Charles Jencks, who was an architectural historian among other things, passed away on October 13, 2019. Charles Jencks is known as the person who created the term postmodernism, and he was a huge presence who transcended the ideas and age of postmodernism. For me, Charles Jencks was the only “Giant of Knowledge” who thought about the relationship of society and architecture in the postmodernism age of architecture, as well as the relationship of architecture and the global environment.
In spite of the fact that postmodernism was at its heart a perspective on the history of civilization, it was misunderstood and trivialized as an architectural style.
The conversation with Charles Jencks and Kisho Kurokawa on the opening night of Kisho Kurokawa’s exhibition at The National Art Center in Tokyo in 2007 is also something that was extremely memorable. Maggie Keswick, the deceased wife of Charles Jencks, was from the noble Keswick dynasty, and the Imperial Family in Japan has been friends with the Keswick Family for a long time. Everyone at the event was surprised by the unexpected combination of Empress Michiko and Charles Jencks who appeared to be quite familiar with each other.
After the formal opening, I went to a Sushi restaurant with Charles Jencks and Kisho Kurokawa, and after changing out of his haori and hakama (formal Japanese male attire), Kisho Kurokawa returned to being his normal frank self. When Charles Jencks suggested to Kisho Kurokawa that the wood louvers at The National Art Center were a result of my influence, Kisho countered that the louvers were the result of him bringing an element of the 1960s into modern architecture, and gave a number of examples.
Charles Jencks came to my lectures in England a number of times after this, and we talked until late in the night on each of those occasions. One night, Charles Jencks commented that my architecture was “STICK STYLE TODAY”. The book entitled “The Shingle Style Today” by Vincent Scully (1920-2017) described the relationship of the history of wood houses in 19th century America and modern architecture, and had a large impact on Robert Venturi (1925-2018) and postmodernism.
Vincent Scully rephrased the transition to the expression of volume as Shingle Style from the expression of lines as Stick Style, which was based on the half timber style used in Europe. Charles Jencks came up with this superb nickname for me from the expression of volume with concrete in my architectural environment by means of the regression of the fine lines made with pieces of wood. I was deeply impressed by his historical perspective concerning the existence of two stick styles surrounding the volume called the 20th century.
On a different night, he gave me the nickname “barefoot architect”. “Barefoot doctor” was a title given to doctors who travelled around the country to provide grass roots medical services during the age of Mao Zedong, and Charles Jencks picked up the spirit of being “barefoot” from the small architecture that I create in collaboration with local craftsmen. I had my socks on that night however, unlikely of me.