Convenient Benches and Handy Hooks
Functional Considerations in the Criticism of the Art of Architecture
Transcript of a lecture delivered on Friday 12th June 1964 in Detroit by the architectural historian and critic Reyner Banham (1922-1988). Banham stresses the importance of understanding the original intention and function of a building when evaluating its architectural quality; he decries superficial reaction based purely on personal aesthetic prejudice, something which we are all guilty of. The intellectual differentiation between ‘utility’ and ‘symbolic expression’ is acutely dissected in order to reinforce his position.
“We all do look at buildings and say what we think about them. On Wednesday, we all took one look and damned everything we saw. We ought to be ashamed of doing that, as hardly any of us had any detailed knowledge of the background of the buildings, or particularly, of the original brief which the building was supposed to serve.
It is no use looking at Rudolph’s building at Yale and saying: ‘I don’t like it personally’- it is not enough to just say that. An opinion like that has got to be justified in depth and detail.
The old guard in France, who damned Le Corbusier’s early buildings before they knew anything about them functionally, damned them because they didn’t like the looks of them. They invented functional reasons why they didn’t work, but basically they took against their symbolic expression. We all tend to do this. A great number of plausible building solutions have got lost in the rush, simply because people didn’t like the looks of them; most probably because certain influential teachers and certain influential editors didn’t like the looks of them.”
Convenient Benches & Handy Hooks is available online, in full, here.
Reyner Banham reclining at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Detroit (June 1964) AIA Journal of Architectural Education November 1964
Engineering Building, Leicester University, James Stirling & Gowan (completed 1963/4) Architectural Design February 1964
School of Art & Architecture, Yale University, Paul Rudolph (completed 1963/4) Architectural Forum February 1964
The History, Theory and Criticism of Architecture: Papers from the 1964 AIA-ACSA Teacher Seminar, edited by Marcus Whiffen.