Despite having died more than a quarter-century ago, architectural historian Reyner Banham remains as cited an interpreter of Los Angeles as Jonathan Gold. This owes mostly to his 1971 book The Architecture of Four Ecologies, a short, erudite, witty, and then-counterintuitive celebration of the built environment, a city that "makes nonsense of history and breaks all the rules."
When the New York Times first reviewed Four Ecologies, it did so under the headline "In Praise (!) of Los Angeles." For my money, though, the most entertaining contemporary assessment — one as incisive as the book itself — came in the form of Peter Plagens' vicious 11,000-word takedown in Artforum.
It speaks to the very intrigue of Los Angeles that one can simultaneously agree with the likes of both the Banhams and the Plagenses. You'll see the city Banham loved and Plagens lamented in all its full-color 1970s glory and shame in Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles, a BBC broadcast where Banham and his talking car go on a tour of town from Olvera Street to Watts Towers to the Griffith Observatory to the Miracle Mile to the remains of the Pacific Electric trolley tracks. They cruise to the Gamble House, to Venice Beach, then to the studio of sculptor Vasa Mihich, and Tiny Naylor's Drive-In, where he chats with noted Los Angeles mundanity-enshrining painter Ed Ruscha. And yes, the iconic Sunset Strip was on their itinerary, too.
Still, for all Banham's enthusiasm, I'm glad I live in the Los Angeles of the 2010s, with its superior air and extant rapid transit, than in the Los Angeles of the 1970s — or the Los Angeles of the 1990s, on which we posted another British perspective yesterday.