As I’m reading Banham’s Los Angeles and examining some of the comments from his peers, it is clear that Banham’s methodology in surveying the city was unprecedented for its time. It is irresponsible and inaccurate to judge the architectural merit of a city solely based on their monuments. This improved methodology sounds like common knowledge to me now, an architecture student in 2013, but apparently not so before Banham’s time.
Banham assumed the role of an Angeleno rather than an architectural critic. He tried to see the city as a resident would, in a car, examining the aspects of the city residents deal with everyday, primarily the freeway.
It is fascinating how in-tune he is with how I personally see Los Angeles, where I’ve lived for roughly 20 years. This is most evident early on when he writes, “miraculously the city’s extremes include an excessive tolerance. Partly this is that indifference which is Los Angeles’s most publicized vice, but it is also a heritage from the extraordinary cultural mixture with which the city began.” (page. 7) All of this is almost exactly what I told a fellow student a few months back when I was defending Los Angeles as a decent place to live. As a resident, if you open yourself up to cultures and subcultures outside of your own (I personally don’t identify myself with any) you will be rewarded with an amazing variety of authentic knowledge from the people around you. And yes, we aren’t as socially or politically active in LA, but that allows for more open discussions regarding different positions since we know we won’t be ostrisized for them, unlike what people might experience in a more homogenous and cohesive city such as San Francisco.
This variety is what continues to draw me back to Los Angeles. It is not without its problems, as I’ve laid out in my previous posts on CONDITIONS. However, I see potential in the city and in our desire to redefine our identity, achieve our technological aspirations, reprogram our mega-infrastructures, and reactivate our dead spaces. I believe Banham thought the same, as he is fascinated by the freeways instead of being repulsed by them. He also uses the word “fantasy” to characterize the potential in LA. The plains of id correlate with this idea of identity and fantasy as the neighborhoods within these areas try to discover their own identity.