Forum Portfolio 2

ForumPortfolio2 revisited Reyner Banham's view of Los Angeles thirty-five years after his seminal book on the topic was published. Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies (1971) was at the time, as it is today, considered not only one of the canonical surveys of the city of Los Angeles, but also an extremely important and new way of viewing and analyzing city planning. Upending traditional urban surveys, Banham considered Los Angeles as a total landscape: an architectural object in itself. Architectural historian Anthony Vidler writes "...rather than surveying major monuments and historical buildings one by one, [Banham] took on the whole fabric and structure of [the] urban region. In this attempt, Banham worked to develop an entirely new radical view of urban architecture, one that has had a major impact on the discipline of architecture history." Banham not only examined the "high" architectural monuments of the city routine to such urban surveys, but simultaneously and at length considered the proliferating everyday architecture of the city, such as fast food restaurants traditionally bracketed off because of their ephemeral, temporary qualities. In fact, it was the throw-away quality of much of the landscape of Los Angeles that fascinated Banham most and what he felt underpinned the city at large: its plug-in quality — the ability to erase and replace architecture over and over as the time and need required. Vidler continues, "[Banham] provided a road map for the study of urban architecture not just in its geographical, social, and historical context — this was already common practice among social historians of architecture in the late 60's — but as an active and ever-changing palimpsest of the new global metropolis. Not incidentally, he also entirely redefined the architecture that scholars were used to studying, now embracing all forms of human structure from the freeway to the hot dog stand, and a plurality of forms of expression not simply confined to the aesthetic codes of high architecture." Banham wrote at length about the city’s infrastructure. For him, the freeways, aqueducts, and other systems Los Angeles deployed to colonize the land ultimately allowed the emergence of the bright, colorful, and casual architecture Banham rejoices in (as an architecture representative of an authentic response to the California landscape), the objects of modern mass production (cars, surfboards, movies), and the loss of historic precedent as an agent for progress.

For ForumPortfolio2, Warren Techentin and The Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design revisited Banham's text to explore what had changed in the intervening years since its publication? Did the four ecologies still hold? How have they been transformed? Are there new ecologies? Is Los Angeles still a city that can be understood geographically or will new modes of representation and classification have to be developed to continue to be able to "read" the shifting terrain? When undertaking the project of producing a portfolio that looked at Los Angeles through the prism of Banham's ecologies (Autopia, Surfurbia, the Foothills, and the Plains of Id: each coined to lend clarity to an "undefined" or "post-urban" city) the LA Forum were interested in understanding how a generation of artists might describe the city one generation later through the same, or new, filters. 

The artists participating in this portfolio are Jessica Bronson, Catherine Opie, Alex Slade, and James Welling. Each artist was asked to consider the Los Angeles of Banham for their work in this portfolio. Despite evident references to Banham's four ecologies, these works also depict a Los Angeles in conflict with Banham's thinking. They present a Los Angeles uncomfortable with its sprawl and pervasive automobility; still wholly reliant on machinery, infrastructure, and equipment as a way to mediate (if not tame) the landscape. Moreover, the works vacillate between a strange optimism about the future of Los Angeles and a tarnished view of the landscape of which Banham was such a champion. 

A limited number of portfolios for the photographs were designed by Michael Maltzan. 

One portfolio is still available for purchase. Please contact Warren Techentin if you are interested.