What is modernity in architecture? In English speaking world, the question is likely impossible to answer without considering the works of Peter Reyner Banham (1922–1988). Regardless of his polemist and disparaging style in his critical writings, this study argues that Banham offers a constructive renewal for the body of knowledge on history and theory of modernity in architectural design. Accordingly, he posits and disposes architectural profession with scientific and technological vision in the front line of struggle for environmental betterment. For him modernity in architecture comprises triad components: function, technology, and aesthetics by which historical milestones come into being. A study on Banhams engagement with modernity is considerably necessary regarding his conviction that history of architecture happens as the consequence of interactions of technological innovations and design creativities, and in response to socioeconomic circumstances as well.


Banham ; Architecture ; Design ; History ; Modernity ; Functionalism ; Technology

1. Banham and modernity

Modern design is a phenomenon of the rationally industrialized system that concerns about the integration of form, material, and function for mass production. Modern culture concerns every idea, action, product and service that values and cares for the conditions of contemporariness, in the context of human needs for safety, security, health, and comfort. Modernism can be described as a sociocultural movement, which was originally arising in the Western world in the late 19th century; it encompasses all human endeavours such as arts, architecture, literature, science, technology, philosophy, faith, and politics. Like any other ideologies, modernism produces and establishes something concrete that we call modernity. In many ways, modernity shows its capacity as a phenomenon of civilization that is based on the consciousness of contemporary circumstances and thinks as well as acts accordingly by optimizing the available resources and tools. In such a way, modernism can reject any old fashioned way of thinking or past faiths, values, and customs.

In architectural context, modernity is defined more often by examples than by theories. Consequently, there are idiosyncrasies in its movement. Functionalism stands out from such idiosyncrasies (Sharp, 2002 : 4; Benevolo, 1977 : 436; Dean and Zevi, 1983  ;  Birkert, 1994 : 3). Reyner Banham is one of many architectural historians who unveils and supports functionalism. He recalls the 1850s decree of Horatio Greenough: “Beauty is the promise of function” (Whiteley, 2003 : 295). In this sense, the history of architecture is neither a record of stylistic development nor a chronicle of most celebrated buildings. With this position, the notion of architecture at that time is in question. Banham quotes this to challenge for a reformulation of history of architecture in dealing with contemporary circumstances.

In respect to his vision on history, this study argues that rethinking modernity through Banhams works is worthwhile for architectural profession and education. One important reason to do this is the fact that Banhams contribution to history, theory, and criticism of architecture is undoubtedly constructive and inspiring; his vision goes beyond the conventional boundary of architecture. Accordingly, functionalism is not enough, but technological enthusiasm must be aware of the dangers of mindless mechanization and its environmental consequences. His works that explore interdisciplinarily the spirit and meanings of modernity, especially in the context of the built form and urban landscape that leads us to scrutinize the spiritual relationship between design and technology for humanity.

What is modernism in architecture? Studies on modernism in architecture have been presented in several publications. Rykwert (1983) argues that the essential idea of modernism had been posed since the 18th century in French Academy. Accordingly, the French intellectuals and architects ranging from Claude Perrault to Nicholas Louis-Durand, have already put the Vitruvian Greco-Roman architectural doctrine in question; here, modernism is understood in the broadest sense of the words as the awareness of the contemporary world in the context of practice and technique. For Banham, the question on modernity is neither rhetorical nor prophetic, either in content or in tone. He takes the question seriously, which leads to an intricate investigation into the possibility of technology. History and theory of architecture in Banhams mind are indispensably inquisitive rather than a dry, dispassionate, and uncritical narrative. As far as the history and theory of modern architecture is concerned, no one is idiosyncratically able to talk and write about it without going through Banhams positions and expositions.

As one of the most profound theorists and historians on functionalism in the Age of Machine Aesthetics, the relation of Banham to modernism in architecture is seemingly neither a “father and son” relationship nor a “subject and object” binary, but it might be properly said as a co-existential pair of the 20th century architectural history. To certain extent, Banham is more than just an observer and a witness of historical movement of modern architecture. Properly speaking and regarding his rigorous scholarship, Banham is probably one of the best references of knowledge, power and subject of modernity in architectural history. As an editor of Architectural Review (1952), Banham is the man in action in polemics and debates on contemporary architecture in Western world.

This paper is intended to explore the relationship between Banham and modernism in theoretical and historical context of humanities and social sciences. The focus of investigation is to dismantle and unfold concepts and phenomena of modernism, which have been discussed, studied, and proposed by Banham. The purpose of the study is to unveil the virtue of architecture and its modernity for architectural education and profession. In doing so, this study is expected to make a contribution to architectural discourse on modernity based on Banhams texts. The limitation of the study is Banhams textual works in terms of his publications, letters, interviews, and other writings on his works and his person.

The approach to Banhams works in this study is considerably hermeneutical by which Banhams concepts and its modern contextuality will be necessarily dismantled and unfolded for their intrinsic and explicit meanings and significances. By nature, the study is to make modernism a case based upon Banhams passion in the dynamic relationship between technological innovations and artistic endeavours that happens and makes a history for the presence of architecture. This study will emphasize its analysis in an explorative way that enables one to see the interplay between power, knowledge, and subject in Western industrial and capitalist cultures. The goal of this study is to uncover and to unfold Banhams vision on history of architecture as the immediate future of comprehensive ecosystems, instead of dated works in classified styles by names of architects (Banham, 2009 : xxxiv). In order to achieve this goal, this study will handle three categories of architectural presence: function, technology, and aesthetics. These threefold presence will be studied with respect to Banhams thoughts, positions, commentaries, notes, and unspoken messages.

Furthermore, the nature of analysis in this study is an interdisciplinary investigation in the context of sociocultural reality. Banhams concepts and prepositions will be scrutinized from its origin to its broadly contextual form. In doing so, the study is neither to enhance nor to criticize Banhams works. Rather, this study is to explore the problems, constraints, and opportunities of Banhams vision on modernity and its pertinence for the future of architectural profession and education.

As a public thing, architecture is never immune from power play that shapes, constructs, sustains or demolishes its presence. Accordingly, architecture as observed by Banham is human condition that moves always with the time because it helps to create the time (Banham, 1974 : 3–4). For him, professionally, architects are believed to be capable of being form-giver, creator, and controller of human environment. In the light of Zeitgeist (Eisenman in Hays, 2000 : 529. See also Nesbitt, 1996 : 217; Tournikiotis, 2001 : 154), architects are morally responsible for the quality of the built environment because they are trained and educated for making places, instead of destroying them into pieces. The thing of architecture for Banham is one of the thinkable modes of design that for some reason had come to occupy a position of cultural privilege in relation to construction industry (Banham, 1999 : 294). As a thinkable thing, architecture, by its design, presents functional environment, attractive form, and truthful construction, which qualifies it as a cultural artifact. In this respect, design does make a difference for the built environment to be qualified as architecture. In doing so, architects as designers are morally due to perform their best effort for a well-designed building by which human needs are well accommodated with safe, healthy, and beautiful environment.

Since his interest in history is what happens along the shifting frontier between technology and art (Whiteley, 2003 : 407), this study will be focused on Banhams critical assessments, positions, and thoughts on three main categories of architecture as a thinkable thing: function, technology, and aesthetics. Indeed, the historical context of his works in the United Kingdom and in USA becomes crucial for understanding his propositions and expositions on the architecture of the 20th century. In short, the research on Banhams works and thoughts is to concern with the questions of form-function, truth-technology, and healthy world-aesthetics.

Studies on Banhams works include documentations, compilations, and historical analyses. Fully dedicated works on Banhams endeavours have been presented by Richardson (1987) and Whiteley (2003) . Richardson provides us with literary documentation on Banhams publications until 1986. Whiteley studies Banhams background and his thinking on history and theory of modern architecture. Whiteleys book is undoubtedly a substantial contribution to a documentary exposition. However, Whiteleys book has not yet covered the most recent Banhams theoretical positions, especially on the urban landscape of USA. Moreover, regarding Banhams understanding on history of architecture and his passion on technological modernity, his works are remarkably inspiring and challenging for studies on history and theory of architecture. Tournikiotis is correct in describing Reyner Banham as a historian who writes of things that historians had concealed (Tournikiotis, 2001 : 145–166); this is sometimes done consciously and sometimes not. For him, history and critical analysis are indispensably an integrated part of questioning as well as thinking of modernity. Despite the polemics of Banham with other historians and critics are obvious on many cases, the stature of his scholarship becomes more and more solid in compliance with his vision on history as an immediate future. Until now, in Banhams texts and traces this vision considerably remains hidden, which stipulates us for further investigation and deliberation. In order to dismantle Banhams ideas and thoughts, it is necessary to discuss the basic concepts of architecture, history, and modernity from which he develops his vision on modern culture of design. Undoubtedly, architecture is one important platform of modern experiment that demonstrates an integration of new material, technology and aesthetics into a functional form. Unlike before, modernity discloses its futurist possibilities of form based on the innovations of science and technology. Indeed, Banham reads and envisages these possibilities in terms of functional form that performs industrial aesthetics. The important references for this aesthetics are mostly from Germany such as Turbinenfabrik by Peter Behren (1909) and Faguswerk Headquarters by Walter Gropius in collaboration with Adolf Meyer (1911). Both buildings are not only new, in terms of construction, material, and form, but also a breakthrough for its functional interpretation for what a workplace is. What is modern architecture?

2. On architecture

For Banham the question is crystal clear concerning its design quality in response to human needs (Banham, 1975 : 154, 1999 : 13). Banham speaks of human needs in its contemporariness. Of course, human needs are not simply in terms of utility and accessibility. Banham understands the needs in the broadest sense of the word “function” that brings about the effect of spectacular aspects concerning the contemporary design. Function and design as entry points of architectural criticism are undoubtedly not Banham invention. Since the beginning of the 1900s architectural criticism has explored various aspects of architectural presence beyond its stylistic idiosyncrasy. Since then architectural criticism has dealt with several different aspects of function ranging from pragmatic to symbolic dimension (Ligo, 1984 : 97). On the other hand, design, as a crucial aspect of the architectural theory, history and criticism of the 20th modern movement in architecture, is probably one important point of the contribution of Banham that concerns the discourse of architecture. The thing of architecture, if for Banham, is not about the look, but the quality of experience in its space, construction, form, and material.

The question concerning architecture remains seemingly nebulous if we do not trace back its conceptual origin. Marcus Pollio Vitruvius (80–70 BC–15 AD) is probably the first architectural theorist who has handed down “architectura ” and “architectus ” as concepts to us in his book: “De Architectura Libri Decem” from the Roman Augustan Period ( Granger, 2008 : ix–xxviii). Vitruvius does not provide us with the definition of architecture, but he does give us principles so that one is able to qualify whether a building work belongs to architecture or not. Even though in ancient Greek language it is hard to find the word “architecture”, the concept is probably composed by two words: archi (first, origin, principle, chief)+tecton (carpenter, builder) or techne (expertise of making things) or technites (skilled person, master craftsman). Vitruvian architectus stems probably from the Greek word architecton meaning master builder. With respect to the Greek concept archi , architect and architecture are associated with something original, creative, and excellent in terms of production. The notion of archi denotes the creative capacity of production as well as the originality of its form, function and construction. To a certain extent, architecture is about building works which are technically, functionally, and aesthetically phenomenal. Indeed, something phenomenal is at the capacity that shows itself as somewhat innovative in dealing with human condition. In dealing with human condition, Vitruvius in his book gave some criteria of training for architects which have been mostly incorporated in architectural education today. In short, an architect is a cultural person with well-rounded knowledge and skills of planning, designing, constructing, and managing the built environment which is safe, convenient, healthy, and attractive.

In the course of time, architecture evolves in its representations, structures, and meanings. However, there is something permanent that, as a concept, architecture is not for any building work, but in some ways concerns masterpieces. Because of this quality, architectural history comes into discourse. In addition, Banham values architecture in its masterpieces characters that rests upon the authority and felicity with which they give expression to a view of men in relation to environment. In modern context, architecture is not any more a privilege of a few social milieu and classes, but democratically accessible for all people. Modernity liberates architecture from its social exclusiveness and makes it accessible and affordable for all in terms of property and public art. All this is mad possible because of the rationalization of the modern design and the technological production system. In other words, modern science and technology enables architects, artists, and builders to present a new architecture in history. In the words of Gropius (1965: 20) , this new architecture is the inevitable logical product of the intellectual, social, and technical conditions of our age. Modern culture of architectural design is nothing but the response to the engagement with the contemporariness. Then, what is history for art and architecture?

3. On history

What is the history of architecture for Banham? History as a system of knowledge is undoubtedly important for Banham because of its resourceful nature for future improvement and correction. Even though historical accounts on Banhams works have been the main concern of Whiteleys book (2003), on Banhams method and approach still fall short of delineation. One thing that is fascinating for his historical analysis is the transformations in a building system; it is because of technological inventions and its artistic appropriations. History in this sense is about the event that happens in the dynamic relationship between technological exploration and its artistic interpretation. This includes the ingenuity of design in the search for excellent function, comfort, environmental sustainability, beauty, and economic affordability; it is what he speaks of the power to deliver the promises of the Machine Age (Banham, 1981a : 11). It is unsurprising to understand why Banham values something historical in its futuristic capacity. Indeed, technological aspect plays a significant role for architectural innovation. For Banham modernity is historically interesting because of its futurist spirit that is made possible by innovative technology and imaginative art.

Despite that it is barely to find evidences on the association of Banhams historical approach with Marxist historical materialism, both have something in common concerning history as the outcome of struggle for the future. In this respect, Banham rejects revivalism and eclecticism of architectural form without imaginative expression with technological innovation. For him any attempt to revive styles of the past is a sign of weakness (Whiteley, 2003 : 15). He is by no means against reinterpretation of historic buildings such as James Stirlings Stuttgart Gallerie in relation to Karl Friedrich Schinkels Altes Museum, and Bruno Taut' Glass Industry pavilion at Cologne Werkbund Exhibition in 1914 in relation to Classical Greek Tholos. History for Banham is unquestionably resourceful. The problem is not how to translate it bluntly word by word. In other words, history is subject to interpretation with artistic sensibility and technological ingenuity.

Still, historical analysis for Banham is more about practical matter that supports his critical propositions, rather than a theoretical formulation in terms of method and approach. History in this sense is supportive knowledge of the past that inspires the present works concerning the classical, universal, and timeless. Indeed, history is likely not worthy of being repeated if it does not offer and deliver something essential and significant. This is probably the reason why Banham is reluctant to endorse Post-Modernism or less enthusiastic for architectural preservation and conservation. For him Post-Modernism is too academic and scholastic. Banham is likely to avoid any position or judgment on architecture without being in touch with its practicality and technological know-how. In this line of thinking, history of architecture is not about the interpretation of style and form, but the consequence of engagement and dealing with the current conditions; this is likely what modernity is about.

4. On modernity

As many other critics and theorists in architecture, Banham is by training and profession a historian. History for Banham is probably close to Michel Foucaults “history of the present”. Accordingly, history is an interpretative narrative of the past in response to the present problems and conditions. Practically speaking, modernity has been experienced in architectural profession with respect to the use of design and technology according to function. Unlike its precedent tradition in construction industry, modernity is an attempt to revalidate the collaborative relationship between utility and form, as well as between aesthetics and function. Even though the origin of modernism in architecture is still an open question for its milestones and events, Banham argues that technology, human needs, and environmental concerns are indispensably integrated in the concept of modern architecture. For him, it is clear that the works belonging to architecture are masterpieces with its aesthetic autonomy and felicity of freedom. Indeed, modern architecture is distinguished from its predecessors not simply because of its form, structure, and aesthetics. In addition, modernism in architecture is likely more about new awareness of the logic of production and economic commodity in building industry based on innovative technology, environmental responsibility, and human condition.

Even though modern movement in architecture has been an integrated part of the spirit of modernity, there are no traces of any intellectual exchange between modern architects and modern scholars (Heynen, 2000 : 4). Indeed, there are hardly any evidences of contacts and exchanges of minds between them such as Ernst Bloch (1885–1977) and Max Bill (1908–1994), though as a proponent of modern industrial designer, Bill is the sculptor of Endlose Treppe in Ludwigshafen, which is dedicated to the Principle of Hope by Bloch in 1991. The similar cases happen between artists, architects, industrialists, and designers of Deutscher Werkbund and scholars of the Frankfuter Schule . Modernity in architectural world is likely less crystallized as a solid concept, if it is not superficial. It is not to say that modern movement in architecture is more about stylistic transformation.

To what extent is modernity in architecture a Habermas' unfinished project or Giddens narcistic self-identity? Habermas holds that modern movement in architecture was sustained through its engagement with the past. In his analysis, Habermas comes to a conjecture that modern is characterized by the spontaneously self-renewing historical contemporaneity of the Zeitgeist to find its own objective expression ( Habermas, 1990 , Passerin d'Entrèves and Benhabib, 1997 : 39). In this sense, modernity is not against history; even to a certain extent, it remains faithful to keeping its secret relation to the classical.

Moreover, modernity in this perspective is indispensable for a historical continuity but with the awareness of the presence that utilizes most recent modes of production and sociocultural institutions. For Habermas, the project of modernity is nothing but to complete the Enlightenments reason. In this light, modernity in architecture is supposedly to complete the project with three main goals: autonomous art, objective knowledge, and universal ethics. One important foundation for the completion of the project is the awareness of the historical situation that is to response to the present challenges for aesthetics, knowledge, and ethics. In doing so, modernity unveils liberation for any authority of the past and validates all efforts to deal with the present. To a certain extent, this attitude may lead modernity towards autonomous existence of the self, which is not limited to person, group and institution, but also the works of art and architecture as well as culture. It is unsurprising to realize that modern architects strive for their autonomy and felicity.

Claiming of aesthetic autonomy by architects and artists has been made since the 19th century, with Arts and Crafts movement in England, Art Nouveau in Europe and Chicago School North America. This claim is not from the thin air but substantially supported by the advent of new materials and construction methods as the consequences of industrial revolution. The shift concept of power in construction industry comes into being alongside with this revolution. However, asserting for autonomous aesthetics is not simply a trendy response or a fashionable reaction of mass form and uniformly cheap design of industrial production. The claim for aesthetic hegemony of modern movement is in a way to restore the existence and integrity of craftsmanship in the design of modern architecture. In contrast to arts and crafts movement, the Deutscher Werkbund , funded in 1907 by Hermann Muthesius, Peter Behrens, and Fritz Schumacher, goes hand in hand with industrialists to bear the industrial requirements and values of utilitarian production. Of course, Banham is aware of all these historical events that enable him to see the significant role of new materials and new constructions in the mode of production for new buildings. More importantly, for Banham it is the fact that design in the Machine Age is indispensable from aesthetic sensibility and the knowledgeable method of construction of industrial production. In this sense, design is not just to respond to human needs, but also the search for new experiences. Design is necessary to advocate new architectural form, structure, material, and spatiality that has logical and economic grounds rather than standing on the grounds of stylistic aesthetics or symbolism.

For modernist architects, claiming aesthetic authority is more shown by practice; notably ranging from its heroic periods from 1920s to 1930s in Western Europe. Such authority could have not happened if the shift of power in construction industry did not take place. Indeed at those periods, the transformations of aesthetics happened in European societies from elitist and bourgeoisie milieu to be more liberal and industrial culture. The shift of power from bourgeoisie authority to industrialist society opened a new horizon for artists and architects to deal with new techniques and materials. The Industrial production system and capitalistic market economy liberates people from predetermined societal identity to self-identity based on individual freedom. British sociologist Anthony Gidden characterizes modernity by its capacity for self-identity, which is in some way possibly narcissistic (Gidden, 1991 ).

So far, modernity in art and architecture shows itself to be independent from the authority of the past. The problem is the fact that until now there is no any valid strategy of modernity to carry on the Enlightenment project. The debate on Immanuel Kant between Habermas and Foucault reminds us of that modernity begins with Kantian enlightenments critique, which is neither about right or wrong, nor about good or bad, but about maturity (Dreyfus and Robinow, 1998 : 110). Modernity is about maturity, which is characterized by the responsibility of person in using his/her rationality as well as the awareness of the limit of reason. The project of modernity in Kants Enlightenment is many ways a rejection to claim of universal truth in human nature. Indeed, Kant is probably the first philosopher in the West who begins to ground philosophy in the reality of the presence that consists of three main areas of concern: epistemology, ethics, and aesthetics.

Conceptually, modernity starts probably from Kants transcendental philosophy. Modern architects, historians, and critics in Banhams generation seem far away from being involved in modernism as the project of Enlightenment. Kants contribution to modernity lies in his responsive sensibility and engagement of philosophy to his historical circumstances. This awareness is probably the essential aspect of modern spirit that people in arts, sciences, and humanities engage their works with their historical situation. Nevertheless, modernity as the awareness of contemporariness is not enough for architectural design, because it is necessarily coupled with the unity of mind and action for essential purpose; we call this function.

5. On functionalism

Engagement with the present constitutes Banhams critical essays on architecture. Functionalism becomes the key concept to survey and analyse how architectural works engage and concern with the present situation; without this ideology, the relationship between architecture and history in the context of modernity does not find its sense of movement. Technologically revealing and unveiling the function of things is probably the essence of modern design culture. Function stems from Latin fungi meaning perform. A thing is functional because of its usefulness and worth for human being. Banham (1981b : 320) acknowledges Sigfried Gideon as a forerunner of historians and critics who employ functionalism as a “blanket” term for progressive architecture in 1920s. However, he is not satisfied with the implementation of the word “ functional” or “functionalism” that labels or attributes newly emerging architecture in Western Europe, Great Britain, and USA, as presented by Henry Russel Hichcock and Philips Johnson under the title: “the International Style” as well as by Alberto Sartorias “Gli Elimenti dell' architettura Funzionale ”. For Banham, functionalism is more than “blanket”, “label”, and “attribute” of new style of architecture, but it is about a general idea of aesthetics in the Machine Age. Functionalism does not simply comprise the imaginative design that utilizes and conceptualizes the most recently industrialized material, honest and technologically innovative construction, and rational form. It is clear for Banham that functionalism contains futuristic emulation.

Unlike his forerunner, Sigfried Giedeon, modernist buildings for Banham are not seen merely from the voluminous quality of its spatial design. Under the notion of “space conception” Giedeon investigates its quality of design in defining domains, in exploring the sensibility of spatial complexity, as well as in organizing buildings that bring them all together as a composition for optical perception (Gideon, 1941 ). The importance of Giedeons approach to history lies in its attempt to find a new paradigm of architectural history which is not based on style. Despite that his concept of architecture as a growing organism is arguable as a theoretical framework, Giedeons categorical “space conception” of historical development of art and architecture is considerably an original endeavour of historical narrative. It is beyond the mainstream of historians and critics between 1920s and 1950s, such as Banhams mentor: Pevsner. Indeed, Banham does not openly endorse Giedeons move for a new historical approach. However, he is not satisfied with the historical and critical analysis without taking seriously technological ingenuity into account.

The other collateral aspect of technology is the concept of function. Function is probably one important concept in architecture. It turns history of architecture from the history of style to that of the relationship between form and content by means of technological innovations. Since the industrial revolution of the 19th century, technological novelty had opened new horizon for construction industry and architectural design. One monumental structure of functional technology in architecture has been shown by Joseph Paxton with the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park London 1850–1851.

The Crystal Palace was probably the first exhibition hall of functionalism that utilized the technological advancement of cast iron and glass for its building materials and light structural frames for its construction. Banham (1974) praised Paxtons Crystal Palace for its functional design of regular rhythm that measures and controls the pieces of infinite space. In contrast to Galleria Victoria Emmanuelle II, built in 1877 and designed by Guiseppe Mengoni, the Crystal Palace is made of purely industrial materials and structural design that show the awareness of technological contemporariness. As a masterpiece of the 19th century exhibition hall, the Crystal Palace has successfully integrated the natural and man-made environment into a functional building; its ingenuity for environmental control of air circulations and daylight penetration is exemplary for green building design. Unsurprisingly, David Gissen puts it correctly that the design of Crystal Palace falls into a big and green sustainable building (Gissen, 2002 : 11).

Indeed, functionalism for Banham is not limited to the notion of utilitarian designation. In his work “Architecture of the well tempered environment”, Banham gives the examples of buildings that solve the technical problems of ecologically healthy environment for human activities; he demonstrates in detail how the ingenuity of technological components and system works for the buildings with respect to effective performances, practical operation, comfort, safety, energy conservation and beauty.

For Banham, function in the context of architectural design is more than uses and advantages, but also values and meanings. Accordingly, ornaments and accessories are not the matters of style or fashion, but are that of their authenticity and integrity in the whole design of the building. In this respect, function is a potential content of the form in dealing with the spirit of the contemporariness. By functionalism, architectural design is not only in response to the technical problems, but also the showcase of its technologically contemporary innovation concerning sociocultural values and meanings. In other words, functional architecture for Banham is indivisible from its technological creativity that brings about the authenticity and integrity of its performance into light. Based on this position, he does not see such authenticity and integrity in the Post-Modernism.

Banhams position on architecture is probably well represented in his “Theory and design in the first Machine Age” that unveils the rigorous nobility of functionalism. In this respect, Banham realized the unfinished project of modernism in fulfilling machine aesthetics and functionalism in the mid 20th century. Indeed, the technologically driven innovations inspire many architects to make architecture with the mode of mass-production. Technological rationalization for building design, construction, and building materials have led many modern designers to produce repetitive and dull forms. However, it does not mean that the social agenda of modernism for egalitarian and democratic design has ended. As a matter of fact, technological innovations for modernism are just the tool of architectural production. It is considerably the part of the solution for social injustice and inequality of the right for having home. Dumb and boring modern buildings are seemingly not the consequence of its functionalism, but simply the side effect of the modern mode of rational production. It is the reason why Banham still believed in and celebrated technological innovations with its unstoppable drive to continuously increasing transformation (Sennott, 2001 : 107).

The relationship between functionalism and technology is likely the partnership of “mind” and “hand” that leads architectural productions towards authentic and integrated designs in response to the purpose of man-made environment for humanity. Authenticity for Banham plays an important role with respect to designers creative response to the specific problems, concerns, and circumstances of their works. In the light of functionalism, a designer is supposedly to respond to design problems with ingenuity by means of technology. On the other hand, design integrity for Banham is the proof of designers sensibility for the sense of wholeness. It is more than just the skills of how to use the appropriate building materials, how to synthesize building form and its programmes, and how to integrate a building layout into the site and its surrounding. In other words, design integrity is about artistic synthesis of almost all aspects of building form as a system that works well and is beautiful.

In dealing with the question of beauty, a great architecture for Banham has been “conceptual” and has been “image making” (Banham and Banham, 1996 : 13). Structure, function, and form are not simply to be integrated in its whole composition, but it is necessarily conceptual in its content. A conceptual design in Banhams mind is neither about proportion and symmetry nor about architecturally governing principles for the unity of form and function, in terms of Platonic geometry. For this matter, Banham speaks of a conceptual design in terms of functionalism either with formal or “aformal” design solution (Banham, 1999 : 14). In fact, a conceptual design can be achieved through asymmetry and free form. Design with freedom is probably the key to finding delicate interconnection between elements, factors, and resources. In other words, Banham endorses creative technology for this search, instead of being firm within a certain school of design.

Banham underscores the intuitive sense of topology, by which the plasticity of form for the quality of penetration, circulation, and inside out comes into play in a dominant way overruling symmetric rule and compass geometry. In this case Banham endorses the New Brutalist movement in modern architecture. Why does conceptual design matter for Banham lies in the thought of synergic relationship among form, structure, and function. The synergy brings about the image of the building that is in response to technical problems, to the awareness of history, as well as to aesthetic experience. Beauty in this sense belongs to the component and outcome of a conceptual design. Banham speaks of machine aesthetics for modern buildings. Accordingly, beautiful form is indispensably integrated within the timely condition that each era has its own legitimate and authentic forms of actualization. Beauty in this case is not a singular concept with its timeless possibility. Instead, Banham holds aesthetics without formal school of tradition, but simply the beauty that springs from the response to contextual conditions and the awareness of time when the building is designed and constructed. Then, machine aesthetics is neither a dogmatic canon nor an ideological doctrine, but a search for the aesthetically enriched experience based on an open attitude for being in terms with the steady change of technology.

Today, functionalism and machine aesthetics have to deal with the sustainability of products in terms of economy and ecology. Technology and design as the extension of human hands are necessarily to come into terms with the mode of environmentally friendly production that sustains the economy of sustainable communities. Banham leaves us with an open question for new machine aesthetics of sustainable design in the Age of Global Information.

6. Concluding remarks

Despite his polemical positions, Reyner Banham is one important figure of architectural theorist, historian, and critics on the 20th century architecture. The power of his writing lies in his attention to details by examples; all this is skillfully crafted in a way that is without losing the big picture of his subject matter. His passion for technology and design leads his criticism into the discourse of architecture in its contemporariness concerning the advent of technological innovations, best professional practices, and the necessity for energy conservation as well as the practicality of daily use and maintenance. In doing so, the awareness of history and futuristic possibility finds its actual matters concerning architectural responsibility for better environment. However, the key for a great architecture for Banham lies in the ingenuity for authenticity and integrity of the design.

The meaning of Banham for architectural education and practice can be set out in three points. Firstly, Banham sets forth a new way to see the relationship between history and theory of the design that is not based on the historical evolution of style and fashion, but an interactive play of form, function, material, and construction within a system of technological production. However, the direction of such a system of production is not by chance, but is intentional in response to the contemporary human needs. Thus, the relationship between history and theory is the outcome of the engagement and dealing with the world reality of the now for safety, comfort, economic affordability, practicality, and health. Secondly, Banham pioneers a critical study on architecture and urbanism based on daily life experience. This kind of study is quite strange in his time. His approach to the quality of architectural design is not about personal preference, but simply pragmatic concerning human conditions in relation to the built environment. In this point, Banham leads academicians in his time and beyond to see and appreciate the quality of architectural work from its comprehensive performance how it serves humanity, from its use to aesthetics. Thirdly, Banham makes a significant contribution to understand modernity from designs perspective based on technological innovations. In doing so, modern culture values design as an integrated part of the awareness of contemporariness that concerns not only problem solving oriented products and services, but also explorative ideas and possibilities based on technological innovations. Succinctly, modern culture liberates humanity from historical design and patronage for form, function, material, and construction. Experimentations and explorations of design belong to modern culture because all these efforts are theoretically and practically possible with the help of technological ingenuity. The significance of modern culture of design lies in its form and performance that discloses humanity to explore new experiences of perfection, fitness, nearness, accuracy, efficiency, safety, and security. Banhams critical writings demonstrate all these.


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  4. Banham, 1981b Reyner Banham; Design by Choice, With Penny Sparke; Rizzoli, New York (1981)
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