Terry Farrell and Norman Foster are backing plans by Maggie’s Centre co-founder Charles Jencks to open his ‘iconic and influential’ London home as a museum
Last night (19 December) Kensington and Chelsea Council’s planning applications committee granted planning permission to the scheme subject to the council approving a management plan. The architects’ support for the project follows objections from neighbours to the proposal.
Designer Adam Nathaniel Furman, founder of the Postmodern Society, has said not conserving the 1840s house as a museum would be ‘an unforgivable act of pillage on future generations’.
Jencks, an architectural theorist and author, applied to change the use of his home in Ladbroke Conservation Area to a ‘house-museum’ managed by a trust.
The property houses his extensive archive of architects’ drawings, letters and models, along with original material about Maggie’s Centres for cancer care from architects including Foster, Richard Rogers and Zaha Hadid.
The archive also contains Jencks’ 55 years of research for his 40 books about Postmodernism and late modernism, drawings and models for his work as a landscape designer, and his sculptures and artwork.
Under the proposal, the house will open to the public, by appointment, between 9.30am and 5pm on Mondays to Fridays, with a maximum of 15 visitors at any time. There will be two paid members of staff.
A separate planning application sought permission to improve access to the house.
The council originally granted planning permission for the house-museum in 2012 but this had since expired.
Neighbours objecting to the scheme called for more details on what the project would entail.
Commenting on the application, local resident Deborah Marks suggested Jencks consider donating his artefacts to a public museum. ‘This is a residential area and it is not appropriate to have a museum in this quiet street,’ she said. ‘I can’t imagine anything worse than coachloads of people arriving.’
Backing the proposal, Farrell, who designed much of the house’s interior, said that neighbours’ objections to the potential attention the house might attract were ‘grossly exaggerated’.
He said: ‘In my experience, these kinds of archives and house exhibits rarely claim to have huge attendances as, in spite of their importance, they never remotely result in the kind of attendance that the neighbours fear.’
He added that the house was ‘one of the most important in UK post-war architecture’, remarking: ‘I’m glad it is now getting the attention it deserves.’
Foster, meanwhile, urged councillors to renew the application so as to keep the archive intact in its original home. ‘Dr Jencks has assembled a world archive of recent architecture in a single house,’ he said. One that exemplifies in its own architecture, the thoughts and works of different architects over 50 years.
‘It would be a national loss if all of this had to find a home in the Canadian Centre for Architecture as has, so relatively recently, happened to the works of notable architects such as James Stirling and Cedric Price.’
The building is one of the most important examples of Postmodern design in the world
Furman said not conserving the house as a museum would be a ‘catastrophe’. He added: ‘The building is one of the most important examples of Postmodern design in the world, and I would not hesitate to say that together with the Vana Venturi house in the US, it is the most important, perfectly preserved, complete, iconic and influential domestic project in the whole Postmodern idiom, anywhere in the world.
‘It is of a similar level of importance as the Soane Museum, being both the home of one of the most important architectural thinkers of the past 100 years, while also itself being a summa, a most perfect embodiment and expression of the Postmodern relationship to space, narrative, tectonics and mythology.
‘It is the greatest work not only of Jencks himself, but a most enduring testament to the genius of Sir Terry Farrell, with it being his only surviving interior from the era, as well as containing a perfectly preserved Gesam[t]kunstwerk interior by Michael Graves – the only work by that great architect in the country.’
The committee granted planning permission for the house-museum subject to the submission and approval of a management plan giving details including how appointments will be booked, the maximum number of visits per day and the nature of functions at the property.