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Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  472 Ratings  ·  41 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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Feb 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 05, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
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
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
Jul 22, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
Dec 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
An L.A. love-letter, persuasive despite my own East Coast bias. Is there no stronger recommendation I can provide than to say that this book made me consider moving to L.A., if only for a moment? Lyrical, smart, concise, and well-researched: everything a book about a city ought to be.
"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
Feb 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone interested in LA, cities
Shelves: favorites
I finished this book in the relative comfort and safety of my bed. My lovely wife and I watched "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," the Daniel Craig/Rooney Mara version last night. The almost three-hour movie was so disturbing, and unsettling that I knew I could never go directly to sleep. So I finished the book.

A little background. My son and daughter-in-law live in LA, the Little Armenia neighborhood in a California Bungalow. We, my wife and I visited them in February, over almost two weeks. W
Alex Lee
Apr 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 07, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 03, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: architecture
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
Aug 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I have to say at the outset- this is one of my favorite books of all time. I first read it when I was a senior at Yale, living in New Haven, missing my city and trying to write a senior essay on California Spanish Colonial architecture. I have read it several times since, all of them when I was living in exile from my beloved California, in Boston and then in Virginia Beach. I had not read it for 14 years, until I was on a plane from Jacksonville to San Diego last summer, when someone told me he ...more
Marty Trujillo
Mar 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I have a dreadful confession to make: I first read The Architecture of Four Ecologies 40 years ago, while in college, and didn’t much like it. The 20-year-old abrasive provincial I was felt a mixture of anger and indifference to Banham’s key message, that the very uniqueness of Los Angeles made it difficult to understand, frustrating to visit, and nearly impossible to judge by traditional standards of architecture and urban planning.

Four Ecologies plays such a central role in "City of Gold," Lau
I'd been meaning to read this one ever since I moved to LA, which was nearly four years ago, and I've finally gotten around to it. It was absolutely worth the wait, too. I certainly have no background education in architecture; like most laymen, I know what I like when I see it, but probably couldn't articulate very well why, but that didn't stop me from devouring this architectural history and appreciation of my great city. I learned plenty, and also just gained ever more love for my city that ...more
Jan 14, 2010 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
Aug 08, 2007 rated it really liked it
forgot i was even reading this! dammit! there are like, let's see...5 books stacked on the bedside 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
Feb 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Wei Cho
Nov 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: architecture
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
Jan 20, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 02, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sort of a counterpoint to Jane Jacobs: a keenly observed portrait of a city running counter to the then-conventional wisdom. Like her, most of his particular points don't hold up well to the passage of time (bushhopper airplanes are not a major transportation method across LA, and he's writing before LA became a city of immigrants), but he does capture a certain something about the city. He's also a great writer, so it just breezes right along.
Nov 02, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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.
Aug 03, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jan 28, 2008 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."
Oct 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
Still a very informative and provocative book, even though more than forty years have passed since its publication. Captures well the uniqueness of the Los Angeles environment and architectural legacy.
Zoe Crosher
Jun 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Amazing book, especially the youtube narrated version by him (see
The introduction I find most inspiring; some of the later descriptive parts go off into too specifically an architectural a place for me
Sep 21, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Amazing book, but was making me too homesick for california!! Such good pictures of early california life from the late 1800s and early 1900s..
Jun 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: architecture
This portrait of Los Angeles is the only thing I have ever read that makes the city's structure understandable.
Dec 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Simply THE book to read about Los Angeles.
Aug 18, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This should be required reading for anyone who hates on Los Angeles.
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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
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“More important, Los Angeles has seen in this century the greatest concentration of fantasy-production, as an industry and as an institution, in the history of Western man. In the guise of Hollywood, Los Angeles gave us the movies as we know them and stamped its image on the infant television industry. And stemming from the impetus given by Hollywood as well as other causes, Los Angeles is also the home of the most extravagant myths of private gratification and self-realization, institutionalized now in the doctrine of 'doing your own thing'.” 0 likes
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