Banham, again – now with video

Last Sunday the Southern California chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians staged an in conversation event on Banham with me and Todd Gannon of Ohio State. Todd’s excellent 2017 book, Reyner Banham and the Paradoxes of High-Tech is based on the one area of the Getty’s Banham papers that is actually quite extensive, namely the notes towards a planned book project on High Tech architecture. The project was never completed, but Todd extracted the draft of the introduction from the Getty papers, and published it for the first time as ‘High Tech and Advanced Engineering’, where it lays open Banham’s conflicted understanding of the tendency. On the one hand, High Tech represented the technologically-attuned modernism Banham wanted from Theory and Design in the First Machine Age onwards; on the other hand, it was also clearly an architecture of slick surfaces, and serious money (Banham is very good on this superficial quality, alighting on the design of a Salomon ski boot, an item for which he certainly had no personal use). Banham never manages to resolve the contradictions in either High Tech, or his attitude to it, and it remains an unfinished project on every level. Those contradictions were very much the subject of our conversation for SAH on Sunday. Todd’s opening remarks centred on Banham’s wanting to have it both ways as regards High Tech. I said more about Banham as a cultural figure, someone who never entirely worked out if he was consumer or critic. His ambivalence had a lot to do with his origins in austere postwar Britain – as much as he was trained to be a critic, he was also caught up in the dynamism of the burgeoning consumer economy. Banham’s contradictions are sometimes frustrating, but they’re also what make his material historically valuable, and still rewarding to teach. You can see the video of the SAH event here.

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