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Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles

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Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles

Peter Reyner Banham
(2 March 1922 – 19 March 1988)

was a prolific architectural critic and writer best known for his 1960 theoretical treatise Theory and Design in the First Machine Age and his 1971 book Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies in which he categorized the Angelean experience into four ecological models (Surfurbia, Foothills, The Plains of Id, and Autopia) and explored the distinct architectural cultures of each ecology.

He was based in London, but lived primarily in the United States from the mid 1970s until the end of his life. He studied under Anthony Blunt at the Courtauld Institute of Art, then Siegfried Giedion and Nikolaus Pevsner. Pevsner invited him to study the history of modern architecture, following his own work Pioneers of the Modern Movement (1936). In Theory and Design in the First Machine Age (1960), Banham cut across Pevsner's main theories, linking modernism to built structures in which the 'functionalism' was actually subject to formal strictures. He wrote a Guide to Modern Architecture (1962, later titled Age of the Masters, a Personal View of Modern Architecture).

He had connections with the Independent Group, the 1956 This Is Tomorrow art exhibition (considered by many to the birth of pop art) and the thinking of the Smithsons and of James Stirling, on the 'new brutalism' (which he documented in his 1966 book The New Brutalism: Ethic or Aesthetic?). He predicted a "second age" of the machine and mass consumption. The Architecture of Well-Tempered Environment (1969) follows Giedion's Mechanization Takes Command (1948), putting the development of technologies (electricity, air conditioning) ahead of the classic account of structures. In the 1960s, Cedric Price, Peter Cook, and the Archigram group also found this to be an absorbing arena of thought.
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Green thinking (Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies) and then the oil shock of 1973 affected him. The 'postmodern' was for him uneasy, and he evolved into the conscience of postwar British architecture. He broke with utopian and technical formalism. Scenes in America Deserta (1982) talks of open spaces and his anticipation of a 'modern' future. In A Concrete Atlantis: U.S. Industrial Building and European Modern Architecture, 1900-1925 (1986) Banham demonstrates the influence of American grain elevators and "Daylight" factories on the Bauhaus and other modernist projects in Europe.

As a professor, Banham taught at the University of London, the State University of New York (SUNY) Buffalo, and through the 1980s at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He had been appointed the Sheldon H. Solow Professor of the History of Architecture at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University shortly before his death, but he never taught at the institution. He also starred in the short documentary Reyner Banham loves Los Angeles.

Banham said that he learned to drive so he could read Los Angeles in the original.

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