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Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  684 ratings  ·  57 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
Megan Augustiny
I think that this book does a nice job of executing what it set out to accomplish; I'm just not sure I'm the best person to fully appreciate this accomplishment. This book contains fairly technical descriptions of architectural trends and phenomena endemic to Los Angeles architecture. I could have read a hundred more pages of its fascinating account of Los Angeles transit (or the lack therein), and I was delighted to discover that those quintessential boxy stucco apartment buildings found throug ...more
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
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
Aatif Rashid
Feb 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Though a little dated now (his chapter on freeways and traffic especially so), it's an illuminating futurist architect's appraisal of Los Angeles as an ideal postmodern city, full of witty insights and the kind of light, beautiful 1960s prose that non-fiction books these days in their quest for directness have lost. I think people still cling to conservative views of what a city should look like, and even if you don't live in LA, Banham's book can help you appreciate modernist architecture and w ...more
Casey Schreiner
Jun 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: western-reading
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. ...more
Katie Tu
Jan 05, 2021 rated it really liked it
No city captures the imagination quite like LA and this book that’s written with an academic’s attention to detail and bibliography that reads like a who’s who of modern American architecture helps you appreciate the little gems off of the freeways and suburb lanes of this vast sprawling city. Starting as a humble Pueblo and evolving into the city of angels that it’s known today, the author breaks down the architecture of the city into four main ‘ecologies’ which roughly are the beach, the footh ...more
Connie Kronlokken
This book, written about 1971 puts a positive spin on LA and its architecture. Mr. Banham, a British architectural critic, learned to drive to understand the freeways and seems to have a wonderful time deconstructing what he sees. "Los Angeles cradles and embodies the most potent current version of the great bourgeois vision of the good life in a tamed countryside." I am sure LA is now more crowded, but I myself enjoyed looking up at the hills with a little sickle moon hanging over them in the e ...more
David Allen
Oct 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
"This sense of possibilities still ahead is part of the basic life-style of Los Angeles," concludes Banham, perhaps the first outsider to have positive, and original, things to say about L.A. Were he here in 2019 he might find less to like about the freeways he extolled and more to like about the downtown he dismissed. But he understood L.A., predicted the future desirability of Venice and was open-minded enough to see Ray Bradbury's "Martian Chronicles" as a perfect SoCal allegory. ...more
Aug 20, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A wonderful analysis of spatial Los Angeles by a British architect who honestly wants to understand how the sprawling city came to be this way and comes to some fascinating conclusions about it without employing the outsider sneer you usually find in books about Los Angeles from writers who live someplace else.
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.
Mar 06, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Though his bird's eye observations remain staggeringly relevant, the particulars of Banham's architectural critique prove less resonant years down the line, perhaps the consequence of a city that has continued to remake itself. ...more
Peter Landau
Apr 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
A friend said this book makes him appreciate Los Angeles as more than a hellhole. I thought that the book finds artistry in hellholes. Regardless, anyone who compares Los Angeles to an orgy scene from the works of Genet and Ray Bradbury’s “The Martian Chronicles” is alright by me.
Andrew Holmes
Aug 23, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: shelved
Far too intellectual and sociological to be viewed as a history either of architecture or Los Angeles society. Hard work and eventually I just gave up.
Julie Butcher
Nov 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
For me, this book was fascinating and I'm glad I read it. ...more
Reynolds Darke
Dec 04, 2019 rated it liked it
A good and interesting book on the subject.
Jan 15, 2021 rated it really liked it
funny ethnography
Lee Knight
Feb 06, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I read this book in 1994 and recently revisited it. A masterpiece of urbanism, popular culture, architecture, and the continuous battle/narrative between vision and application.
"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
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 subject mat
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
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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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