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Reyner Banham's Unwarranted Apology

Architectural historian Reyner Banham has been a major influence on my work.  In particular, I consider his 1969 book The Architecture of the Well-Tempered Environment to be a monumental contribution to the discipline of architectural history.


Banham titled the introductory section of his book "An Unwarranted Apology."  He wrote:

"In a world more humanely disposed, and more conscious of where the prime human responsibilities of architects lie, the chapters that follow would need no apology, and probably would never need to be written.  It would have been apparent long ago that the art and business of creating buildings is not divisible into two intellectually separate parts—structures, on the one hand, and on the other mechanical services.  Even if industrial habit and contract law appear to impose such a division, it remains false."

  Banham then criticized fellow architectural historians for focusing on appearance and style, rather than the technical aspects of the building process.  He complained:

"However obvious it may appear, on the slightest reflection, that the history of architecture should cover the whole of the technological art of creating habitable environments, the fact remains that [it] still deals almost exclusively with the external forms of habitable volumes as revealed by the structures that enclose them."

The book then explored the immensely interesting story of how the development of architecture was shaped by mechanical systems of heating, ventilation, cooling, and lighting.

For the most part, Banham's challenge has fallen on deaf ears.  (There are a few indications of change, which I'll plan to discuss on this blog in the future.)  And sadly, The Architecture of the Well-Tempered Environment is out of print and hard to find.  It should be required reading for architecture and engineering students.