Exhibition: Playboy Architecture, 1953-1979
About the influence of Playboy magazine on design and architecture
The NaiM-Bureau Europa in Maastricht opened its gates to the public presenting the exhibition “Playboy Architecture, 1953-1979”. The exhibition is the outcome of a two-year long research of the Princeton University and is curated by Beatriz Colomina, Professor at Princeton University’s School of Architecture and Founding Director of the Program in Media and Modernity. Here is a review.
The research project
The research team was called to investigate the extent to which Playboy played a role in the cultivation of design culture in the USA. Having as sources the same magazines of Playboy as well as secondary literature, archives and interviews the research team managed to result in a timeline of the parallel evolution of the magazine and the design and architectural movements and trends. The exhibition itself is one of the outcomes of the research, focusing on presenting how the magazine deployed architecture and design in order to shape a new identity for the American man; the playboy.
Hugh Hefner's paradigm
Playboy, from its very first issue in 1953 made it clear that a playboy’s life is not outside the house, but inside it, following Hugh Hefner’s paradigm. It’s the activities and events taking place indoors that define a playboy. As Colomina puts it in her article in Volume Magazine #33 ‘Playboy is produced in a radical interior and is devoted to the interior, devoted like a lover’. Therefore, architecture and design, as well as the relevant trends that made a playboy’s indoors life more interesting and sensual were of high importance in the magazine. They were the scenery framing a playboy’s intimate life not only in the media’s pictures but also in the whole playboy’s philosophy and lifestyle; a sexual utopia. Big features have been hosted in the magazine’s pages that presented and promoted the habitats of renowned playboys of the time, creating an ideal standard of a bachelor man’s life. Gadgets and multi-purpose spaces and furniture equipped the playboy’s indoors, filling the gap of a housewife’s presence. The concept was to ‘create an interior that is unambiguously masculine, with equipment that stays and women that come and go.’ (B. Colomina, Volume Magazine #33, p.3).
Did Playboy influence the architect?
It could be argued that there is no such thing as a one-way connection between Playboy and Architecture. Architecture was influencing Playboy’s content just as much as Playboy itself was influencing Architecture and Design trends. After all, the majority of America’s trend-makers in architecture and design were men, reading the magazine and getting inspired.
‘Playboy Architecture, 1953-1979’ exhibition is a journey not only to Playboy’s history but also to the history of Architecture and Design in an era of great social and political transformations in the U.S.A.; the Cold War, the feminist movement, the sexual revolution are all depicted in the magazine and can be realized in the exhibition. Among the exhibits are magazines, original photographs and films, published and unpublished renderings, design objects, interviews with architects and editors, and immersive environments.
It seems like while the whole playboy’s lifestyle and interior choices have lost their power after the 80s, a big comeback has been made with the Mad Men television series since 2007. There has been a discussion on the effect that this show has had on fashion and design, establishing modernist retrospective as a huge trend. Could it be that it has also re-established the role of a bachelor’s habitat? Playboy has already –officially- taken advantage of this trend by establishing new Playboy Clubs as well as featuring articles on their media which match the whole aesthetics of Mad Men. However, despite all the retrospective trends, what is exactly the modern Playboy’s position in a western culture, where feminism is in a better state than 50 years ago? Does a comeback in fashion and design correspond to a comeback of a playboy’s philosophy and way of living (and loving)?
You can read further perspectives, topics and historical clues in the Dutch magazine Volume, which has published a special issue on the exhibition. Playboy Architecture, 1953-1979, 29 September 2012- 10 February 2013, at the NaiM-Bureau Europa in Maastricht.