I have never learned so much from so little of a book as I have from The Language of Post-Modern Architecture by Charles Jencks. I have the third edition (B&W photos, bad type) from the library and bought the current revision, reëntitled The New Paradigm in Architecture: The Language of Postmodernism (colour photos, bad type).

I think I’ve read about four full pages. Everything else I am getting from photographs and cutlines (not “captions”). Can you write this dense?

  • FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT [whom I pretty much cannot stand], Marin County Civic Center, San Rafael, California, 1959–64. The great Pont du Gard made out of cardboard, gilt, and golden bauble, surmounted by an Aztec minaret, with interior bowling alleys of space, and a bay-blue, opaline roof with cookie-cutter hemicircles. An excellent piece of Kitsch modern, unfortunately unintended.
    [LoPMA 18:23]

  • The CAMBODIAN PAVILION, Osaka, 1970. Designed with the advice of Prince Norodom Sihanouk, this typically nationalist pavilion echoes Khmer architecture and Angkor Vat. Most World’s Fair architecture has an air of pastiche about it which could offend convinced nationalists, but it conforms to mass standards of propriety. This manifestation is overlooked by serious critics and remains undiscussed.
    [LoPMA 28:43]

  • LE CORBUSIER, Ronchamp Chapel, France, 1955. […] The building is overcoded with visual metaphors, and none of them is very explicit, so that the building seems always about to tell us something which we just can’t place. The effect can be compared to having a word on the tip of your tongue which you can’t quite remember. But the ambiguity can be dramatic, not frustrating – you search your memory for the possible clues.
    [LoPMA 48:73]

  • JIMMY STEWART’s house, Beverly Hills, ca. 1940. A very fastidious mixture of Tudor and Japanese architecture with Swiss accents. The clarity of outline, the black and white alternatives, the very studied informality of massing and planting send out a clear message. Such houses, often exposed in films, have confirmed if not created the American Dream House. Similar examples can be found outside every major city from Boston to Los Angeles, and since the norm is so invariable it almost constitutes a “language without speech.” Put another way, one could say that the language itself does the talking and the designer is a mouthpiece of this language.
    [LoPMA 57:94]

  • MICHAEL GRAVES, Benacerraf house addition, Princeton, 1969. A cubist syntax is used to call attention to itself. This heightening of our perception of doors, stairways, balustrades, and views from a terrace is complex and masterful. It is so rich here that one forgets to ask what the functions are (actually an open terrace above and a playroom and breakfast room below). Note how the structure, sometimes unnecessary, is pulled away from the wall. Railings and cutout wall planes also serve to define a net of rectilinear space. The front balustrade is, conceptually, a column lying on its side – a play on syntactical meaning, as is the whole addition.
    [LoPMA 67:109]

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2007.01.20 15:35. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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