“Now I know subjective opinions can vary,” the journalist Adam Raphael wrote in the Guardian in 1968, “but personally I reckon LA as the noisiest, the smelliest, the most uncomfortable and most uncivilised major city in the United States. In short, a stinking sewer…”
Three years later, Raphael’s words appeared in print again as an epigraph of Reyner Banham’s Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies – the most exuberantly pro-Los Angeles book ever written. Ever since publication, it has shown up on lists of great books about modern cities – even those drawn up by people who consider Los Angeles anything but a great American city.
Somehow, this book that drew so much of its initial publicity with shock value (“In Praise (!) of Los Angeles”, sneered the New York Times review’s headline) has kept its relevance through the decades, such that newly arrived Angelenos still read it to orient themselves. But what can it teach us about the Los Angeles of today?
An architectural historian a decade into his career when he first visited, Banham knew full-well that his fellow intellectuals hated Los Angeles. How and why he himself came so avidly to appreciate it constitutes the core question of his work on the city, which culminated in this slim volume.
The “many who were ready to cast doubt on the worth of the enterprise”, he reflected in its final chapter, included a “distinguished Italian architect and his wife who, on discovering that I was writing this book, doubted that anyone who cared for architecture could lower himself to such a project and walked away without a word further.”
Read the whole thing at the Guardian.