Playboy Architecture 1953-1979
The warning comes early, in the editorial of the very first issue of Playboy magazine with Marilyn Monroe on the cover and the promise of her naked body inside: « We don’t mind telling you in advance – we plan on spending most of our time inside. We like our apartment. We enjoy mixing cocktails and an hors d’oeuvre or two. putting a little mood music on the phonograph, and inviting in a female acquaintance for a quiet discussion on Picasso, Nietzsche, jazz, sex ». The playboy is an indoors man. This philosophy is embodied in the figure of Helner himself, who famously almost never left his bed, let alone his house. He literally moved his office to his bed in 1960 when he moved into the Playboy Mansion at 1340 North State Parkway, Chicago, turning it into the epicentre of a global empire and his silk pyjamas and dressing gown into his business attire.
Architecture turned out to be more seductive than the playmates. The penthouse feature was the most popular in the magazine’s history, surpassing even the centrefolds. Architecture became the ultimate playmate, the only one allowed to stay. Playboy received hundreds of letters requesting more information on the house, asking for more detailed plans and where to buy the furniture. In response, the magazine started a hugely popular series of features on « playboy pads. » In each case, the fantasy is the same: the bachelor and his equipment are able to control every aspect of the interior environment to choreograph the successful conquest and subsequent erasure of all traces in preparation for the next capture.
Playboy architecture ultimately turns on the bed. which becomes increasingly sophisticated, outlitted with all sort of entertainment and communication devices as a kind of control room. The magazine devoted a number of articles to the design of the perfect bed. Once again. Hefner acted as the model with his famous round bed. The bed itself is a house. Its rotating and vibrating structure is packed with small fridge, hi-fi. telephone, filling cabinets, bar. microphone. Dictaphone, video cameras, headphones. TV. breakfast table, work surfaces, control for all the lighting fixtures, etc. for the man who never wants to leave. The bed was literally Hefner’s office, his place of business, where he conducted interviews, made his phone calls, selected images, adjusted layouts, edited texts, ate, drank and consulted with playmates. If Playboy is all about architecture, this architecture is an extension of the bed.
Even when Hefner went out, he was not really out, but wrapped in a succession of bubbles, all designed to extend his interior: the specially outfitted vehicles; the Big Bunny jet, a stretched DC-9 designed by Ron Dirsmith, the architect of the mansion, with a gourmet kitchen, a living room/conference space, discotheque with a dance floor, a wet bar, state-of-the-art cinemascope projectors, sleeping quarters for 16 guests, and Hefner’s suite with shower and an elliptical bed covered with Tasmanian opossum skins; the home away from home of the Playboy clubs, starting with the Chicago club in 1960 and rapidly growing from seven Playboy clubs in 1963 to 17 by 1965 and ultimately 33 around the world. Playboy is produced in a radical interior and is devoted to the interior, devoted like a lover.
The magazine was filled with interiors from the very first issue. No detail of domestic space is left untouched, from the furniture, lighting, hi-fi and dress code, to the mixing of a good martini. The Playboy apartment is a cocktail of modern design. But far from simply providing an array of seductive images. Playboy analyzes the architecture of seduction. It offers a kind of user’s manual to the reader. And in the end, the sophisticated playboy needs to know more about modern design than about women. This dedication to the perfected interior culminates in the September and October 1956 issues with the « Playboy Penthouse » - the first Playboy-designed apartment lavishly illustrated in an eight-page spread, longer than any typical feature, and continued with another
Playboy made it acceptable for men to be interested in modern architecture and design. Readers were encouraged to think they could have a piece of the idealized interior in their own lives. A cycle of desire was built up as Playboy kept feeding the fantasy with more and more detail about the objects. And these desired objects were by the most sophisticated designers of the day: George Nelson. Harry Bertoia, Charles Eames. Eero Saarinen. Roberto Matta, Archizoom, Joe Colombo, Frank Gehry, etc. Eventually the architecture caught up with the sophistication of the furniture when the somewhat generic mid-century modern design of the Playboy-designed pads gave way to the appropriation of already existing houses by Charles Moore, John Lautner, Ant Farm, Chrysalis. Matti Suuronen. etc.
Some high-profile architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies Van der Rohe and Buckminster Fuller were the subject of features and interviews in the magazine as major cultural figures, perfectly dressed and symptomatically celebrated for their masculine sophistication, with subtle hints that they too are playboys. In the very first year, Frank Lloyd Wright was already praised as an « uncommon man », who « zooms » around in his Jaguar, has a controversial love life and makes « radical, exciting » buildings. And of course architects and designers were readers too. If Playboy couldn’t exist without architecture, it seems as if architecture culture couldn’t do without Playboy. The magazine deeply affected the imagination of critics and architects. Reyner Banhams 1960 article « I’d Crawl a Mile for Playboy’ captured the sentiment of a whole generation of architects.