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Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies

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4.12 of 5 stars 4.12  ·  rating details  ·  348 ratings  ·  31 reviews
Reyner Banham examined the built environment of Los Angeles in a way no architectural historian before him had done, looking with fresh eyes at its manifestations of popular taste and industrial ingenuity, as well as its more traditional modes of residential and commercial building. His construct of "four ecologies" examined the ways Angelenos relate to the beach, the free ...more
Paperback, 271 pages
Published May 21st 2001 by University of California Press (first published June 28th 1971)
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Suzanne
Something of an artifact, a little bit dated, 43 years after publication, since things don’t exactly stand still around here, but still a good resource for the student of Southern California history. Non-academic and entertaining, this one considers the area and its architecture from a slightly different angle than most books of this sort, looking at the “four ecologies” of the beaches, the foothills, the flatlands and the freeways as the major influences on the built environment and development ...more
J.
Nicely thought-out, a serious analysis of the non-urban Urban Center without-a-center that is LA. Or was L.A. Necessarily compartmentalized, Banham's study takes an unrelated set of parameters and relates them from an overhead perspective on history, development, design, influences. What are now a deeply tangled set of cultural aspects were a little less so in 1971, when this was published. So something of a time-capsule, but one that looks imaginatively toward the future too.

It's not really fa
...more
Nat
Banham talks about the difference between the "well-balanced" meal of a hamburger you can eat with one hand and the kind that come ornamentally disassembled. Here's what he says about the latter:

"Assembled with proper care it can be a work of visual art as well; indeed, it must be considered as visual art first and foremost, since some components are present in too small a quantity generally to make a significant gustatory as opposed to visual contribution--for instance, the seemingly mandatory
...more
Adam
I read this in the midst of a bout of terrible, crippling nostalgia for LA after having to leave the city in late 2012 for grad school. I think it's somewhat of a literary trope about LA that people love it despite the fact that they really aren't supposed to. Honestly, the kind of love people like Reyner Banham and I have for LA just doesn't add up: You spend most of your time in awful traffic on terrible old freeways to navigate a grotesque suburban sprawl that paradoxically features almost no ...more
Andrea
Mr. Banham completely ignores all dynamics of poverty and racism in LA, which makes his book rather like an amputated limb analyzed at a great distance from both its body and the mob of wealthy LA boosters (including Banham himself) who removed it with a blunt axe. There are some insights, and it is both eminently readable (in fact its exaggerations and over-the-topness contribute to this) and full of pictures. But all in all, it is infuriating and just plain wrong more often than not.

I do like
...more
Ian
"How then to bridge this gap of comparability. One can most properly begin by learning the local language; and the language of design, architecture, and urbanism in Los Angeles is the language of movement. Mobility outweighs monumentality there to a unique degree, as Richard Austin Smith pointed out in a justly famous article in 1965, and the city will never be fully understood by those who cannot move fluently through its diffuse urban texture, cannot go with the flow of its unprecedented life. ...more
Alex Lee
In this stunning work, Reyner Banham breaks out and challenges many of the norms of his time for urban development and how architecture should be considered. The work isn't academic, because it doesn't examine other people's positions, but it does wax poetic about how great Los Angeles is.

When I combined reading this book with his video, "Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles" you get a very different but complementary message. The point of this book was to convince others, his professional peers, tha
...more
Nate
Rarely do you read a book that is so dated yet so relevant. I thoroughly enjoyed this architectural/ecological history of the greater Los Angeles area. So many of Banham's insights are still relevant to anyone living within the LA/OC conglomeration, even though the book was written nearly forty years ago.

I especially liked his treatment of the historical factors that have made LA what it is today, all the way back to the Spanish/Mexican land grants and ranchos, to the citrus industry, oil, the
...more
Archer
Here is a brief dialogue between myself and Ben R. concerning this book, which will stand in as a review.

(after my giving of five stars)

Ben: Loved this book when I read it *before* I moved to LA. Despite his great approach (and a fantastic title) Banham has a tendency here to treat Los Angeles as some sort of exotic animal. That, given with the enormous changes to the city in the last thirty-odd years, makes the book- unfortunately- mostly useful as a piece of history.

(after ben's giving of thr
...more
Dan
I really enjoyed this as a clarifying overview of Los Angeles. It's appropriately disorganized but not overwhelmingly so, like LA County. Weirdly, criticism I've read of this book seems to focus on the validity of the "four ecologies" and while that's in the title I didn't really feel like the book tried too hard to divide LA into these four ecologies, it was more of a way to roughly divide the topics Banham wants to discuss. The best thing I took from this was the idea of WIlshire Boulevard as ...more
Brian
Optimistic and entertaining tour of Los Angeles. Banham essentially glorifies the city and loves it to death. As a native of Los Angeles who has encountered the traffic and the smog of the city of angels, it is extremely refreshing to read such a positive view of L.A.
Julia
forgot i was even reading this! dammit! there are like, let's see...5 books stacked on the bedside table...now i'll probably never finish this. shit, whenever something is even slightly intellectual (read: scholarly), i can't get through it...too easily distracted by rock bios & the like.
alright, done. reyner banham is a hoot (it helps if you've seen the little documentary he did "Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles"?). i greatly enjoy his enthusiasm & sense of humor...not to mention the sub
...more
Frank
Jan 14, 2010 Frank added it
I re-read this one after going on a Reyner Banham jag some years ago, which has happened again after reading this one (I just finished "Scenes in America Deserta" last night).

Banham writes about both the history and current state (as of the late 60's, when this was written) of the LA area, and the impulse to pick it up again was prompted by a work trip I took in spring 09 that took my cargo truck and I thru the eastern reaches of LA county.

An interesting look at an interesting place, taken thr
...more
Wei Cho
I finally finished reading this book after putting it on hold for almost two years. It was a pretty insightful view of Los Angeles even though it was sort of dated. I really liked the sort of manifesto Banham had for Los Angeles, which is that it is a beautiful and relatively new city that produced so much in half a century. Los Angeles really was, and still is, an urban laboratory. Architects and urban designers should be really excited. I definitely am. I love Los Angeles as an architecture st ...more
Sharon
Banham really, really loved Los Angeles, and his enthusiasm is infectious.
Meagan
I would have liked this better if it was more.. focused. Which wasn't really the point, but that's the book I want to read. There wasn't much about the individual architects or styles. It was very interesting to read about how the planners just accepted as fact the abandonment of downtown LA (which is now a "a vibrant city center", or trying to convince people it is). I mostly read it for how it fits in to dialogue with books by Mike Davis, but I am not sure I got much out of it in that regard e ...more
Cns
An interesting book if you are interested in the architecture of Los Angeles...It's not a typical architectural text. Banham doesn't review the buildings chronologically, but organizes around the themes of mountains, plains, beaches and freeways--the four "Ecologies" that make up Los Angeles. The overhead photographs of freeways, boulevards and parking lots are just amazing.
Casey Schreiner
Hands down one of the best books about L.A. I've ever read. Whether or not you agree with Banham's predictions and analysis, it's fantastic food for thought and an absolute must-read for anyone who loves to hate or hates to love Los Angeles.
Zoe Crosher
Amazing book, especially the youtube narrated version by him (see http://video.google.com/videoplay?doc...)
The introduction I find most inspiring; some of the later descriptive parts go off into too specifically an architectural a place for me
Yosuke
Jan 28, 2008 Yosuke added it
My copy has David Hockney's "A Bigger Splash" on the cover. Good read if you are interested in LA. Not as heavy as it seems. Would be a good companion to Thom Anderson's film/documentary/essay "Los Angeles Plays Itself."
Thorsten
Amazing book, but was making me too homesick for california!! Such good pictures of early california life from the late 1800s and early 1900s..
Sarah
Pro: Some good insights into the structure and history of L.A. Con: Book is outdated to the point of hilarity.
Pat
This portrait of Los Angeles is the only thing I have ever read that makes the city's structure understandable.
Susannah
Apr 02, 2007 Susannah rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Those interested in architecture, contemporary art, Britains in America, urban planning
Beautiful meditation on the positive aspects of L.A. sprawl (yes, there are some)--the antidote to Mike Davis's book.
Justus
One of my favorite books...I like authors and critics that relish the idiosyncrasies of place.
Federico Garcia Barba
Interesante visión de el urbanismo y la arquitectura de Los Angeles en los años 70 del siglo XX,
Candace
The railroad built Los Angeles, and Los Angeles disappeared the railroad--fascinating.
Zedder
This should be required reading for anyone who hates on Los Angeles.
Ryan
Simply THE book to read about Los Angeles.
Jaime Henderson
Mine doesn't have as cool a cover as Yosuke's.
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Peter Reyner Banham (1922-1988) was a prolific architectural critic and writer best known for his 1960 theoretical treatise "Theory and Design in the First Machine Age", and his 1971 book "Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies" in which he categorized the Angelean experience into four ecological models (Surfurbia, Foothills, The Plains of Id, and Autopia) and explored the distinct archit ...more
More about Reyner Banham...
Theory and Design in the First Machine Age Architecture of the Well-Tempered Environment Scenes in America Deserta Megastructure: Urban Futures Of The Recent Past A Concrete Atlantis: U.S. Industrial Building and European Modern Architecture

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