For Banham, architectural systems fall into one of two general categories: the structure & mechanical components that provide "the basic life support that makes a viable or valuable environment," and those elements concerned with "facilitat[ing] circulation and communication - of persons, information, and products." Good architecture designs takes both of these elements for a specific context. A few examples:
- drive-in movie theaters: people bring their own "environmental packages" with them in the form of cars, so the need for a permanent enclosing structure disappears; instead, what needs to be designed is a system of landscaping, traffic engineering, optics, and shelter for the projection equipment.
- Las Vegas and Versailles: these are both symbolic spaces that represent power, so they are designed to make space feel vast, overwhelming. Versailles does it with soaring ceilings and imposing structures; Las Vegas does it with electric light, so that "the effectiveness with which space is defined is overwhelming, the creation of virtual volumes without apparent structure is endemic, the variety and ingenuity of the lighting techniques is encyclopaedic." As an added bonus, Las Vegas was created by people who weren't architects; it is a vernacular redefinition of architecture.
- St. George's School in Wallasley, by Emslie Morgan: completed in the 1960s, the school is designed to conserve energy by deriving heat from the sun, the electric lights, and the bodies of the students. It has an E/W orientation, with large south-facing windows, and it is SUPER insulated with thick walls and layers of plastic. It's not great at providing outside views or light, but it's incredible at conserving energy. Banham likes it because it is simple and designed for "performance" rather than looks; architecture can learn a lot from vernacular rules-of-thumb.
Throughout, Banham argues that architects need to be engineers and designers rather than artists, and that they need to know enough about mechanical systems to incorporate them effectively into their designs. He advocates for a "conscious architecture, [which,] as distinguished from vernacular building, should be able to reason out the unique solutions to specific problems." Thinking of architecture as a technology rather than an art can free architects from antiquated formal restrictions and reorient them to the real problem: to turn these "habitable volumes" into "well-tempered environments."