A Roadmap for the Study of Urban Architecture

Published on: November 16th, 2013

Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies documents Reyner Banham’s encounter with the city of Los Angeles. The text sets the groundwork for a new understanding of urban architecture. Beyond the consideration of the geographical, social and historical contexts that distinguish Los Angeles, his accounts of the sprawling metropolis include the actively changing and evolving aspects that define the architecture of the human structure of the city, from freeways to hamburger stands. The book serves as one writers attempt to digest the whole unique fabric that comprises L.A. Published in 1971, Banham’s Los Angeles: Architecture of the Four Ecologies provides readers with a road map for understanding the context of the new urban metropolis. In its categorical breakdown of the urban region, Reyner Banham’s account of Los Angeles establishes a new milieu for urban architectural history. The sprawling, horizontal city of Los Angeles served as the perfect vehicle for Banham’s motive, in that it did not operate on an established grid system and its structure and space defied those of a more traditional city.

Reyner Banham identifies the impossibility of producing a conventional historical account of this city that is entirely unconventional in its essence. In order to accommodate the city’s expansive architecture from Pop ephemerides to civil engineering, Banham’s catalog of Los Angeles deviates from the traditionally accepted norms of urban architectural histories. Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies introduces a new approach of unpacking urban architecture. In his attempt to digest the immense and expansive urban region, Banham breaks the city of Los Angeles down into four ecologies; “Surfurbia,” “The Foothills,” “The Plains of Id” and “Autotopia.” This approach takes advantage of the city’s diverse localities and provides a new way of critically examining the metropolis that reflects the order and logic of the city’s rare form. Tying the ideas of urban architecture to ecology, Banham’s innovative method of understanding the city allows him to cohesively merge the architectural extremes of the expansive city, providing context through it’s unified report of the vast urban region.

This manifesto of the city of Los Angeles identifies and contextualizes the distinct territories of L.A., in a holistic way that leaves the reader with a fully formed impression of the city as a total complex entity, rather than a scattered city comprised of small separate towns. Banham provides the context needed to comprehend this often-misapprehended city. Looking at the ecologies as both a cause and consequence of the city’s architecture and infrastructure, Banham establishes a foundation capable of conceptualizing the city of L.A. In Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies, the tone and structure of Banham’s optimistic take on the city seems to reflect the spirit of Los Angeles itself. Banham writes, “Simply to go from the oldest monument to the newest could well prove a short, boring and uninstructive journey, because the point about this giant city, which has grown almost simultaneously all over, is that all its parts are equal and equally accessible from all other parts at once.” The curious structure of his text is engendered by the unique qualities of Los Angeles itself. His breakdown of ecologies provides his audience with a conscious reflection of an unparalleled model of the urban region. The text seeks to inform readers of the easy mobility, informality and diversity embedded into the multi-centered character of the city. Reyner Banham’s Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies emerges as a tightly constructed urban geography capable of provoking new discourses on the city.

Reyner Banham. 1971. Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies. New York: Harper & Row.

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Program Update

Parsons is not currently admitting new students to this master’s degree program. Parsons is now offering a Graduate Minor in Design Studies that is designed to complement the MA History of Design and Curatorial Studies and other graduate programs across the university in design, liberal arts, and social research.