Pornotopia: Architecture & Sexuality


The same images of naked women that the military had approved and openly distributed among soldiers during WWII – as a way to keep their souls more stable through masturbatory practices – were automatically stigmatised after the end of the war, for being utterly illicit pornography. The nation urgently demanded stable heterosexual couples producing kids for the future. The suburban house with garden, car and electric appliances became the American dream. But Hugh Hefner decided to shake the deep roots of society in 1950s when he founded a Disneyland for adults: the Playboy empire. Philosopher Beatriz Preciado, in her sharp analysis Pornotopia: Architecture and Sexuality in “Playboy” during the Cold War (only Spanish and Italian editions available), makes a necessary reading of the implicit domesticity of this new paradigm of modernity.

< Playboy was not merely a magazine featuring girls with or without bikini, but a vast media-oriented architectural project, which aimed to supersede the heterosexual dwelling as the nucleus of consumption and reproduction by new spaces orientated towards the production of capital and pleasure. […] In the same way that enlightened society thought of the individual prison cell as a means of healing criminal souls, Playboy envisioned the bachelor’s mansion as the way to construct the modern man. […] Inspired by pioneering sexual utopias conceived by Sade and Ledoux, this complex worked as the first multimedia brothel in history; a modern pornotopia erected from mass media and the architecture of the spectacle. It is a laboratory to study the mutations from Cold War to hot Capitalism, through sex, drugs and information as means of production, and where architecture plays the role of a stage on which male identity is performed. >*

As queer theoretician Preciado reveals, woman’s role – of an “imprisoned” housewife dominating the domestic realm – was something that Playboy magazine would try to end up with. It was not in favour of female rights at all, since the role of many suburban housewives as exploited sex workers did not differ much from the bunnies legally hired by Playboy. Quite on the contrary, it was all about the male recovering the sphere of the house that he had lost. The new masculine character should be sovereign of his bachelor urban refuge, where he would enjoy licentiousness while preparing exquisite cocktails. Modern architecture and design was used as a weapon to free 1950s American bachelors from their Victorian moral-led lifestyles. The aim was not to walk towards a more feminized man at home, but towards a more masculinized domesticity as a contemporary way of inhabiting space.

Preciado (interviewed by Ibrahim B.) sustains that even today the models of producing subjectivity invented by Playboy influence our everyday life: our contemporary ways of meeting people and producing pleasure are prosthetic, mediatized and psychotropic. However free we are, we are still trapped in a virtual world of laptops, as well as Hefner was in his round hyper-connected bed. Our sex relationships are determined by pharmacological technologies (the morning-after pill, Viagra…) and surveillance (we fall in love via SMS, we record and document our meetings, we broadcast and share them via Youtube or Facebook…). Hence, she concludes, our way to love directly inherits the pornotopia of Playboy, being absolutely kitsch and telecommunicative.

Preciado, B., 2010. Pornotopía: Arquitectura y sexualidad en “Playboy” durante la Guerra fría. Barcelona: Anagrama.

[*my translation]

Thanks, Bea!

[1>Hugh Hefner in the Playboy Mansion_1960 via Ibrahim B.] [2-4>The Playboy Town House designed by R. Donald Jaye; renderings by Humen Tan_published in May 1962 Playboy issue via HighStreetMarket]





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