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 y Patrizia Di Monte fundan gravalosdimonte arquitectos en 1998, un estudio que trabaja en los diversos ámbitos de la arquitectura y del paisaje, participando en proyectos de actividad cultural, estudios de regeneración urbana, trabajos de arquitectura participativa y estudios experimentales sobre urbanismo de no conformidad. En la actualidad alternan la actividad profesional con la docente, así como la presencia en numerosos procesos de investigación en ámbito europeo.

Ignacio Grávalos es arquitecto por la ETSAB (Barcelona, 1994). Es profesor titular de Expresión Arquitectónica de la Escuela de Arquitectura de la Universidad San Jorge de Zaragoza.
Patrizia Di Monte es arquitecta por el IUAV (Venecia, 1995). En 1998 consiguió el título de máster (La Gran Escala) por la UPC y la suficiencia investigadora (tesis doctoral en curso). Ha sido arquitecta colaboradora Fund. Peggy Guggenheim en Venecia de 95-97, miembro de la comisión de cultura del COAA de 2003-06, miembro del comité cientifico Capitalidad Cultural Zaragoza 2016, profesora de Proyectos III de la Escuela de Arquitectura de la USJ de Zaragoza y actualmente es profesora de Urbanismo I. Obtienen el 1er premio concurso paseo marítimo en Torre Mileto, 1er premio concurso de ideas reforma C.O.A.A., 1er premio concurso bloque de viviendas en torre en Zaragoza, 1er premio concurso bloque de viviendas en el Canal Imperial Zaragoza, 3er premio concurso ideas internacional “Oficinas Expo 2008”, adjudicatarios de numerosos concursos de estudio sobre el Casco Histórico de Zaragoza.

Creadores del programa “estonoesunosolar”, iniciativa experimental de intervenciones temporales en vacíos urbanos para uso público, reconocida con 1er premio Saie Urban regeneration and development 2012, 1er premio Eurocities 2011 Participation, 1er premio Innovazione e Qualitá Urbana 2010, mención de investigación XI Bienal Española Arquitectura y Urbanismo, 2º premio SAIE Selection 10, 3er premio SMART Future Minds 2010, finalista premios FAD 2011, finalista City to City FAD awards 2012, finalista Future Cities awards 2012, ganadores convocatoria internacional “Architecture of Consequence” del NAI (ND) , obra seleccionada 6ª y 7ª Bienal Europea de Paisaje, mención XXII y XXVI premios de Arquitectura García Mercadal.

Entre sus últimas obras construidas se encuentra la escuela infantil del Casco Histórico de Zaragoza (en colaboración con S. Carroquino), que ha recibido el accésit premio Children in Scotland’s Making Space Awards 2010.

Han sido arquitectos invitados a: Congreso Eurocities Culture Forum 2009, Congreso Caceres Ciudades Creativas 2009, Congreso Ciudades Creativas 2010 (Kreanta), XIX Congreso Centro Iberoamericano Desarrollo estratégico Urbano en Mérida (Méjico), Reunión Agenda 21 para la Cultura en Belo Horizonte (Brasil), Xunta de Galicia, Ayto. de Sevilla, Ayto. de Vitoria, COAC, COAG, Master Arquitectura Medioambiental y Urbanismo Sostenible PAMUS de Univ. La Salle, Universidad Internacional de Andalucia, Universidad de País Vasco, Master Progettazione Interattiva Sostenibile e Multimedialità de Roma3, Master in Paesaggistica-Unifi/AIAPP/LUS Univ. di Firenze, Univ. Di Trento, Ayto. de Turín, Ayto. De Napoles, Milano Made Expo 12, SAIE 12 Bologna, Politecnico de Milán, Cité de l’ Architecture de París, DAZ de Berlín, Master Public Space Berlage Institute de Rótterdam entre otros.

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