The Sexiest Architecture is in the Garden

An article by Edinburgh University's Professor of Visual Cultures, Richard J. Williams, appeared on the Aeon Magazine website recently. It quickly provoked a rush of reactive cybermileage with its provocative thesis. The subject? Can Architecture Improve Our Sex Lives?

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The author was disappointed by the lack of architectural attention paid to the subject and preposes: Since buildings are where sex happens, you might expect [architects would]... spend more time thinking about it.

The verdict? Well, some have tried. That good architecture can take something good and make it better seems obvious. Stealing away to some faraway exotic beach could beat knocking boots in the backyard sandbox but as long as the company is good, the locale may just be nitpicking, That aside, what does it take, pray tell, for a building to bring on the sexy?

According to Williams, a few things:
1) Open space—sex needs space. Sex is often inhibited by too much intimacy, he says. (Claustrophobia is an anaphrodisiac, apparently.)
2) A certain amount of natural disorderliness: Western standards tend to the efficient and civil, qualities that inhibit sex drive. What this means exactly the author doesn't say: Organic forms, rounded feminine lines, asymmetry, a mix of textures and colors seem to make up part of the argument.

In describing architects who do sexy well, Williams names a few, most notably Oscar Niemeyer. In his description, Williams speaks of how Niemeyer's work eschews right angles and routinely invokes the female body, a leitmotif that characterized much of Niemeyer's Brazilian work (which the author calls the eternal erotic paradise.) According to GQ, Neimeyer claimed women were his inspiration: "His office walls are decorated in kinky graffiti simple naked sketches that some would consider sexual harassment, but here in the sunny penthouse above Rio de Janeiro are beloved as pure inspiration." Neimeyer claimed to see women's bodies in everything, in the curve of a mountain, the sinuous lines of rivers. For him architecture was a matter of taking a single line of a woman and then imagining a building around her.

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This curvy, sensual element is also an important component of Niemeyer's countryman, Roberto Burle Marx, another curvaceous practitioner who also used gardens to great effect (more on that in a moment).

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According to those who claim to know, another architect who knows well the vernacular of sexy is Zaha Hadid. You could say that Hadid takes Neimeyer's curves and makes them Rubenesque on a Russ Meyer scale. Though, unlike Neimeyer, she's not reticent with her right angles. Donna Karan has praised Hadid's work for its lyricism and sensuality and Glamour Magazine has called her the Lady Gaga of architecture. Judging from her own words, Hadid gets the sexual role of architecture: “Architecture is really about well-being. I think that people want to feel good in a space … On the one hand it’s about shelter, but it’s also about pleasure.”

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So, when architects do attempt to create architecture that respects the erotic, the path they chose was always the same: Open, airy, well-lit, and with natural views, in other words, architecture that's more like a garden. The garden also invites us to join into a sensual connectivity with the environment through sights, sounds and aromas. For its sheer display of life, rejuvenation, and death, what could possibly be more, shall we say, inspiring?

Studies on communal living in the 60s and 70s showed they offered a lifestyle that was more immediate and present. As a result interactivity among it's members, hooking up in other words, reached higher levels than traditional living environments. The garden also teaches us that: Ephemeral flowers bloom and decay, pollinators come while they can because soon the winter will occupy their time with other demands, and the web of life that is necessary for it all to sustain.

Sean's work, whether indoors or outdoors, has always been conscious of the interaction of not only user and space, but how a space moves and flows and interacts with itself. Integrating the longer views with the more immediate space. In the work is a belief that exterior views, even when looking out from the inside, can enhance mood and ambience both in and out. No other indoor feature, be it coloring, texture, flooring, furnishings, or materials can have the impact of a living breathing garden. Even better when the garden crosses the boundaries, as seen in the view below.

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Above and below, two views of an estate:

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What can be sexier than dining al fresco. (Tip for best romantic results: Serve pasta, some red wine, and some chocolate (not too much of any), followed by a post-prandial walk—a menu recommended by scientists as the best aphrodisiac. It's true.)

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