Playboy’s Progress – American Architecture After WWII

Posted: April 11, 2019 in Uncategorized

mad-men-opener copy


Playboy’s Progress
Research Seminar Fall 2008–09

Beatriz Colomina with students: Luis Avilés, Marc Britz, Daniela Fabricius, Gina Greene, Margo Handwerker, Joy Knoblauch, Yetunde Olaiya, Enrique Ramirez, Molly Steenson, and Federica Vannucchi from Princeton University

The seminar was dedicated to the study of Architecture in Playboy: 1953–1979. The thesis of this research seminar was that Playboy played a crucial yet unacknowledged role in the cultivation of design culture in the USA. Through a wide range of different strategies, the magazine integrated state of the art designers and architects into a carefully constructed vision of a desirable contemporary life style. The seminar explored the ways in which Playboy was ahead of professional and popular magazines in promoting modern architecture and design.

The collaborative research seminar assembled and analyzed the magazines, the secondary literature on Playboy, the related archives, and conducted interviews with protagonists. As in previous Media and Modernity research seminars, the project will culminate in the collaborative production of a definitive book, exhibition, or event.


  1. Natalie Van Orden says:

    I found this video to be fascinating, and also disturbing. I never knew that architecture was something that mattered to Playboy. I have heard about Playboy’s mission to modernize its readers’ views of morality. Around the time of Hugh Hefner’s death I saw several articles discussing his cultural significance in the sexual revolution, and his desire to rid people from puritanical moral concepts. At the same time, I read Gloria Steinem’s “A Bunny Tale,” and am aware of Hugh Hefner’s sexist views and treatment of women.
    It seems to me that from this information Playboy was tying architecture inextricably to sex and social suaveness. When describing the design of the playboy’s apartment, every bit of the design is about utility, and specifically utility for getting sex.
    The design Playboy supported is just like the design in Mad Men, particularly in the houses of the wealthier characters. I actually remember the episode when Betty begins to remodel and modernize the house she and Don live in. The house in Mad Men that is the pinnacle of this Playboy concept is Megan and Don’s pad. I have always thought this architectural style is cool and appealing, but I’ve never thought of it through the lens of sexual utility. Now that I’m aware of this perspective, I am interesting in exploring more of its manifestations in Mad Men.

    • This post should surprise certain persons for at least a few reasons. First, most persons have never imagined that architecture could be gender-coded, even architecture in magazine such as Playboy. Second, these persons would not have considered this issue because it was one thought to be beneath the contempt of serious scholarship. Colomina, however, sees this recent project as stemming directly from her earliest work, in Privacy and Publicity, which explores the way most architecture appears in print form, in magazines and advertisements. I’m fascinated not only by her interest in this topic, but always her visible enjoyment of it. I think she does a remarkable job of handling Playboy in a way which is both playful and scholarly. There is nothing uncritical about her reading of Playboy, but simultaneously there is nothing puritanical about it either. This, no doubt, not an easy balance to achieve, and yet Colomina does it with perfect aplomb.

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