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Reyner Banham

Reyner Banham formerly architectural critic of the New Statesman, is Professor of the History of Art at the University of California (Santa Cruz). He is writing a book about deserts.

Tom Wolfe’s earlier squib against Modernism, The Painted Word, was a reasonable succès de scandale among those with enough interest in the New York School of painting to want to defend it, but went little further than that. From Bauhaus to Our House, on the other hand, has achieved the unprecedented feat (in architectural publishing) of making its way, albeit briefly, into the American best-seller lists, along with all those diets, cats and Barbara Cartland.

Great Chasm

Reyner Banham, 2 July 1981

‘The Great Chasm of the Colorado’, as awe-struck admirers of the Sublime used to call it, is one of the unquestioned show-pieces of North American geology. The word ‘show-piece’ seems appropriate because the Grand Canyon, to give it the name canonised by the advertising of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, is a kind of permanent media-event whose skilful presentation to the viewing public is almost as important as the substance of its topography. The basic packaging of the Grand Canyon (in which the railroad was brilliantly assisted by a remarkable woman architect, Mary Colter), much elaborated since by the National Parks Service and a host of other entities, public and private, is good – but does not reach the level of such masterpieces as Niagara Falls.

Arabia Revisita

Reyner Banham, 4 December 1980

It was Nugent Monck, perennial director of the Maddermarket Theatre in Norwich, who first set me to reading Doughty’s desert monsterpiece. The ostensible reason was our glee at discovering Henry Reed’s poem about the ‘rose red sissy half as old as time’, which reads remarkably like a description of Monck himself, and which prompted him to direct my attention to the description of the rose-red city of Petra of the Nabataeans in Doughty’s second chapter. However, later remarks in unconnected conversations have given me to think that there may have been a deeper motive: as an avowed homosexualist with an extensive and curious knowledge of medical/military affairs in Cairo in the First World War, Monck (and not alone in that generation) had some kind of needle about the virtual sanctification of T.E. Lawrence by the English (Monck was Liverpool Irish). Doughty was for him (as for Lawrence) a kind of bible about the desert, a witness of truth against later romanticisers of ‘the Aarab’.

Sir Jim

Reyner Banham, 22 May 1980

In the travel-starved Fifties, when the journey was often more glamorous than the destination. Sir Hugh Casson began one of his Observer articles: ‘As the airport bus rolled along Chelsea Embankment, I looked up and saw a light burning late in the study of the architectural correspondent of the Times. No doubt he was writing, “Sir Hugh Casson, whose death in an air accident …” ’

The New Lloyd’s

Peter Campbell, 24 July 1986

Richard Rogers’s new Lloyd’s building in London has begun business, to predictable complaints. A Guardian journalist asking for off-the-cuff comments from underwriters found them...

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End of the Road

Peter Campbell, 17 March 1983

Charlatans spread scepticism. Frauds unmasked make critics look fools. When new work looks very simple, and very easy to do, eyes narrow and muttering starts about the emperor’s new...

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