Reyner Banham Loves L.A. (and so do I)!

Liz Luna
Apr 15, 2013 3:28PM

A desert at ocean’s edge, with canyons and mountains, the howling Santa Ana winds and uncertain tectonic plates below—Los Angeles tells a story of extremes and contradictions. It is city that “makes nonsense of history and breaks all the rules.” 

Responding to the city's many discontents in his renowned text Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies and the 1972 BBC documentary Reyer Banham Loves Los Angeles, architectural historian and critic Reyner Banham seeks to present a roadmap for understanding the city he loved. Using both humor and insight, Banham quips with the automated travel guide “Baede-Kar"  (a nod to Karl Baede’s travel books) as he navigates the massive freeway system en route to notable destinations like the Watts Tower, Griffith Observatory, and the Eames House—even stopping at Tiny Naylors for a quick bite with Ed Ruscha and Mike Salisbury. Not surprisingly, Banham once said he learned to drive in order to authentically experience Los Angeles. 

Noting its sprawling suburbanization, smog, and suffocating traffic, Banham also emphasizes Los Angeles’ preoccupation with and difficulty delineating public and private space. Banham highlights the division by shooting large portions of the film within the space of his car as it travels down the public freeways and surface streets.  As we see in the film, both car and road make his voyage possible, but also underscore a uniquely L.A. breed of voyeurism perhaps born out of this nebulous zone in which public and private collide.

Through the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time initiative,   institutions across the Los Angeles area are exploring the topic of modern architecture in Los Angeles, including the city’s residential architecture, car  culture, urban planning, and more. 

Video: Reyer Banham Loves Los Angeles, 1972, BBC Films.

Liz Luna