THE ROCKET-BAROQUE PHASE OF THE ICECREAM VERNACULAR: ON REYNER BANHAM’S CRITICISM OF ARCHITECTURE AND OTHER THINGS
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Throughout his trans-Atlantic career as a critic and commentator, Reyner Banham turned his attention to a vast range of objects, places and activities. This is especially true of his writing in the 1970's and 80's, after he was invited by New Society to write (according to Mary Banham) on 'almost any subject that intriuged him'. Mary Banham notes that 'From boyhood Reyner Banham's interests had been very wide indeed, his curiosity particularly aroused by the unexpected and the incongruous and most particularly by anything with wheels and/or an engine,' and his writing is indeed marked by a respect, concern, and fascination for technical matters, in architecture and elsewhere. But the essays from this period, ranging as they do from 'reviews' of the potato crisp to the bolo tie, the clipboard to the first Star Wars movie, also serve to raise a series of questions about architectural criticism. Banham turned his specifically architectural sensibility to a startling array of non-architectural, technological and practical things, but what criteria did he use to evaluate these? How did these criteria differ from those he used in his more conventional architectural criticism in the same period? And perhaps most importantly, how was Banham able to reconcile practical, technological, formalist, programmatic and historical issues, whether in a building or a Gulfstream caravan, in his arrival at aesthetic judgement? This paper will examine selected essays from Banham's critical oeuvre to open the question of how his criteria for judgement shifted according to the nature of the object he was examining, and what this might mean more broadly for the theory and practice of architectural criticism in relation to technology.
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