Reyner Banham’s Desert Landscapes

Book Chapter, in Changing Representations of Nature and the City: The 1960s-1970s and their Legacies


Questions of disciplinary focus in architecture are often presented through scale. That is, the expanded field of the discipline is usually defined between the smaller scale of object design and the larger scale of territorial planning, or even the expansion to outer space.

This chapter will present one perspective of the discipline’s expansion providing a historiography of architecture from the 1960s to 1980s through an analysis of the work of the English architectural historian and critic Reyner Banham, whose work spans this period. 

An engineer-turned-historian, in “1960: Stocktaking,” a series of articles published in the Architectural Review, Banham proposed to blend the arts and the sciences in architecture, although the sciences would feature prominently.

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Portuguese Plain Architecture: A Journey from the 1950s to the present

Book Chapter, in 74-14 SAAL and Architecture


This essay will focuses on the slight metamorphoses of architectural discourse accompanying the Portuguese political and social context in the last six decades, and how the concept of Portuguese Plain Architecture [PPA] as defined by the American art historian George Kubler (1912-1996) plays a role in this progression. 

The Portuguese architect Duarte Cabral de Mello (1941-2013) compared the understated character of Vítor Figueiredo’s (1924-2004) architecture with the essential nature of Portuguese Plain Architecture (Mello 1979).

Kubler’s thesis implied that the nature of Portuguese architecture built between 1600 and 1800 did not fit in any of the established categories of art history, and thus was an appropriate case study to demonstrate the thesis that Kubler had already put forward in his book The Shape of Time (1962): “… no style or class excludes the simultaneous possible presence of many other prior classes”

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When it’s bad it’s murder: Architecture’s Working Environment

Book Chapter, in Arquitectas: Redefiniendo la Profesión

Sometime ago I came across a passage that described the role of women in the building industry of New Mexico in the sixteenth century. Alluding to the records of the Portuguese Franciscan missionary Afonso de Benevides, the American Art historian George Kubler described the local collective building process as follows: "The custom was for the women, boys and girls to build walls. Men considered this a disgraceful occupation, and confined themselves to hunting, spinning and weaving, although they took readily to carpentry and other crafts. Thus the fabric of the churches was the work principally of women, while the woodwork was evidently produced by men."

Cultural context dictates which activities are appropriate for each gender. And women are, to some extent, trapped in their own social, historical and economic context expectations. In sixteenth century New Mexico, men wove while women and children built walls. Nevertheless, in the beginning of the twentieth century, these walls were objects of fascination for many artists.

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I have seen this before: Reyner Banham's picturesque travelogues

Book Chapter, in Paesaggi Culturali Cultural Landscapes

Reyner Banham expressed the desire to bring architecture to the essential battleground where the future of the world was being decided, and proposed the development of other architecture, an architecture that would be at least as relevant as weapon systems, computers and sociology seemed to be in 1960. But eventually Banham changed his mind. He chose to contemplate the American desert, which was fervent with associations to rebellion against the American establishment. The desert was the place of convalescence for ailing art historians, it was the retreat of utopian architects, it was the refuge of revolutionaries and the symbol of insurgency.

Later in the 1970s and early 1980s, Banham, showing a disappointment with the results of the invasion of architecture by other disciplines, produced a series of works where he became focused on the aesthetic over the technologicalI will consider here the documentary “Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles” (1972) and the book Scenes in America Deserta (1982). 

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The Opacity of Landscape

Book Chapter, in Transparency in Ideology

In the barely inaugurated Landscape Urbanism lecture series at the Architectural Association, Stan Allen would pronounce the end of Landscape Urbanism -  a programme that has thrived in the past decade due to the explosion of large scale projects in fast developing countries. There are moments in history that welcome the materialisation of megalomaniac projects: as post second world war housing needs manifested an overvaluing of urbanism and the belief in the possibility of designing an instant city; the late 1990s global economic growth has given way to the belief of designing the optimised version of the instant city: the landscaped instant city. 

Landscape urbanism's prospective renderings usually showed couple jogging along not-overly-manicured landscaped slopes or resting on flowing benches, blissfully ignoring the wild animals that cohabitant their jogging trails. This connection of prosperity and harmony with the idea of landscape is a common vision: we recognise it in the marvellously happy paintings of Fragonard and Boucher;  in the reaction of visitors to Stourhead; and in our enjoyment of lunching outdoors on a sunny day. Stan Alle's explanation of the beneficial appendage of landscape to urbanism is also a symptom of this: 'Landscape is like apple pie. Everybody likes it.'

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