The architecture software. Reyner Banham’s visual fictions | Ignacio los grava – Patrizia Di Monte

Barbarella, by R. Vadim.

The architecture software.

Reyner Banham’s visual fictions.

In 1968 Reyner Banham wrote The Triumph of Software1, one article that would anticipate a new way of understanding the world and that it would affect in a specially subtle way to the architecture. His speech rested principally on two movies that had the premiere the same year and that allowed him to illustrate his theses.

2001, a space odyssey, by S. Kubrik and  Barbarella, by R. Vadim, both of the kind of science – fiction, was throwing very different readings on the spatial technology. Kubrik’s movie, it was based on The sentinel, Arthur C. Clark’s story of 1948, whereas that of Vadim, it had his origin in a comic of the same name created by Jean-Claude Forest in 1962. Once again, they were going to infiltrate across the screens indications of attitudes that, sustained by the most powerful visual language, they were trying to imagine the future.

In 1957, the confidence in the progress and in the scientific advances was materializing with the launch to the space of the Satellite, the first artificial satellite, and escenificaba with the Universal Exhibition of Brussels of 1958 under the motto for a more human world”. A decade later, this enthusiasm starts giving signs of depletion. In 1970 Roszak publishes The birth of a counterculture, which gathers a new sensibility and argues the worries of an incipient and discontented youth hippie, that was giving the back to the world promised by the science, and was moving away from the promises of the modernity to undertake a new return to the Earth. In this moment, the disenchantment for the future was already manifest. Nevertheless, in this context, Banham’s vision remains still optimistic and the technological and spatial questions support still a fundamental character in the evolution of the architecture and the company.

2001, a space odysseys sequences. Interior of the spaceship.

But let’s return to both movies. These two movie fictions on the human drift, they were presenting two very different versions on the future. 2001, a space odyssey was representing, with a precision without precedents, the evolution of a mechanical universe. The spatial, geometrically definite ship, it was constituted by a series of metallic assembled pieces. It was a sublimation of the production in series, of the assembly, of the articulated thing and of the perfect coupling of diverse variable plates. And this perfection was transmitted by the inflexibility, the metallic thing and the uniform thing. The spaces could decompose in Euclidean planes. And all this was heightened by the adoption of settings inheritors of the Italian Quattrocento, with central positions of the point of view, symmetrical, more own of a divine universe, in that it was eliminating the subjective and human position in favor of the object. In the same way, the crew members of the ship were carriers of spatial equipments that were creating a superposed skin, fitted mechanically to the thermal and technological necessary needs. A set of mechanisms and connections were shaping the second artificial silhouette that was not stopping to guess the peculiarities of a human covered body.

Barbarella‘s sequences. Interior of the spaceship.

Barbarella, nevertheless, was adopting a different well position. He was presenting a spaceship lined with skin, in which the mechanical question had got lost and the interiors were defined by a constant, flexible and adaptable skin to a diffuse geometry. To underline this effect, the tripulante, a jovencísima Jane Fonda, he presents for the first time an exact garment of plastic (an inspiration that would be developed by Pierre Cardin in the world of the mode).

Pierre Cardin. Winter collection 1968.

It is in these details where Banham feels a new sensibility, proposing a dialectics between the world hardware, illustrated for 2001 and the world software expressed by Barbarella. The latter introduces the concept “soft”, a new soft, personalized way, not standardized; a soft way of conceiving the constructive elements, in which they appear “flexible, continuous and adaptable” as configurators of a new sensitive environment. A putting begins this way in value of the plastic as material that will be capable of giving form polimérica to the new aspirations of ends of the sixties.

It is there where there appears the visionary Banham, which detects this change of attitude, a change that will concern the same architecture, turning Barbarella into a piece of worship. On the one hand, the machine appears us of living, meant by a series of mechanisms necessary for the conditioning of the building. It is easy to imagine the Center Pompidou as paradigm of this vision. For against, the way “software”, it would be more related to the soft machine, to metabolic and interactive processes, in this occasion represented by the architecture pop and very specially for the group Archigram. The importance of the skin reveals as regulatory element and transpirador that allows to react and to establish a control of the space according to the interactions of the exterior. In this frame, the author establishes a relation between the natural skin and the artificial membrane.

Banham, in turn, dreams of the possibility of a cultivable, organic material, which could be growing with the building and to be giving opened answers, of the possibility of a genetic manipulation of the new materials (skins, moss, powder, etc.)2. In the same way, he proposes a nearby architecture in order to consumption, caducable and disposable. And all this, programmed to react to stimuli, to improvise answers, to leave of a linear way towards the death.

Barbarella. Plastic capsule.

The architecture promoted by Banham looks for the technological references of the spatial capsule, of the incipient computers, of the founding elements of the age atomic electronics, shaping what it itself was called the history of an immediate future. The apology of a plastic adaptable membrane already had tested it three years before in the text “A Home is not a House”, in that there presents the Environmental Bubble, a bubble of inhabitable plastic. The architecture pop, developed during these years fundamentally for the Archigram, was advancing in this sense up to his dissolution in 1974. From at the time these Utopian offers would dissolve in the time.

Some years later, the metabolic dream would be replaced with the digital programming. The gradual disappearance of the physical infrastructures would be replaced gradually with a new skin formed by codes and information. The same planet, it would cover with a network of floating satellites and networks of fiber… The world, though in another sense, it would be definitively a software.

Ignacio Grávalos – Patrizia Di Monte. Architects (estonoesunsolar)

Zaragoza-Venezia-Foggia. february 2015.


1 Published originally in the New Society magazine in 1968. Later it was gathered in the book Design by choicepublished in 1981.

2 The questions relative to the new ecological materials have been studied by Lydia Kallipoliti in The Soft Cosmos of AD’s ‘Cosmorama’ in the 1960s and 1970s.

Ignacio Grávalos – Patrizia di Monte

Ignacio Grávalos es arquitecto por la ETSAB (Barcelona, 1994). Doctor por la Universidad de Zaragoza (2020) con su tesis “El fin de la modernidad. Visiones del espacio urbano desde una perspectiva cinematográfica”. Master de Investigación y Formación Avanzada en Arquitectura por la Universidad San Jorge (2013). Es profesor titular de Expresión Arquitectónica y Proyectos Fin de Grado de la Escuela de Arquitectura de la Universidad San Jorge.

Patrizia Di Monte es arquitecta por el I.U.A.V., becada por el Gobierno Italiano para estudios de postgrado del 1996 al 1998, titulo de Master ETSAB-UPC-CCCB, doctorado ETSAB-UPC, profesora de Urbanismo y Arquitectura Social y coordinadora de relaciones internacionales de la ETSA USJ hasta 2014. Visiting professor del Politecnico de Milán, Master NIB, y SOS en Italia desde 2015. Validated Lead Expert Urbact + Cost.

En 1998 fundan gravalosdimonte arquitectos, desarrollando proyectos culturales, que abarcan desde el arte a la arquitectura, estrategias de regeneración urbana, paisajismo, arquitectura participativa y urbanismo sostenible. Autores intelectuales del programa “estonoesunosolar”. Ganadores de los premios internacionales, Eurocties Planning for people, 2011; Innovazione e Qualitá urbana 2010, Saie Selecion 12 Urban Regeneration and development, Biennale Spazio Pubblico 2013 Cittá sociale, mención de investigación XI BEAU; sus trabajos han sido expuestos en NAI – Rótterdam, DAZ – Berlín, MAXXI – Roma, Biennale Architettura Venezia y Bienal Arquitectura Urbanismo Española.

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