Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Reyner Banham

A non architect friend asked me today if I could recommend a book for her to read on holiday and the only thing that I really enjoyed in the last few months was Reyner Bahham's 'Guide to Modern Architecture' (Architectural Press 1962). 

Despite the first few chapters (1.Modern, 2.Function, 3.Form etc etc) being a bit hum drum, the 35+ building reviews at the end are absolute rip-snorters and give you faith that the literature of architectural appreciation is worth more than the usual 'stairs lead up to a mezzanine past some columns under an arch....etc etc'.

He's particularly droll (and insightful) on the subject of Frank Lloyd Wright...for example;

"To many thinking men, Frank Lloyd Wright was never the all-American architect of his own image of himself.  He never appeared as much at ease in the real America as in the America of some splendid Usonian dream, and - in some curious ways - he trailed a whiff of the European grand-maitre behind him."

and on Charles Eames...

"...for all his internationalism and lack of Whitmanesque ham, is as American as Campbell Soup.  For all his love of things European and Oriental he handles power tools and catalogued components like a hot-rodder born, and his own house, spare and elegant, square and ineloquent, is American like a Shaker chair.."

On Egon Eiermann's Blumberg Handkerchief Factory;

"Blumberg's basic attraction lies in having all the modest attributes of industrial architecture to an almost immodest degree....coming as close to dammit to that ideal of eloquent reticence that so many functionalists saw as the aim of modern architecture'.

Wright again;

"All his long life Frank Lloyd Wright remained, as the saying went, the greatest living master of the nineteenth century; his admiration of craftsmanship long outlived his mechanistic enthusiasms of around 1900, and many of his most salutary designs of the twentieth century can best be regarded as final versions of nineteenth-century themes.  The Robie House is one such; its importance as a mentor to the domestic architects of the present century is beyond question, but it is hardly modern architecture at all in some lights. Its affinities are with a tradition of de luxe suburban villas that reaches right back into the Victorian epoch and beyond."

There are other great pieces on the Seagram Building, Lever House and one that finally helped me to appreciate Ponti's inscrutable Pirelli Tower.

I could go on but you should read it for yourselves. A treat.

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