Autopia: Notes on Banham’s Visionary Metropolis


  • Alexander Eisenschmidt University of Illinois at Chicago



Autopia, Reyner Banham


In 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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Author Biography

Alexander Eisenschmidt, University of Illinois at Chicago

Assistant Professor

PhD, University of Pennsylvania
MArch, Pratt Institute, New York
Dipl-Arch, HTWK, Leipzig

Alexander Eisenschmidt is an architectural theorist and designer. His work investigates the productive tension between the modern city and architectural form—a topic on which he has lectured, chaired conferences, and published extensively, ranging in venues from the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians to Grey Room and The Architect's Newspaper New York. He is the guest-editor of City as Catalyst (Architecutral Design, 2012), the lead-editor of Chicagoisms (Scheidegger & Spiess / Park Books, 2013), and from 2012 to 2013 was the reviews editor of the Journal of Architectural Education, where he restructured the section as a thematically curated arsenal of ideas. Eisenschmidt is also the designer and curator of "City Works," a collaborative exhibition at the 13th International Architectural Biennale in Venice (2012), co-curator and designer of the exhibition "Chicagoisms" at the Art Institute of Chicago (2014), and in 2015 his exhibition "Collective City" was part of the International Biennale on Urbanism in Shenzhen China. In addition, Eisenschmidt is a founding partner in the design practice Studio Offshore and the director of the Visionary Cities Project, a research-based platform devoted to the study of the contemporary city and to speculations on new forms of urbanism. His current book project is entitled The Good Metropolis.