Reyner Banham: Factories of early modernism (February 26, 1985) The American Factory 1900-1925

John Chase introduces Reyner Banham, listing his educational background as well as some of his publications.

Banham describes how around the time of the First World War, European architects discovered American non-architecture, not for the first and not for the last time. He goes on to claim that the discoveries of the American factories and grain elevators that captivated European modernists not new or radical, but in fact part of a long history. Banham explains the transition of masonry wall to brick pier structure as the first in a move toward a frame type. He claims this shift to be entirely economically motivated. He continues with a description of the detailing integrated into masonry and brick pier factories to begin his speculation on the transition from a connectivity of parts to a monolithic frame.

Banham starts by demonstrating the massive difference in daylighting between masonry and concrete frame construction and states this as the motivating factor for the material transition. But the technology as well as the architectural intent followed a much longer path, and Banham describes this in detail while evaluating projects based on their architectural proximity to a true expression of a reinforced concrete frame type.

Banham concludes his lecture with a discussion of concrete frame projects with the truest expression of their type and the most impact on European modernism. Albert Kahn’s Packard Plant serves as Banham’s example of the concrete frame that throws out the “architecture” by eliminating vestigial elements such as classical cornices and arched windows. While this project was poorly constructed and eliminated the unnecessary elements for economic purposes, it led to projects which were closer in both structure and planimetric organization to the desires of the then emerging European modernists.

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