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(Peter) Reyner Banham

(1922—1988) architectural critic and historian


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(1922–88)

Banham was a key figure in the history of design whose writings, both historical and critical, did much to enthuse the first generation of design historians in Britain. Studying art history at the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London, from 1948, he went on to study for a Ph.D. under Nikolaus Pevsner. With Eduardo Paolozzi, Richard Hamilton, and others Banham was also a founder member of the Independent Group (IG) at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in the early 1950s. The IG did much to shift aesthetic attitudes away from the enduring values of Modernism, the fine arts, and art historical establishment towards a standpoint that embraced advertising and popular culture, particularly that from the United States, presaging the era of Pop. Banham's enduring interest in American culture was further stimulated by a Graham Foundation Scholarship, which took him to the USA from 1964 to 1966. Banham's informed fascination with technology and gizmos, stimulated by an apprenticeship in the aircraft industry during the Second World War, was reflected in many of his writings, as was his ability to communicate lucidly on many levels, perhaps honed through a prolific journalistic output. As well as many articles for New Statesman (1958–65), New Society, and Design magazine he was also a staff writer for the Architectural Review (1952–64). His many books included Theory and Design in the First Machine Age (1960) (the published outcome of his Ph.D. thesis), The Architecture of the Well‐Tempered Environment (1969), Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies (1971), and Megastructures: Urban Futures of the Recent Past (1977). From 1964 he worked at the Bartlett School of Architecture London, becoming Professor of Architecture at University College, London, in 1969. He also played an active role in the development of studies in the history of design in Britain. In addition to work on Mechanical Services (1975) for the Open University Course on the History of Architecture and Design 1890–1939, he participated in pioneering design history conferences at Newcastle Polytechnic in 1975 and Middlesex Polytechnic in 1976. He became a Patron of the Design History Society after its foundation in Brighton in 1977, having moved to the United States in 1976, where he took up a series of academic posts.

Subjects: Architecture — Art.


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