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Banham, Reyner

    Image Credit: Cansubayrak

    Full Name: Banham, Reyner

    Other Names:

    • Reyner Banham

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 02 March 1922

    Date Died: 18 March 1988

    Place Died: London, Greater London, England, UK

    Home Country/ies: United Kingdom

    Subject Area(s): architectural theory, architecture (object genre), art theory, Modern (style or period), and sculpture (visual works)


    Maverick architectural theorist and historian; modernism and pop-culture revisionist. Banham’s parents were Percy Banham, a gas engineer, and Violet Reyner (Banham). The younger Banham was educated at King Edward VI School, Norwich, UK. Too young to join the military during World War II, he worked as an engine fitter at the Bristol Aeroplane Company. Banham entered the Courtauld Institute of London University in 1945 to study art history. He married Mary Mullett the following year. During this time he wrote criticism on contemporary architecture for The Architectural Review and other journals. As a critic, he particularly espoused modernist architecture. Banham wrote his thesis under Nikolaus Bernard Leon Pevsner at the Warburg, Theory and Design in the First Machine Age which appeared as a book in 1960. His topic focused on Expressionism and Futurism’s contribution to architecture, but it became the definitive text throughout the world on the modern movement in architecture (Lyall). In 1959 Banham was hired to the permanent staff of The Architectural Review. He began lecturing at the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College, London in 1960, rising to senior lecturer in 1964. Banham’s revisionist stance on Modern architecture influenced the Independent Group (IG), a loose association of artists, architects and historians (e.g., Lawrence Alloway) connected with the London-based Institute of Contemporary Art. In 1966 his book on modernist architecture, The New Brutalism appeared. He championed the 1960s futurism of the Archigram group. Banham rose to professor of the history of architecture in 1969. At the same time, Banham had found a Lebensberuf in appreciating Los Angeles, California. His seminal Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies appeared in 1971. The following year he produced the film, Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles. followed. The success of Theory and Design and Architecture of the Well-tempered Environment, particularly in the United States, brought Banham an offer to teach there in 1976. He accepted the chair of the department of design studies at the State University of New York at Buffalo. By 1980, he had been named professor of art history at the University of California, Santa Cruz. In California he was a member of Architect-Selection Panel for the J. Paul Getty Trust, which, in 1984, selected Richard Meier to design the museum in Santa Monica, CA. He joined the faculty of New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts as Sheldon H. Solow Professor of the History of Architecture in 1988, but never taught. Bonham was diagnosed with cancer the same year and returned to England where he died at age 66. His students included Charles Jencks. Banham was known for “a propensity for a vigorous and often destructive criticism” (Times, London). His appreciation for proto-Pop and Conceptual art resulted in the IG’s fascination of the same. Banham’s work revised the 1940s history of the Modern Movement, including that of his mentor, Pevsner, which he saw as “a nice, tidy propagandist’s firmament, ordered by a cosmology so simple as to be almost simple-minded.” He was among the first architectural historians to “give the same degree of attention to the architecture of the everyday landscape that scholars give to monuments and cathedrals, and he was particularly entranced with the American cityscape” (Goldberger).

    Selected Bibliography

    [dissertation:] Theory and Design in the First Machine Age. Warburg Institute, 1958, published, London: Architectural Press, 1960; Guide to Modern Architecture. Princeton, NJ: Van Nostrand, 1962; The Architecture of the Well-tempered Environment. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1969; Los Angeles: the Architecture of Four Ecologies. New York: Harper & Row, 1971; The Aspen Papers: Twenty Years of Design Theory from the International Design Conference in Aspen. (New York: Praeger, 1974; Age of the Masters: a Personal View of Modern Architecture. New York: Harper & Row, 1975; Megastructure: Urban Futures of the Recent Past. New York: Harper and Row, 1976; A Concrete Atlantis: U.S. Industrial Building and European Modern Architecture, 1900-1925. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1986; A Critic Writes: Essays by Reyner Banham. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.


    Whiteley, Nigel. Reyner Banham: Historian of the Immediate Future. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002; Mumford, Eric. “Reyner Banham: Historian of the Immediate Future.” Architectural Record, May 1, 2004, p.71; Vidler, Anthony. “Futurist Modernism: Reyner Banham.” in Histories of the Immediate Present: Inventing Architectural Modernism. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008, pp. 106-155; [obituaries:] “Professor Reyner Banham.” Times (London), March 22 1988; Lyall, Sutherland. “Reyner Banham: Apostle of built hi-tech.” Guardian (London), March 21, 1988; Goldberger, Paul. “Reyner Banham, Architectural Critic, Dies at 66.” New York Times, March 22, 1988, p.B 5


    "Banham, Reyner." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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