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Operatic gardening.


By Charles Jencks. London: Frances Lincoln Publishing. 2003. [pounds sterling]35

Charles Jencks first revealed his inclination for landscape and garden design in 1984 with a memorable completed project in California, named House of Elements in Rustic Canyon (1984) designed together with his wife Maggie (AR June 1984). This was a masterly achievement (it still stands maturely in a changed Los Angeles). Creation of the Garden of Cosmic Speculation, at Portrack in Western Scotland had its genesis with Maggie in 1988. She played a fundamental part in inspiring this unique venture, of which the book is both a documentation and a celebration of her memory: she died courageously of cancer in 1995. The mutual quest was fulfilled in this magisterial consummation, as the twentieth century limped to a close, an enquiry no less into the 'fundamentals of the universe, its laws, and its basic organizational types--and to create a new language of landscape from them'.

On one level within the new book's narrative lie perhaps the seeds for a superb contemporary opera, a worthy successor to Sir Michael Tippett's The Knot Garden (1970). Musical score by Daniel Libeskind, walk-on parts for Leon Krier ('Ayatollah' as nicknamed by Jencks), and Zaha Hadid all performed at Portrack, Glyndebourne-wise.

It is in such a celebratory frame of mind that this reviewer felt less than perplexed by Chaos Theories, Fractals, and the necessary decoding which the new cosmology demands. As Jean-Francois Lyotard said (quoted by Jencks) 'we live in an age of scepticism towards all meta-narratives'. Fortunately, Jencks is fully engaged now on further landscape projects: the one for Libeskind's Imperial War Museum in Salford was noteworthy but fell foul of budgetary slicing. That for the National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh is remarkable and completed (2003). This book provides a worthy documentation of a determined, thoroughly researched venture into the redefinition of meaning for landscape.

Book reviews from this and recent issues of The Architectural Review can now be seen on our website at and the books can be ordered online, many at special discount.
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Title Annotation:The Garden of Cosmic Speculation
Author:Spens, Michael
Publication:The Architectural Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 2004
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