Eroticizing Everyday Architecture

Eroticizing Everyday Architecture

Courtesy Playboy


Preciado noticed, in rereading three decades of Playboy from the first issue in 1953, that the magazine featured “more architecture plans, interior decoration pictures, and design objects than naked women.” The first image in her book is a sketch based on a 1962 photo of Hefner with a model of the Los Angeles Playboy Club, followed by a similarly posed photo of Le Corbusier holding a model. Photo-rich articles hyped the Playboy Penthouse and its amenities as “part of the architectural imaginary of the second half of the 20th century.” Nearly every issue included full color spreads promoting modern design and positively reviewing the work of modern architects, against the grain of contemporary mainstream publications. Hefner was the tastemaker and Preciado maintains that by defining space he was influencing behavior.

Sigfried Giedion introducing his hefty tome Space, Time and Architecture (second edition) coined the term “Playboy Architecture” to describe the American postwar attitude as “jumping from one sensation to another and quickly bored with everything.” Preciado contends that Hefner was not merely bored with the status quo but launching an all out media campaign against it as an “attack on modern domesticity and the traditional relationship between gender, sex, and architecture.” And Hefner’s approach was one of play, leisure, and entertainment; he organized his issues on the floor and conducted business in pajamas—work has never been more leisurely.

Hefner, contra Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, promoted the urban bachelor pad through his own Playboy penthouse. Equipped with the latest audio-visual equipment, lighting, appliances, and furniture, the modern male could entertain, both parties and women, freely. He relocates from the traditional domestic suburban home, and in Hefner’s case a wife, where life revolves around the kitchen and family room, and presumably a reproductive bedroom that implies an end goal of children. Cool, urban apartment living revolves around the bar, the open floor plan, and the bedroom, with its implication of free love and sex. Preciado differentiates two radical postwar spatial regimes: the feminist liberation from domestic space and “constructing a specifically ‘male’ domestic space,” as either a retreat from traditional domestic space or a reaction to the increasing public role of women. Similarly, Preciado implies that Playboy’s stag parties and dedication to interior space has homoerotic tendencies, but it was Playboy’s inclusion of naked women that kept it from being “simply a women’s or queer magazine.”

Playboy created the identity of a man who enjoyed things indoors, rather than the allures of field and stream and mechanics. His domain was the heterotopic play space of the urban apartment. True to academia, Preciado includes a healthy dose of theory but it rarely overruns her thesis; Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze appear in small doses to support, as does contemporary architectural theorist Beatriz Colomina. Though academic work, the breadth of subject matter, topics, and anecdotes keep the discourse from becoming dry.


After exploring the socio-historical development of Playboy and the playmate, Preciado returns to the spatial with Playboy’s move from the Chicago penthouse and clubhouse to the Los Angeles mansion, complete with an expansive exterior and landscaping. But Hefner and Preciado always return to the interior space. The mediatization of space as an electro-prosthetics is shown in Hefner’s hyper-imagined rotating bed, which is simultaneously a sleeping and work surface, sexual playground, bar, stereo, television, telephone, and intercom, all complete with remote controls and secret doors.

Preciado even takes a dip into the era’s more radical explorations in the 1960s when Haus-Rucker-Co and Archigram and its constituents designed personal micro-environments and body suits. Each, like Hefner’s rotating bed, simultaneously shielded the user from the outside world and extended one’s senses and presence into it. Preciado sees these architectural mediatizations as precursors to today’s smart phones and apps—dates, cabs, food—all at a fingertip.

The conspicuous lack of photos, Preciado explains, results from not conceding to Playboy’s request to edit, or censor, content in return for image rights. Controlling the archive, she writes, controls the future history. Playboy doesn’t like its name appearing with the word “pornography.”

Preciado, a transgender and queer activist, does not focus on exploitation and chauvinism, but rather on social, medical, technological, and capitalistic aspects of postwar society that enabled a change in consumption and lifestyle, what she calls the “pharmacopornographic” regime, including women’s liberation, the pill, and disposable income. Preciado navigates a fine line between gender politics, architectural and social history, and new technologies to bring a well rounded look at the phenomenon of sex and architecture as promoted by a 20th century business icon.

Pornotopia, though premised on Playboy, uses the magazine as an armature to explore sexual and gendered spaces and apparatuses in the second half of the twentieth century: bidets and brothels, striptease and boudoirs, bikinis and Barbie dolls, glass facades and open plans, media and broadcasting, the latter as through the voyeuristic eye; Preciado touches on all of these. It just so happens that Hefner rode the crest of these technologies and modern architecture in the service of his idealized space, and consequently promoted them through magazines, television shows, mansions, and clubhouses into a multimillion-dollar empire in a move that was “to eroticize everyday architecture.”