a curved balcony overlooking the double-height conservatory. The conservatory is painted white and lit by four pyramidal skylights let into the flat roof. Its front window can also be lowered by pressing a button. The flat balustrade is pierced with a winged sun motif. The dining room and kitchen can be divided by pulling out a row of folding doors, which are attached to a track in the floor. The doors are multi-paned and glazed with mirror glass.
The kitchen is named ‘Indian Summer’ after its location mid-way between the Summer and Autumn rooms. It has a low ceiling, with exposed rafters radiating from the central stairwell. Taking its themes from Hindu and Mogul architecture, the kitchen features bulbous engaged columns and cupboard doors, a reference to the columns of the Ajanta Caves in Aurangabad, India, and surfaces are painted to simulate the pink marble of the buildings of New Delhi. Above the sink is a stepped plate rack which accommodates a narrow window through to the Solar Stair. Above is a frieze of painted wooden spoons (dubbed ‘spoonglyphs’ in a pun on ancient Greek triglyphs) which alternate with storage alcoves. The ceiling steps up from the kitchen to the Autumn room, a pantry. Both side walls have three storage units diminishing in scale towards the front wall. They are painted in a burnt Sienna hue and decorated with an Egyptian ankh motif.
At the centre of the house is the Solar Stair which represents the solar year. It has 52 steps (one for each week of the year) of pre-cast concrete, cantilevered from the cylindrical stairwell structure. Openings cut through the stairwell at different points give glimpses to the adjoining rooms. Each riser has seven subdivisions to mark the days of the week. The curved mouldings to the soffit of the staircase were inspired by Inigo Jones’s Queen’s House at Greenwich. Incorporated into the ends of the steps are mirror discs bearing signs of the zodiac designed by Jencks and made by Ilinca Cantacuzino. Orbs on the three tubular aluminium hand rails represent the paths of the sun, earth and moon. At the base of the stairwell is a Black Hole mosaic by Eduardo Paolozzi. At the top of the stairwell is 'Cosmic Galaxies & Planets', an early-C21 installation of selenite and fibre-optics by Jencks.
The configuration of the FIRST FLOOR broadly follows the ground floor, with the principal bedroom and Maggie Keswick’s study occupying the principal bay of the main house, and the western addition given over to an architectural library.
The Architectural Library occupies the full length of the western addition and is open to the curved underside of the roof, creating a tent-like interior. The roof is painted sky blue and is supported on slender cylindrical stanchions, painted in white. The floor is covered with a baize-like green carpet. To the north are three tiered steps with side returns, intended to form a seating area for slide shows. The opposite end of the room partly encloses a roof terrace accessed via a pair of French windows. Adjoining the sides of the terrace are glazed light tables for viewing slides. They incorporate floor voids, allowing glimpsed views to the dining room below. The fitted bookshelves are designed as a village of ‘bookhouses’, made from flat panels of MDF painted with a wood grain finish. Each bookcase signifies a period of architecture, from Egyptian to Post-Modern, acting as a finding aid. The staircase drum is ‘peeled back’ in successive layers of stucco, brick and reinforced concrete to reveal a window with a stepped sill. The ceiling above is cut away in a scalloped pattern, painted purple-blue to resemble storm-clouds, to reveal a sunburst motif of rafters radiating from the stairwell. The whole composition forms one of the more detailed face motifs in the house.
The ‘Foursquare Room’, the master bedroom, is a series of variations on the motif of the square and the quadrant. The room is carpeted and the walls are painted in white and cream. A series of wooden fittings, mostly of 4×4 inch timber sections painted in white, are linked by a continuous cornice-like strip which is stencilled with a blue four square motif. An open framework of 4×4 uprights divides the room from the landing and an internal window is set into the stairwell wall. The convex stairwell form is matched by the quarter-round frame of the dressing room in the south west corner. Central to the west wall is a fireplace with an open framed surround and a low, concave bench in white painted timber.
The landing is punctuated by doors decorated with applied stepped mouldings and double doorknobs. On axis with the Solar Stair is the ‘Moonwell’, a shaft of space bringing natural light from a roof light to the darker areas adjoining the party wall. This element is comparable to the light wells at Charles Moore’s house at New Haven, Connecticut (1966-1967). On the floor above, the semi-circular void is pierced by arched windows and backed by a wall of framed mirrors to give the illustration of a cylindrical space lit by a 'full moon'. The uppermost mirror is etched with a moon incorporating figures from Chinese legend by Ilinca Cantacuzino. The Moonwell opens out onto the first-floor landing with a series of lamps connected by pendant arches. To the south is a fragment of the original staircase, retained to connect the half levels of the bathroom and the dressing room above. The bathroom is decorated in bespoke blue-green glazed tiles by Jay Bonner. The stepped surround to the bath tub is echoed by similar forms suspended from the corners of the ceiling, completing a cubistic, grotto-like effect.
The SECOND FLOOR, extending into the roof space, was given over to the couple’s two children and their nanny. The curved and dormers of the larger front bedroom are painted in different shades of blue while a full-height internal window in the south west corner admits borrowed light from the Solar Stair. The Jencksiana form of the dormer window is echoed by a built-in set of stepped drawers underneath, flanked by fitted wardrobes. A built-in set of wooden steps gives access to half-height galleries formed under the apex, influenced by similar children’s spaces realised by Terry Farrell at his own home.
The smaller bedroom adjoining is decorated in shades of pale turquoise and cream. Integrated into its dormer window is a series is stepped niches for the display of objects. A convex fitted wardrobe is curved on plan to echo the stairwell behind and decorated with lily forms (a pun on their daughters' name, Lily). A matching set of steps leads to the half-height gallery. At the rear of the house is the nanny’s room. To the south wall is a symmetrical array of built-in furniture with wardrobes and a series of drawers that step down to accommodate the central dormer window.
The BASEMENT rooms were amongst the last parts of the house to be planned. At the front is a garage, externally accessed from a ramp, with internal access to the staircase, and a self-contained flat. The side walls of the garage are lined with fitted cupboard units of standard design, fitted with double and triple doorknobs; they are thought to post-date the main phase of construction (i.e.1979-85). Attached to the front wall of the garage is an elaborate fitted dressing table and mirror originally constructed about 1976-1977 for Jencks and Keswick's previous residence at Park Walk Flat, Chelsea, and reset in its present position. It represents an early instance of the stagger and curve motif referred to by its designer as 'Jencksiana'. The self-contained flat comprises a living room, adjoining bedroom (from which it is separated by a square opening with fitted shelves), and an en suite bathroom. In the vaulted service and storage accommodation to the front are a fitted kitchen of standard design and entrance hallway.
Extending out into the twin conservatories at the rear of the house are a children’s play room and a garden room. The former, conceived as a ‘room of doubles’, is highly symmetrical, the external curve of the cylindrical stairwell being mirrored in the quadrant shape of the adjacent room. The built-in furniture is decorated with abstracted forms suggesting pairs of owls and cats. Built into the rear wall of the garden room is a symmetrical, stepped structure incorporating fitted book cases. The projecting rear bay of the house contains a Jacuzzi designed by Piers Gough with Charles Jencks. The Jacuzzi tub in terrazzo and bronze is a trompe l'oeil representation of an inverted dome, loosely based on Borromini’s San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane in Rome. The stepped ceiling, clad in green tiles, is an inversion of the ‘Jencksiana’ motif. The spandrels have roundels with four season motifs, designed by Jencks and made by Ilinca Cantacuzino.
Subsidiary features: the garden patio is paved with square flagstones divided into quadrants by aluminium strips. They are framed by brick paving laid in a parquet pattern incorporating flagstones.
Pursuant to s. (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) it is declared that the fitted storage units of the garage; the fitted kitchen and bathroom of the self-contained basement flat; and all plant are not of special architectural or historic interest.
This list entry was subject to a Minor Amendment on 31 October 2022 to amend the building name in the name and text