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Comment on: Tributes paid to Maggie’s founder Charles Jencks
Charles Jencks and I met in 1968 over the discovery that we were both interested in making things out of other things. There wasn’t a name for that yet, but Charles soon supplied it: “adhocism,” just as he would later supply “postmodernism” as a catchy term for another design phenomenon.
We had both arrived in the UK from the USA a few years earlier, I to teach at Cambridge and he for a PhD at the University of London. As an outcome of our schmoozing I wrote an appreciative article for The New Statesman, where I was architecture critic.
In concept, adhocism described work of any kind that, with an expressive air of real or apparent improvisation, deliberately included the tried and true in some obvious way when creating the new. That’s a fair enough general definition. As card-carrying adhocists no. 1 and no. 2 we especially wanted to countervail the vulgar notion—decidedly prevalent at the time—that proper innovation was out of the blue originality, at its loveliest when it paid no attention to, or even reversed, what had come before. When my piece had some interested response from Statesman readers, we decided to collaborate on a book on the subject.
Adhocism: The Case for Improvisation, jointly authored, was published by Doubleday in 1972. Our co-authorship contributions were done in separate halves, roughly dividing between us architecture and design, and rashly ranging far beyond. The book received some mystified and a few appreciative reviews, won the praise of some disparate designers and artists, and subsequently went out of print. Four decades later (much to the authors’ surprise), The M I T Press declared an interest in publishing an expanded and updated edition. That happened in 2013.
When we last worked together while writing revisions and new material, Charles read my drafts and repeatedly challenged me to more fully explain my views about revivalism, design development, contextualism, design plagiarism. He was a most encouraging collaborative teacher, as well as the important architectural historian whose judgement and commentary will be well remembered. His vivacious intellect inspired thousands, including most influential architects and designers, whom he knew and challenged too. Charles's design histories with their always argumentative, usually persuasive tone, will triumphantly endure, of course. Late modernism lives. And adhocism lives!
A national Holocaust Memorial that is an evocative record of the tragic past and a permanent warning for the future would be a great idea. Unfortunately, this proposal's entire conception is to settle for a theme park.
The catastrophic choice of site was at the insistence of David Cameron, making the second lousiest decision of his premiership. The memorial design was not the outcome of the sort of wide competition that produced the brilliant Pompidou Centre and the Washington Vietnam Memorial, but from a selected shortlist judged by representative functionaries, which may explain why its design appears uninspiring and third rate.
The design submitted to Westminster planners introduces unacceptable turbulence in tranquil Victoria Tower Gardens, a supposedly protected Royal Park; it miscalculates the public space required for suitable use of a Holocaust Memorial, which should have a quiet and amply sized working library for scholars, as well as a learning centre for school crowds and visitors off tour busses; and it proposes to place an inevitable attraction to terrorism alongside our principal structures of government. The worst of it is that approval of this wretched scheme would tragically preclude a better-considered Holocaust Memorial on an appropriate site.
The decisive reason this proposal should be rejected by concerned planners is that it ignores Parliament's own likely future requirements in 10 to 50 years. The proposed expenditure of billions for the refurbishment of the Palace of Westminster has earmarked nothing for an adopted masterplan that should be considering enhancement to the entire parliamentary precinct, including, for example, how Victoria Tower Gardens might be enlarged by rerouted traffic and improved by pedestrianisation that could begin from Parliament Square. A masterplan, which every decent university and corporation undertakes, is vital to determining needs and connections and designing for the future. An approved masterplan should have self-evidently preceded a planning application like this.
Nathan Silver RIBA
When I was Head of the University of East London School of Architecture from 1979 to 1992 I appointed Christine Hawley as my deputy. I am proud that she went on to become my successor, and then Head of the Bartlett. Her example reinforces my commitment to full recognition for women in architecture such as Denise Scott Brown and Doriana Fuksas. Nathan Silver, Nathan Silver Architects
It's shocking that David Adjaye tries to characterise opposition to David Cameron's undiscussed and highly unsuitable choice of the memorial site to "holocaust denial." The many thoughtful and principled objectors (including park users and defenders, planning critics, councillors, MPs, the Westminster Society, and Jews like me) think there are far better sites than one that will eat an important small park, create impossible security and congestion problems, and probably dump for good the chance of a masterplan that could really make sense of improving the parliamentary precinct.
Our denial only concerns what is in every way a destructive choice of site. We shouldn't be surprised that it was from the leader who gave us Brexit.
Nathan Silver RIBA
Editor, TheWestminster Society newsletter
I'm hoping the AJ will take the same kind of principled stand against a holocaust memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens that it has commendably done against the Garden Bridge. In some important ways they are similar: both intended as showy attractions, pushed by a single politician (David Cameron for this one-- probably his second worst idea), with little financial support except for the government to look to, and however worthy it might seem, disastrously in the wrong place.
The Westminster Society and the Thorney Island Society-- the two local amenity groups-- are against its location, as are the relevant Westminster councillors, some intelligent MPs, and the architecture critics who have started to speak up. My grounds for objection are that parks shouldn't be built on, especially when so small that they would be swallowed up; a big permanent memorial centre thrust willy nilly alongside the Palace of Westminster is certain to obstruct part of the masterplanning of the Parliament precinct that is now about to happen, which will have its own vital future requirements; and this will certainly fall victim to a multiplicity of traffic and security problems that it preposterously disregards. The idea that a new congestion of coaches should be invited, discharging and collecting many groups of people with the required security measures and traffic space along Millbank within a hundred meters or so of Parliament, is beyond reasonable imagination.
The original choices of three appropriate memorial sites were simply ignored by David Cameron's notion of a good holocause. Some part of the large plot of the Imperial War Museum, where there is already a holocaust exhibit, is the obvious site. If that seems not geographically prominent enough, a site that strikes the Westminster Society as promising is Waterloo Place, SW1. It would be clever and practical to approach the holocaust education centre from The Mall through or alongside the Duke of York Steps, if the basements under Waterloo Place could be acquired. The Mall is a dignified central location with ample room for visiting coaches and crowds, which of course it has already largely been designed for.
I hope Sir David Adjaye, Ron Arad and their winning design team have the good sense and moral courage to advise the holocaust memorial sponsors that the choice of site is terrible, and they are ready to help find a suitable one. And I look forward to the AJ's more positive contributions.
Nathan Silver RIBA