Beatriz Colomina, A professor of architecture at Princeton, was reading Playboy (for the articles) about a decade ago when she stumbled across something she deemed strange. This was background research—Colomina was looking for grist on a guest lecturer, a late-1960s experimental architect named Chip Lord, and Playboy had actually done a profile of him and his famous bubble-shaped House of the Century. This being Playboy, there were naked women photographed in the house—but just a few. The story, and the photos, mostly focused on Lord’s unusual architecture. “And at some point I asked myself, ‘What else is in Playboy?’”
The answer, it turns out, is “Playboy Architecture, 1953—1979,” an exhibit at the Elmhurst Art Museum in Chicago that collects what Colomina unearthed. In its 1960s heyday, Playboy was a treasure trove of swoopy, lean, midcentury modern design. Big names like Charles Eames, Mies van der Rohe, John Lautner, Eero Saarinen, and Buckminster Fuller all stood next to artful nudes and besuited bachelors—if not in person, than at least via their interiors, furniture, and floorplans. The more Colomina looked, the more she realized how much Playboy and midcentury modern gave each other life.
And as lives go, this was a pretty good one. Publisher Hugh Hefner wasn’t pitching the post-war picket-fence-and-garage lifestyle. His was full of conversations about jazz and Nietzsche and the company of beautiful women. Men—real men—lived in cities, in bachelor pads. These new bachelor pads were signifiers of life lived interestingly and independently. To be sexy, they had to be intriguing. […]