Thinking of Todd Gannon’s Reyner Banham and the Paradoxes of High Tech as simply an excellent biography of one of the 20th century’s most celebrated writers on architecture would be quite off base. It is simply too big and heavy (at nearly 5 pounds), too lavishly produced (by the Getty), and too all-encompassing in its scholarship to join ranks with its intellectual rivals. Banham was well known as the bearded, hard-driving scourge of the British establishment, sitting naked and guru-like in François Dallegret’s portrayal of a “standard-of-living package,” and lolling through Los Angeles’ four ecologies at the wheel of an open-topped muscle car in the '60s. Banham was a provocateur with a pedigree—he’d been Nikolaus Pevsner’s protégé and a contributing editor at the prestigious Architectural Review. “Peter,” as he was known to friends James Stirling and Richard Rogers, came into his own as the champion of a wave of architects and artists who had grown up sharing the outlook of Look Back in Anger playwright John Osborne, and were eager to topple long-held architectural precepts. As such, Gannon’s book is an encyclopedic recounting of the growth of England’s architectural culture during Banham’s purview: its advocates, its internal debates, its flashes of brilliance, and its turbulent (though theoretically harnessed) explorations. If one wishes to understand the gestation of this important movement in modern architecture, there are more revelations, more “gotcha’s,” and more keen observations (with Gannon as guide) than one is likely to find in a decade-long subscription to Architectural Review. As a bonus, it’s even fun to read! Gannon has clearly mastered the art of serving up colorful prose without compromising either content or veracity, which is a welcome and indispensable attribute in this era of jargon and political introspection. In the book, Gannon highlights the conceptual bonds that united a band of rebellious architects and links their ideas to both the designs they produced and the philosophy they espoused, in order to create what may well be the definitive history of architecture in the age of Banham. Loaded with original research and structured in apt and revealing chapters, Reyner Banham and the Paradoxes of High Tech delivers a convincing mix of anecdotes and informative images in a graphically rewarding format. Measured and precise, with a jaunty sense of discovery (you can almost see the high fives), Gannon’s text expands into detailed descriptions of the nooks and crannies of complex spaces such as those at Stirling’s Olivetti Training School in Haslemere. He then moves into a discussion of the social forces of England in the 1960s before displaying with appealing modesty the hundreds of sources girding his work. This is a vastly entertaining project. One can feel the glee with which Gannon deconstructs morsels like the Smithsons’ Soho house at Colville, where “the project’s insistent symmetries, proportional rigor, and cheeky axial relationships appear to have been devised with a mischievous wink in the direction of those who were paying attention. The axial comedy is best observed in the basement, where the toilet, lit from above by the south-facing bench-cum-clerestory is honorifically aligned with both the bathroom door and the prominently placed drain pipe centered on the opposite wall.” The author also notes and quotes Banham’s quip that “if it isn’t modern nowadays it isn’t architecture anymore, but archaeology, cowardice, or fancy dress.” These are sentiments that seem particularly apt here in the U.S. 60 years later. Like The Devil in the White City, Erik Larson’s account of the Chicago World’s Fair and Louis Sullivan’s role in it, Gannon plunges the reader deep into the subculture that fed Banham’s thirst for a radical, nuts-and-bolts architecture. Thus, for Gannon, Banham seems more like an “inspiration” than a “topic.” Getting into his head—rather than tracing his long shadow and seeing things as Banham might have seen them—is a remarkable exercise in its own right. Here, we have Gannon stalking Banham, then pouncing: “There is a stream of English fiddlers-with-cars, builders-of-boats, cannibilizers and people who always seem to have another way of using a working part from the one that you expect. In recent years, the originality of the Smithsons, Cedric Price, Norman Foster, and the Rogers team seem to have had far more to do with the latter instinct.” Gannon follows this up with a signature clip from Banham’ ripest prose: “A properly set up standard of living package, breathing out warm air along the ground…radiating soft light and Dionne Warwick in heart-warming stereo, with a well-aged protein turning in an infra-red [sic] glow in the rotisserie, and the ice-maker discreetly coughing cubes into glasses on the swing-out bar.” In this way, we see Gannon, the architect, viewing Banham as a lens rather than as a subject and leading us, his readers, through the thickets of his evolution. For Gannon, the signal preoccupations of his subject can be best understood as a linked series of insights, from The Architecture of the Well-tempered Environment to Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies, which he decodes with forensic diagrams and text. What is remarkable is that the threads of Banham’s propositions can be spliced so invisibly into an expanded narrative that embraces contemporary as well as historic issues. It is humbling to circle back to Archigram’s city-building exercises, or to relish the newfound passion for a smart city, only to discover that Banham’s pioneering work had been there—and done that—50 years ago. That is why, for this architect, and I expect many more, Gannon’s work is far more than a trip down memory lane. It offers us a chance to renew our vows.
Posts tagged with "Architectural Review":
The Architectural Review and The Architect’s Journal have jointly announced their 2018 Women in Architecture award winners, with Peruvian architect Sandra Barclay taking home the Architect of the Year award, and Paraguayan architect Gloria Cabral receiving the Moira Gemmill Prize for Emerging Architecture. Recognizing exemplary, recently completed projects, the Architect of the Year award for 2018 was given to Barclay for her work on the Paracas Museum in Paracas, Peru, finished in 2016 by Barclay & Crousse Architecture. The squat archaeological museum’s predecessor was destroyed in an earthquake in 2017, and Barclay’s replacement builds upward with rotated spaces, creating a geometry reminiscent of the patterns found in native Paracas textiles. Clad in a red pozzolan cement, the museum seems to fade into the surrounding Paracas Desert while also standing apart from it, blending the form of ancient ruins with new construction. The judges felt the same way, saying, “Aware of the lack of control onsite and limited resources, the architects responded to the lack of context with a design that is both robust and simple, yet powerful, and even its man-made imperfection adds value to the building”. Cabral, a partner at Gabinete de Arquitectura, has won the Moira Gemmill Prize for Emerging Architecture, a $13,700 prize fund created to honor Moira Gemmill, the late director of design at London's Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A). The judges cited Cabral’s innovative use of cheap, ubiquitous local materials to create novel and often-times more efficient forms. Cabral has been something of an up-and-coming name in the architecture world, having been taken under the wing of Peter Zumthor as Rolex’s 2014 cohort of protégés, and later winning a Golden Lion at the 2016 Venice Biennale. According to the Moira Gemmill Prize judges, ‘Beyond her deep understanding of materials and construction, Cabral showed a sensitive appreciation of the life and use of the buildings she designs. Her commitment is extraordinary and her passion is infectious.” More information about the winners and the shortlist for each prize can be found here.
Denise Scott Brown has been awarded the Jane Drew Prize by the Architects' Journal (AJ) and its sister publication, the Architectural Review (AR). In 1991, Scott Brown was not included in the awarding of the Pritzker Prize that went to her husband, Rober Venturi, despite her integral role in the couple's firm, Venturi Scott Brown and Associates. More recently, in 2013, the Pritzker awarding committee was pressured to reexamine their decision twelve years prior and acknowledge Scott Brown. Alas, they did not budge. "There is an irony in it because I knew Jane Drew. I hold very different opinions from the ones she held," said Scott Brown speaking to Laura Mark in the Architects' Journal (AJ). "When we met over the years sometimes it was up and down," Scott Brown added. "I gave a lecture once and I said something about Walter Gropius and there was a lot of shouting from the back of the room and it was Jane Drew. She was quite a down right woman and I’m a down right woman. She might mind that I have been given the prize—but I don’t. I’m very happy that people want me to have a prize and that she should have a prize named after her." Scott Brown received this year's Jane Drew award for her contributions to architecture which include built works and research, notably the book Learning from Las Vegas, which was published in 1972 and co-authored by Venturi and Steven Izenour. Scott Brown and Venturi are also recognized as pioneers of the Postmodernist movement. In the wake the Pritzker jury refusing to change their position in 2013, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) amended a rule that stipulated only individuals could claim its Gold Medal prize. Scott Brown and Venturi were then jointly awarded the AIA Gold Medal last year. The AJ and AR awarded the Ada Louise Huxtable Prize to artist Rachel Whiteread. The award recognizes individuals working in the wider architectural industry who have made a significant contribution to architecture and the built environment. Whiteread is noted for winning the 1993 Turner Prize, her work with architects (such as Caruso St John Architects for the UK Holocaust Memorial International Design Competition), and her participation on the RIBA Stirling Prize 2016 jury. However, while such awards are good news for women in the industry, a recent survey has found that there is still much work to be done. Aside from awarding the Jane Drew Prize, the AJ and AR, as part of its annual Women in Architecture survey, found that female architects working in the U.K. earn $68,900 less than their male equivalents. The pay gap has reportedly widened by $52,700 over the past two years. The survey results also outlined that pressure to not have children and sexual discrimination were still prevalent. The AR also announced its Women in Architecture Awards 2017 shortlists, which includes the Architect of the Year Award and the Moira Gemmill Prize for Emerging Architecture.
A shocking report today that, after 120 years, British architecture publications Architects' Journal and Architectural Review will go out of print in the next 18 months surprised many in the architecture and publishing worlds. One insider tells AN that, at least for Architectural Review, that is just a rumor: "the situation is messy, but AR will not cease in print for the foreseeable future, for example 12 to 18 months. It is by no means definite that it will go digital unless by popular demand of subscribers, which seems highly unlikely." The fate of Architects' Journal print editions remains to be seen.