An exhibition that explores the architectural influence of Playboy magazine

Architecture Media Midwest
(Courtesy Elmhurst Art Museum)
(Courtesy Elmhurst Art Museum)

Next month, visitors to the Elmhurst Art Museum in Chicago will be able to see Playboy Architecture, 1953-1979. On show at Elmhurst’s McCormick House, a fitting venue designed by Mies van der Rohe, the exhibition will display the luxury decor and modern architecture often showcased in Playboy Magazine throughout the twentieth century.

A Chicagoan himself, Hugh Hefner will likely be one of the few unsurprised to see the sizable effect his magazine had on contemporary aesthetic tastes. With addition of a few bunnies, Playboy magazine used mid-century modern furniture and modern architecture to form the dream bachelor pad. In the process, it created a look that appealed to millions across the country.

(Courtesy Elmhurst Art Museum)

(Courtesy Elmhurst Art Museum)

The style portrayed in Playboy, essentially linking architecture and erotica, has mainly influenced cinema and TV. This influence can be seen in the Bond movie Diamonds are Forever (1971) where Hefner’s bachelor pad is used in a scene. Further evidence rests in cult hit The Big Lewbowski (1998) where John Lautner’s modernist Sheats Goldstein Residence, owned by pornographer Jackie Treehorn, is prominently shown in one scene.

Praise for Playboy‘s style has also come from high up in the architecture world. Architectural historian Reyner Banham said that it was “one of the greatest gifts to America and to Western culture” and “I will crawl a mile for Playboy.” Fellow historian Sigfried Giedion was slightly less complimentary. He commented that Playboy architecture was the epitome of the times, describing it as “Rushing from one sensation to another and rapidly bored.”


(Courtesy Elmhurst Art Museum)

(Courtesy Elmhurst Art Museum)

As for the exhibition, photographs, films, architectural renderings, and decor will be on display alongside intricate scale models of the Playboy Townhouse. Naturally, Hefner’s notorious mansions are a key figure in the exhibition, and scenes from films (as mentioned before) are shown as well. Also on display will be the “Big Bunny,” the luxurious and extravagant aircraft was designed by Elmhurst resident Daniel Czubak for Mr. Hefner at the height of the Playboy era.

(Courtesy Elmhurst Art Museum)

(Courtesy Elmhurst Art Museum)

Jenny Gibbs, the Executive Director of Elmhurst Art Museum, spoke of the role Chicago’s architecture scene played with regard Playboy‘s development. “Chicago’s modern architecture and design influenced cities around the world. Chicago-based Playboy magazine played no small part in that by championing Chicago architects like Mies van der Rohe and Frank Lloyd Wright,” she said speaking to Chicagoist.

Originally curated by Professor Beatriz Colomina and Pep Aviles in collaboration with the Ph.D. program of the School of Architecture and the Media and Modernity program at Princeton University, exhibition has already been seen overseas, though this will be its U.S. debut. It will run at the Elmhurst Art Museum from from May 7 to August 28.

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