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Polymath and prophet

Architecture 2000 and Beyond By Charles Jencks.Wiley-Academy, 2000. 140pp. £14.99

The inside front and back covers of this part-fascinating, part-exasperating book have chronologies of future events. One lists 'plausible events that would change the world' ('compiled from both authoritative and questionable sources'). The other comprises 'likely inventions, discoveries and trends', with precise date predictions discounted in order to 'maximise the number of predicted events'. The more you list, the more amazing it all seems, unless you happen to like science fiction in general, or Star Trek in particular, in which case much of it will sound strangely familiar.

Jencks is a true polymath who cannot resist the siren call of 'plausibility', which, as distinct from 'credibility', contains within it the seed of doubt.

(Describing someone as plausible is almost the same as calling them the opposite. ) In this brave book he reprints his 1969 publication, in which he made a series of predictions about the future (mainly though not exclusively architectural), and now revisits them both to assess his accuracy and to comment on what has happened. A foreword and final chapter bring us up to date, along with those chronologies.

He marks himself pretty high on prediction, and rightly so. Some of his suggestions were truly prophetic - for instance, that a Classical revival would take place in 1984 (year of Prince Charles in the UK and the rise of Beeby et al in the US).He has been good on resisting straight-line trend extension, and early indications of his subsequent interest in self-organising (and self-adjusting) structures and organisms are in evidence. He also owns up to the occasional howler.

Serious misgivings arise, however, when it comes to compressing the history of twentiethcentury architecture into a double page spread, here updated to include everyone you have heard of recently, blobbily packed into various schools of his own definition. These are the ultimate architectural pigeonholes (logical, idealist, self-conscious, intuitive, activist and finally 'unselfconscious, 80 per cent of environment').

The movements identified appear horizontally across the spread, divided into time zones, with amorphous white blobs appearing between them.

Why are some blobs bigger than others? Who knows? Would the typesize and precise placing of architects, movements and philosophies make a difference to the diagram? Why ask? Could an architect be more than one thing at a given moment? Not according to this diagram.

In the end you have take Jencks on trust; you have to believe he has the answers, if only because he has read more books than you have.As prediction, this volume is good provocative stuff. As history, all you get is the big picture. In a Godless world, what price details?

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