Autopia: Notes on Banham’s Visionary Metropolis
Keywords:Autopia, Reyner Banham
AbstractIn 1959 Reyner Banham challenged zoned urbanism by combining the Situationist psychogeographic drift with his love for Los Angeles. His essay “City as Scrambled Egg” (Banham, 1959) effectively produced a new urban image and introduced a new outlook on postwar modernization, communication, and leisure. The radicalization of contemporary life resonated in images of the city as decentralized, free, and in motion. While Le Corbusier had compared the city to an egg with demarcating zones and boundaries, Banham argued that motorization and telecommunications had long scrambled the city; “I don’t just mean in Los Angeles. A large part of the population of Europe already lives conurbatively” (Banham, 1959, p. 21). The entire region between Amsterdam and Rotterdam was already one conurbanized arena, effectively formulating an early definition of the megalopolis.
Unlike CIAM’s city of the urban core with designated outskirts, the
center was now seen to be everywhere. For Banham, this was the
terrain of contemporary urbanization that needed to be understood
by holding prejudgments at bay and instead doing, what he called,
“leg-work on the territory” (Banham, 1959, p. 21). But, as his ongoing fascinations with Futurism and post-war technologies revealed, this departure from modernist imagery of the city was not a disregard of modernist urban utopias but a way to rework these ideas towards a new kind of visionary; one that is less about forecasting the new and, instead, is contingent on a new optical vision of the existing city. A key site for his development of a different way of seeing the modernized urban world was the city of Los Angeles and particularly its traffic, which he called “Autopia.”
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