Gannon incisively summarizes the growing influence of structuralism and its semiological offshoots, especially of Claude Levi-Strauss, pointing to the paradoxical ways in which the anthropologist’s notion of the bricoleur, originally intended to explain the way in which mythologies were built up, was now promoted as variously the model for an engineering approach, a counter to scientific engineering, or a figure of piecemeal fabrication, the architecte sauvage. But the real heroes of Gannon’s book are Richard Rogers and Norman Foster. Gannon’s final chapters are devoted to the development of the High-Tech movement from the early work of Team 4 (Norman Foster, Wendy Foster, Richard Rogers, Su Rogers) at the Reliance Controls Building, Swindon (1967), to Fosters’ Willis Faber and Dumas Headquarters, Ipswich (1974), and Piano + Rogers’ Centre Georges Pompidou (1977). For Gannon, and no doubt in retrospect for Banham himself, this “monumental” example of High-Tech building represented the apogee of the movement. Indeed, Gannon detects a “pathos” that was to color Banham’s subsequent writings, sensing the diminishing role of architecture and its turn towards a historicist postmodernism as he, in Gannon’s words, slowly moved “from aggressive critic of the modern establishment in the 1950s and ‘60s to one of modern architecture’s most dependable apologists in the 1970s and ‘80s” (138).
Gannon concludes with a sensitive reading of two of Banham’s last texts: his draft of a book never to be completed on High Tech Architecture and “A Black Box: The Secret Profession of Architecture.” The former was intended to sum up the history of an already past movement, following his similar epitaphs for Brutalism and Megastructures, and the latter lamented the increasing triumph of the traditional “secret society” of architects, and the failure of technological architecture to develop a new and “other” architecture. Finally, the handwritten lecture “not delivered” for Banham’s reception of the Sheldon H. Solow Professorship at NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts represents the tragic coda to a life dedicated to the continuing search among “A Set of Actual Monuments” for an architecture aesthetically and technologically suited to a second machine age. We are left, as Gannon incisively concludes, with all the paradoxes involved in Banham’s search for an “architecture beyond building” that could never quite escape the aura of traditional architecture. Banham spent his entire career wrestling between “on the one hand, an architecture of rigorous formal coherence and memorable visual images; on the other, an architecture of dissonant juxtaposition with a tendency to dissipate into adjacent fields of cultural production,” dichotomies that Banham had, in his late writings, tried to hold “in paradoxical suspension.” It is the extraordinary merit of Gannon’s work to have himself held these paradoxes in suspension, providing us with a dramatic and incisive narrative of the struggles of an engaged intellectual in a culture itself torn politically, socially, and architecturally.