The Bartlett School of Architecture


Remembering Mary Banham

24 January 2019

Emeritus Professor Adrian Forty remembers Mary Banham, a supporter and critic of The Bartlett School of Architecture.

A Tonic to the Nation, by Mary Banham

We report with sadness the recent death of Mary Banham. Mary was the wife of critic and historian Peter Reyner Banham, Professor of Architectural History at The Bartlett (or as it was then, the School of Environmental Studies) between 1964 and 1976. 

During the 1950s and early 1960s, the two held a famed Sunday morning ‘open house’ at their north London home, regularly attended by many of the younger generation of British architects and critics. Through this, Mary got to know, and became lifelong friends with many members of the avant-garde architectural scene. 

Mary originally trained as a painter, and in the 1960s she turned her skills to making the drawings for Reyner Banham’s The Architecture of the Well-Tempered Environment

She also worked as a cataloguer at the newly established RIBA Drawings Collection. While there, in 1974, mounted an exhibition of drawings of the Festival of Britain at the Heinz Gallery. She subsequently worked on a much-expanded version, A Tonic to the Nation, at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1976, marking the 25th anniversary of the Festival.  

In 1976, she and Peter went to the University of Buffalo, where she researched and published a guide to Buffalo’s historic architecture. From Buffalo, they moved to Santa Cruz, California, and after Peter’s death in 1988, she returned to the UK. 

On her return, she commissioned Jonathan Ellis-Miller to design her a steel framed house and studio in Prickwillow, Cambridgeshire, where she lived part of the year, the other part at her flat in Bloomsbury.

Adrian Forty was welcomed by Mary and her husband on his arrival at The Bartlett in 1973 and went on to collaborate with her on the exhibition of the Festival of Britain drawings at the Heinz Gallery.