His descriptions of particular buildings are thus discussions of the "typical" rather than the iconic. With this approach, he takes architecture out of art and subsumes it into a larger category of "environmental management," an interdisciplinary, problem-based profession that treats architecture as context-dependent technological systems or "habitable volumes. A few examples: drive-in movie theaters: people bring their own "environmental packages" with them in the form of cars, so the need for a permanent enclosing structure disappears; instead, what needs to be designed is a system of landscaping, traffic engineering, optics, and shelter for the projection equipment. Las Vegas and Versailles: these are both symbolic spaces that represent power, so they are designed to make space feel vast, overwhelming. Versailles does it with soaring ceilings and imposing structures; Las Vegas does it with electric light, so that "the effectiveness with which space is defined is overwhelming, the creation of virtual volumes without apparent structure is endemic, the variety and ingenuity of the lighting techniques is encyclopaedic. Banham likes it because it is simple and designed for "performance" rather than looks; architecture can learn a lot from vernacular rules-of-thumb.
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His father was a gas fitter. His early influences were US comics Laurel and Hardy along with science fiction, plus he enjoyed amateur dramatics. His mission was to reanimate what he saw as a somewhat freeze-dried architectural Modernism via the fabled white heat of technology. This drive was both his strength and his weakness. Often we see passion, rarely do we see doubt and, occasionally, we glimpse truculence. His incisive juxtapositions and verve first attracted a young Norman Foster in his second year at architectural school because this was lively and different.
He became a popular comrade because he had a job and, therefore, the money to purchase work. Putting those trad Moderns to bed even in The New Brutalism, the classic he was, at first, reluctant to write , he was the first to see the Alton Estate as wanting when compared with Sunset Boulevard. Stroking ephemeral car brightwork and conducting academic discussions on sun loungers, he became Professor Snap, Crackle and POP.
Hence, Pop commercialism, as it hit our gut instincts, returned us to innocence. A whole generation might have become hip urban spacemen or rural electric nomads in their metaphorical pads and bubbles, but the extent to which this could literally happen was down to a rather dogmatic application of a rule Le Corbusier had attempted to transgress in the s — that our machines could never reach a state of perfection. Therefore, for Banham, the most-important architectural consideration would become — of all things — change.
In this, he was rather one-directional. Even when dissecting the themed pub which appealed, like the Twist there is the underlying tone of science fiction. Such vibes resulted in an affinity with Archigram. Banham and his wife Mary held weekly tea parties with Peter Cook, who lived opposite. Not so much in orbit as in the garden, they formed a typically English circle, a combination of progressive speculation and polite resistance.
Those of a less-optimistic frame of mind might scowl at the smiling faces of Elon Musk and Richard Branson. The vultures were circling. Freedom is a word about which to be very cautious, but with this book we get a sense of a Banham newly introspective and poetic, forgoing university appointments on a whim and stepping out of his rented V8 into the silence and colour of his own Spaceship Earth. But appreciating Banham these days, especially within the tightly policed halls of academia, would seem a bit of a guilty pleasure.
Tsp reynerbanhamsilurianlake Source: Tim Street-Porter Crossing Silurian Dry Lake, near Death Valley in California, Touchingly, Banham wrote last of the rig that kept him alive in hospital he died of cancer at age 66 , but his unfinished later projects might have illuminated those paradoxes that dog the dominant theory.
In particular, why did High-Tech architecture appear far more bespoke than mass produced? Banham was infuriated that the particular marque Le Corbusier used to juxtapose with the Parthenon in sway to the machine age was actually the hand-built Delage. However, if we consider the application of craft, the two might be comparable. Perhaps if Banham had passed rather than failed the examination at Bristol Aircraft, the fiction would not have prevailed.
So what does Banham leave us when it comes to theory and design in the third age?
Reyner Banham (1922 -1988)
Architecture of the Well-tempered Environment
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