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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! Nathan Silver

Posted date

15 October, 2019

Posted time

3:48 pm