A tribute to Charles Jencks

Monday 14 October 2019

We reflect on how our co-founder Charles Jencks helped make us the organisation we are today.

Our co-founder, the influential architecture historian and landscape garden designer Charles Jencks died on Sunday 13 October at the age of 80.

It's hard to overstate how important Charles was to our development, and how much his influence and hard work helped to make us the organisation we are today.

Our Chief Executive, Laura Lee, first met Charles when she was a cancer nurse at The Western General Hospital and helped treat Maggie. She says:

Charles will be remembered for many things – as a landscape designer, architectural historian and author – but for Maggie's, his legacy lies in the contribution he has made to making sure people with cancer and those close to them have the best possible support.

We would not be the organisation we are today without his tenacity and dedication. He will be sorely missed, and our thoughts are with his family.

Creating a new kind of cancer care


Charles shared his wife Maggie’s vision to create a new kind of cancer care – a thoughtfully designed space where people with cancer could find support, away from the stark, clinical environment of the hospital.

He helped make that vision a reality, working with the architect Richard Murphy to turn an abandoned stable block at Edinburgh’s Western General Hospital into a cancer centre.

Maggie died shortly before the centre opened, and Charles continued her legacy, helping to grow Maggie’s from an idea into an international network of centres that revolutionised cancer support and also helped redefine how we think about the relationship between architecture and wellbeing.

Charles counted some of the world’s most innovative architects, designers and artists among his friends; people like Frank Gehry, Richard Rogers and Zaha Hadid, who all took their turn to design a Maggie’s centre, and in doing so made it one of the most prestigious projects in architecture.


The garden at Maggie's Highlands

In the 23 years since the first Maggie’s opened, Charles was committed to making sure every new Maggie’s and its gardens were designed and built to live up his late wife’s vision.

He designed the garden at Maggie’s Highlands, sketching two grassy mounds with spiral walking paths, inspired by the way cells in the human body communicate with each other, and which are mirrored in the design of the building itself. 

The cell is the unit of life: dynamic, really exciting, a factory of life itself, and I thought it was time to celebrate the cell.

Charles Jencks


Architectural legacy

Alongside his work with Maggie’s, Charles was also a writer and architecture historian – known as the ‘Godfather of Postmodernism’' – who was influential for generations of architects.

In more than 30 books, including The Language of Post-Modern ArchitectureThe Universe in the Landscape and The Architecture of Hope, he chronicled the development of architecture through its different styles and movements, and explored how art, architecture and landscape design could make people feel better and live better lives – ideas that are at the heart of every Maggie’s centre.

He also lectured on Maggie's and architecture around the world, teaching and inspiring some of today’s best architects and making sure his theories had a lasting legacy in the buildings they went on to create.

Tributes to Charles Jencks

We’ve been overwhelmed by the amount of kind messages we’ve seen and received about Charles over the last few days. Here are just a few:

I am so saddened to hear of Charles’s death. He was a huge influence in my early career and a delightful client. His architectural legacy, delivering his and Maggie’s vision, is unmatched and an inspiration to us all. I am honoured to have been a part of that journey, which has a special place in my heart.

–  Ivan Harbour of Rogers, Stirk Harbour + Partners (architect of Maggie's West London)

"Charles Jencks was such an artistic and architectural force and has made such an impact on the lives of individuals as well as Scotland more widely and influencing the world."

– Fiona Hyslop Cabinet Secretary for Culture,Tourism and External Affairs in the Scottish Government

"I am deeply saddened by the news of Charles Jencks’ passing. A doyen of architectural criticism, his all-encompassing contributions as a theorist, historian and designer reflected his love for architecture and the built environment.

I will always remember him for his incisive focus and infectious humour that inspired all of us during the numerous design discussions for Maggie’s Manchester."

– Sir Norman Foster, Foster + Partners, Architects for Maggie’s Manchester

"We are very sorry to hear about Charles Jencks. Through realising the Maggie’s centres, he has enabled architecture to powerfully and purposely deliver on its potential to provide comfort, hope and delight to people in need. The profession owes him a lot."

– Cullinan Studios, architects of Maggie’s Newcastle

"I still can't believe Charles has gone. He was such a life-force. But his legacy is truly impressive, and he will never be forgotten."

– Richard Cork, art historian, editor, critic, broadcaster and exhibition curator.

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