If Gulliver was tethered to the ground by his tiny captors, Northumberlandia seems to be coming out of the earth. Indeed, the sideways orientation of the hip suggests she is dancing.
She inhabits a verdant and rugged corner of northeastern England, whose rich coal seams fueled the Industrial Revolution but where settlements reach much deeper into history. Farther up the coast lies Lindisfarne, a rocky island that drew Celtic monks in the 7th century. Earlier, the area marked the northwestern edge of the Roman Empire, today traced by the remnants of Hadrian’s Wall.
From atop her windblown face, Downer surveys the various aspects. “It’s just a view you can’t get anywhere else,” he said.
Other landforms that seek to speak to the cosmos exist from the time of the ancient Britons, and Northumberlandia shares that terrestrial DNA. The most famous primal solar instrument is Stonehenge, but Jencks also notes that there are six large figures of white horses in England, formed by revealing the underlying chalk in the hills on which they were drawn.
Jencks is known in Britain for his collaboration with his late wife, Maggie Keswick, in creating a series of high-design cancer centers. In a relaxed, bright and aesthetic setting, patients and their families have a place to get advice or simply to talk with other patients outside the drab corridors of the treatment hospitals. The first center opened in 1996, the year after Keswick, a garden designer and historian, died from breast cancer at age 54.
Jencks convinced leading international architects to design subsequent centers, including Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid and Richard Rogers.
But in the design world, Jencks was known first as an architectural critic who assailed modern architecture and then for his work as a land artist. Perhaps his best-known project is the Garden of Cosmic Speculation that Keswick and Jencks developed at Portrack House, Keswick’s family home in southwestern Scotland. Jencks had known and admired a radical Scottish land artist named Ian Hamilton Finlay, whose garden became a series of spaces and sculptures exploring the relationship of gardens to philosophy.
Forces of the cosmos
Finlay, who died in 2006, used to say, “Certain gardens are described as retreats when they are really attacks.” Jencks has taken the aphorism to heart, except the subject of his landscape art is not Finlay’s clash of nature and culture but the self-organizing forces of the cosmos. For Jencks, it is a domain that includes the human animal and, at a molecular level, the universe of our bodies, with their 10 trillion cells.