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Exploring Architecture's 'Decent Stab at Sexual Utopia'

Aeon magazine, a digital pub set out to "invigorate conversations about worldviews" with daily essays, recently ran a story about the relationship between architecture and sex—a read that's about as thought-provoking and tantalizing, if more intriguingly academic, as it's "Room for sex" headline promises. In it, Richard Williams asks why most buildings are distinctly unsexy ("architecture was principally about order; sex was not") while a few ("modernism had a decent stab at sexual utopia") overcame efficiency in favor of profligacy and chaos. Intrigued? Well, here now are the eight most thought-provoking lines from the piece:

8. "It's odd how little architects have had to say on the subject of sex. If they're routinely designing the buildings in which sex happens, then you might expect them to spend more time thinking about it. Buildings frame and house our sexual lives. They tell us where and when we can, and cannot, have sex, and with whom."

7. "Modernism had a decent stab at sexual utopia. An early modernist icon by Rudolph Schindler, the Kings Road house [above] in Hollywood (1922), is a free-flowing inside-outside building with open sleeping areas, designed for two young couples. ? And Le Corbusier's huge Unité d'Habitation complex [below] in Marseilles (1952) was designed around the display of the body — its pools and terraces meant for inhabitants to show off."

6. "If architecture is a physical representation of the society that makes it, then, in a Western context such as ours, it is bound to be designed to keep the lid on sex."

5. "Sex wastes time, needs space, and (most intriguingly) is inhibited by too much intimacy. All these things have implications for architecture, which in the West has been coloured by the language of efficiency for at least a century. By contrast, in Perel's terms, sex was profligacy and decadence. She also remarked that 'sexual desire and good citizenship don't play by the same rules'? In sum, architecture was principally about order; sex was not."

4. "Domes seemed simultaneously to be of the far future, and the distant past, while responsive to a present condition defined by plenty of real, as well as imagined, crises. There was something indubitably sexy about all this. In the fearful bomb culture of the late 1960s, Drop City [above] proposed living in the immediate present. It was reminiscent of the English experience of the Second World War, its unprecedented relaxation of sexual mores — the end of the world was at hand, and one simply took opportunities as and when they arose."

3. "Gene 'Curly' Bernofsky spoke of a dome that would house a psychedelic experience, inducing a state of 'constant orgasm'. Peter 'Rabbit' Douthit maintained a harem in his dome."

2. "The odd thing is that we already strongly value co-housing, albeit in an occasional and time-limited form. University students live like this, and we do the same thing on holiday; both forms seem to provide a better emotional environment in which to explore and develop primary relationships — including sexual ones. If we can accept such communal living for some of our lives, why not the rest of the time? Then we might have an architecture that actually supports, rather than impedes, our sexual lives."

1. "The eternal erotic paradise is Brazil. Brazil's modern architecture was influenced by sex like nowhere else. Oscar Niemeyer's work routinely invoked the female body. His signature curves on the Casa das Canoas (1953) [above] in the southern Rio hills, are meant as a corporeal metaphor. I interviewed Niemeyer in 2001 in Rio de Janeiro for a book I was writing about Brazil, and I was struck by his almost manic libido (he was 93 at the time)."

· Room for sex: Where are the buildings that allow us to experience passion and pleasure? [Aeon Magazine]
· Meet the 'First House in the Modern Style,' Built in 1922 [Curbed National]