Charles Jencks, 1939-2019

It was with sadness that we learnt of the death of the architecture historian, founding- director of Maggie’s Cancer Care Centres and landscape architect, Charles Jencks.

We at the National Galleries of Scotland knew him above all as the inspired and inspiring creator of Landform, the immensely popular and much photographed landscape feature in front of Modern One.

Working with Terry Farrell and Partners, the architects who remodelled the old Dean Orphanage into what is now Modern Two, and Ian White Associates, Jencks responded to our wish to create something memorable on the lawns sloping down to Belford Road and acting as a visual link between the two galleries.

Charles Jencks Landform 2001

The design that Jencks came up with was a development of the landscape ideas that had informed the curving, tiered mounds and crescent-shaped lakes that he had designed for the gardens of his home in Dumfrieshire, Portrack House. Inspired by the new science of complexity, by ‘chaos theory,’ 'fractals' and the so-called ‘butterfly effect’, Jencks had used naturally occurring shapes to help relate visitors to the earth beneath their feet and the sky above them.

No matter how complex the ideas behind his landscapes, such as Landform, their immediate impact on people visiting Modern One on coming up the road or up the paths is one of awe and delight.

People instinctively respond to the geometrical patterns in nature, perhaps dully aware that it is these that link the ordered patterns in our brains with the laws of the universe. Jencks in his pioneering books on architecture, such as Movements in Architecture (1973) and The Language of Post-Modern Architecture (1977), had been a pioneering critic of orthodoxy, arguing for a deeper complexity in the buildings we construct and a richer variety in our cities.

It was similar ideas of complexity and richness that he applied to his landscape designs and for that we at the National Galleries will be in his debt.