Megastructure: Urban Futures of the Recent Past

Megastructure: Urban Futures of the Recent Past


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A long-sought reprint of this classic of architectural history and criticism, surveying a movement that would inspire architects, fantasists, and filmmakers alike.

It is an architectural concept as alluring as it is elusive, as futuristic as it is primordial. Megastructure is what it sounds like: a vastly scaled edifice that can contain potentially countless uses, contexts, and adaptations. Theorized and briefly experimented with in built form in the 1960s, megastructures almost as quickly went out of fashion in the profession. But Reyner Banham's 1976 book compiled the origin stories and ongoing mythos of this visionary movement, seeking to chart its lively rise, rapid fall, and ongoing meaning.
Now back in print after decades and with original editions fetching well over $100 on the secondary market, Megastructure: Urban Futures of the Recent Past is part of the recent surge in attention to this quixotic form, of which some examples were built but to this day remains—decades after its codification—more of a poetic idea than a real architectural type.
Banham, among the most gifted and incisive architectural critics and historians of his time, sought connections between theoretical origins in Le Corbusier's more starry-eyed drawings to the flurry of theories by the Japanese Metabolist architects, to less intentional examples in military architecture, industry, infrastructure, and the emerging instances in pop culture and art. Had he written the book a few years later he would find an abundance of examples in speculative art and science fiction cinema, mediums where it continues to provoke wonder to this day.
A long-sought study by an author who combined imagination, wit, and pioneering scholarship, the republication of Megastructure is an opportunity for scholars and laypeople alike to return to the origins of this fantastic urban idea.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781580935401
Publisher: The Monacelli Press
Publication date: 06/16/2020
Pages: 232
Sales rank: 785,925
Product dimensions: 8.80(w) x 10.30(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Reyner Banham (1922–1988) was an English critic and historian whose articles, books, and lectures helped define the understanding of modern architecture and technology. He is the author one of the classic books on Los Angeles landscape and urbanism, Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies (1971) as well as numerous other important books including Theory and Design in the First Machine Age (1960), The New Brutalism: Ethic or Aesthetic? (1966), and Architecture of the Well-Tempered Environment (1969). 

Todd Gannon is Robert S. Livesey Professor and Head of the Architecture Section at The Ohio State University’s Knowlton School. His most recent book is Reyner Banham and the Paradoxes of High Tech (2017) and is author and coeditor of several books including Swimming to Suburbia (2018), The Light Construction Reader (Monacelli, 2002), Et in Suburbia Ego: José Oubrerie's Miller House (2013), and monographs on the work of Peter Eisenman, Zaha Hadid, Steven Holl, Morphosis, Eric Owen Moss, Oyler Wu Collaborative, Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects, Bernard Tschumi, and UN Studio.

Read an Excerpt

The term megastructure names a massive, usually extensible building or building complex that comprises a permanent structural frame supporting demountable programmatic units. The movement emerged in the 1960s as a radical counterproposal to orthodox modern architecture. For Banham, it represented a significant, if ill-fated, attempt to resolve nagging contradictions in modernist thinking that for decades had pitted the individual against the collective, the transient against the permanent, spontaneity against design, and freedom against control.

By the 1970s, modern architecture long had been aligned with paradigms of top-down control, as much in evidence in Walter Gropius’s appeals to “total architecture” as in Le Corbusier’s sweeping plans for Paris, Algiers, and Rio de Janeiro. At the same time, it had come to symbolize the pursuit of emancipatory freedom from, among other things, the anachronisms of historical styles, the deprivations of the industrial city, and the oppressions of the bourgeois state. In the decades following World War II, a modern establishment charged with reconstruction and urban renewal brought profound changes to cities around the globe, often in the face of staunch resistance from wary citizen groups assembled to defend the traditional urban milieu. Alongside, architects as diverse as Christopher Alexander, Bernar Rudofsky, and Alison and Peter Smithson advocated adaptable systems, vernacular forms, and open-ended planning that they wagered might grant individual citizens greater freedom over the organization of everyday life. Megastructure emerged from this complicated disciplinary context as an attempt by modern architects to have it both ways, to design their way out of an impasse to which half a century of contradictory impulses had led them.

—Todd Gannon, from the Foreword

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