Charles Jencks: the master of form


Last September, I found myself once again in Edinburgh.  It’s a city I know well, having been a student there in the 70s, and living not far away all through the 90s till we moved to France in 2004.  And, just before we left Scotland, Charles Jencks‘ Ueda landform was installed just in front of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, winning the Museum the Gulbenkian prize for Museum of the Year in 2004.  I had never seen it, despite many visits back to Edinburgh since then, and so, on a rather dreich day, there I was. Being a plant nut, I wasn’t sure how I would react to a landform, but, having also a real passion for labyrinths, I was sure that curving shapes would be just my thing.

The Ueda landform was designed to evoke chaos theory and the ways chaotic attractors behave one to another.  To be honest, the physics of it all doesn’t mean a lot to me, but several things struck me as I walked around the installation.  Firstly, there is a recapturing of something from childhood when walking on the slopes, curved steps and pathways.  I remember as a child being fascinated by an area of the Downs in Bristol, which I called the ‘mini-Mendips’.  It was a hillocky bit, with lumps and bumps you could run up and down on, and a swinging, swerving path that cut its way through the little hillocks. It felt like my own complete landscape.  The whole space of the landform is not that large, but it seems to contain all that you need.

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Charles Jencks’ Ueda, Scottish Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, September 2015
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I actually wanted to walk every inch.  Up and down, around and in and out, the possibilities of the shapes sinewing around the water, were endless.  And it felt like an immense journey, with the surroundings looking different from every vantage point.  The still water acted like a mirror for the surrounding trees and the shapes of the landform itself.  I explored each layer, doubling back on myself sometimes.

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The seductive sweep of the layered paths..

There weren’t any children in the space when I was there, but I can imagine that, on other days, the landform would be swarming with children playing out their imaginations, in new lands and adventures.  I was free to be one myself.

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Reflections of the Gallery building…

I must have been on the landform, exploring it, sitting on it, walking it, for well over an hour. It was a refreshing and delicious experience, and like the meditative effect of labyrinth walking, induced a state of calm and well being in me.  I loved it.

Form alone can evoke emotion and deep responses from us as human beings.  The connections evoked reach back into childhood and the ways that we looked at the world around us then, and used it to create our own stories of possibility and imagining.  The Ueda landform crystalised that for me completely.

And lastly, an aerial view, which shows the overall design better than my smaller scale photographs…

An aerial view taken in 2009. Photo credit: uk, featured on




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