Jencks' diagram seems to have stood the test of the timeline
It seems like a long while ago, and yet also likeyesterday, that Charles Jencks produced a diagram for the magazine Architectural Design which showed a timeline of architectural evolution from 1920 up to 2005 or thereabouts.
I was sent a copy of this by my friend Rod Robbie in Toronto, who was clearing out his office and thought I might be interested. He was right. This well-known map of the future had gone out of my mind, and - as well as making me feel rather old - suddenly seeing it again showed how accurate Jencks was, and also highlighted some things he had missed.
We can start to make these judgements now as we near the end of his period, though they are really the province of the architectural historian in about 40 years'time.
Each decade on the chart is delineated, although the various topics flow through in a more organic manner as they ignore the artificiality of calendar years. Some topics are highlighted. When we look at the true period about 1970 we notice that one major topic is 'Bureaucratic', which is surrounded by other words including 'Neo-Classicism', 'Pragmatic', 'Lincoln Center' and 'Roche'. I remember the 1970s as a decade of disillusionment and selfdoubt - a time when the useful disruption of the '60s was stalled, leaving so-called radicals somewhat in the lurch.
As this subject is projected towards 2005, it transforms into 'Neo-Fascism', eventually arriving at 'Fundamentalism' and 'Classical Purism'. It is certainly true that Thatcherism increased the managerial classes by a colossal amount and government reverted towards a centralised management style.
The quick transit through Po-Mo led to a stripped-down architecture, which quickly turned into a style called Neo-Modernism and Minimalism - two words that do not appear on Jencks'chart. This style, and that is all it is, has captured the eye of many of the taste- and king-makers, some of which is fuelled further by a penchant for all things Dutch. The people themselves are born out of a Thatcherite, and now Blairite, wish to control.
Ironically, this work is seen to be open and democratic, but here I find myself in sympathy with the chart, as it definitely predicted a return to fixed values and little change. If you project this line back towards 1900 you find words such as 'Monumentalism', 'Historicist Revivalist', 'Communist Traditionalist' and 'Ponti & Speer'. From whence we came we shall return, or so it would appear. But maybe we can find some potential saviour, which in 1960 is called 'Pop'. Around this term are 'Kiesler', 'Blow Up', 'Plug In' and 'Student Activist'.
This theme develops in two ways. One appears to be a dead end as it travels through 'Dolce Vita' and 'Imagist'; the other is 'Revolutionist' surrounded by 'Anarchist', 'Community Advocacy', and eventually leading to a major title, 'Biomorphic'. Here again Jencks is quite accurate, as we can now appreciate that an architecture is emerging which takes full advantage of the fluidity that new technology and green agendas seem to suggest.
We are also just beginning to see a process of design that includes people - what I call collective creativity - which questions the idea of a more rigid form of the built environment. This line projected backwards includes 'Utopian', 'Folk Vernacular', 'Consumer Modern Constructivism', 'Leonidov', 'Eames' and 'Las Vegas'.
Now that it has run its projected time period, the chart is even more interesting. Jencks' speculations are fascinating and perhaps give rise to a certain fulfilment.
Sadly, today no one is thinking of these links, causalities and possibilities. Perhaps we should.
WA, from my garden table, London