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Reyner Banham: Factories of early modernism (February 27, 1985) Fagus & Fiat: a European response01:14:25

Shelly Kappe introduces Reyner Banham's presentation of the second of two consecutive lectures (see The American Factory 1900 To 1925 for part one).

Banham describes the Fagus Factory, Walter Gropius’s role in its design, and its adherence to the ideals of modern architecture. He suggests the influence of American financial backing and a visit to the US by the factory’s owner, Carl Benscheidt in bringing Gropius on to modify a design completed by Eduard Werner. Banham identifies Gropius’ work as a “skin job” that is “neither modern, nor the other thing,” and describes the application of a modernist glass box to the otherwise more antiquated brick pier structure and Art Nouveau-influenced detailing.

Banham discusses the impact of photographic evidence of American industrial buildings on European modern architecture. He describes a time when European modernists saw American engineers as a sort of noble savage, attaining at once an abstract modern and an abstract ancient which escaped the conventions of architecture. Banham describes the mythic impact these photos had on architects who had never seen American industrial structures in person. He goes on to include examples of attempts by Erich Mendelsohn, Mario Chiattoni and Le Corbusier to adopt, publish and further romanticize these forms.

Banham describes the design of the Fiat Factory in Turin, Italy as loosely based on the Ford Factory in Highland Park. Banham’s scrutiny of the detailing leads him to speculate that someone with direct experience designing American factories assisted the lead engineer, Giacomo Mattè-Trucco. While Banham describes Fiat as the first true European copy of American factory design, he goes on to describe elements such as the high speed test track on the roof as a synthesis of European ideals, Futurism, and American industrial architecture. He concludes by citing Edoardo Persico who writes of the building as a blending of grace and necessity through pure intellect.

Banham wraps up his lecture with a short question and answer session.

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