Reyner Banham Revisited, Revisited

In May this year, Reaktion published my book on the architectural critic and historian Reyner Banham. You can find the details here, including links to some reviews. The book emerged after I’d been through the Banham papers at the Getty archive, a frustrating experience for anyone who has done the same thing. He threw almost everything away, and what’s left is not much more than fragments. The Banham you are faced with is largely the public Banham, so I decided to write about that.

There is consequently a lot in the book about Banham’s performativeness. His frequent intellectual moves seemed to be accompanied by changes of dress, and particularly hats. There was a lot of dressing up. The name ‘Reyner’ was an invention, a kind of stage name, for he was ‘Peter’ to his friends. Photographs of Banham became important, and I got some particularly useful material from a family friend, Simon Gooch, as well as Tim Street-Porter, who took the iconic picture that is the cover of the book.

I made the mistake early on of thinking the job would be easy. It wasn’t – the more I read of Banham’s colossal output, the more it sprawled away from what I thought I knew. I had to be selective in the end, and there is far less on some topics – such as Archigram – than some readers might expect. But there is more on the last phase, in particular the book In America Deserta, than in other treatments of Banham, precisely because it was here that he seemed to start to come to terms with his complex and often  contradictory self.

It is here too that Banham (and my book) pulls away from architecture to environments. I felt – and still feel – that it’s here that Banham’s work has been most durable. His Los Angeles can be criticised for all kinds of things, but it’s still a compelling account of a different way of organising cities. Above all it’s Banham’s openmindedness that remains refreshing, his interest in anything and everything, and – despite all the grounds for the contrary – his optimism. Those things I felt were worth recovering, and re-presenting to a new generation of readers.   

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