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Playboy Architecture exhibition at the German Museum of Architecture, Frankfurt

Playboy Architecture 1953 – 1979

  • Photographer: Dirk Vogel, Dortmund/Germany

The “Playboy Architecture 1953 – 1979” exhibition at the Deutsches Architekturmuseum considers the early American Playboy a promoter of modern architecture. We have illuminated the exhibition in diverse ways – and reflect on our own cooperation with the Playboy.

Shown in Germany for the first time after The Hague and Rotterdam, the exhibition in Frankfurt presents a piece a media history in a new light as it focuses on the architectures and interiors of the men’s magazine. The exhibition centres on the “Archive”, which allows visitors to browse through issues dating between 1953 and 1979. Featuring a broad spectrum of topics involving art and culture, the early Playboy puts itself across as a lifestyle medium for a cultured audience – only with playmates gracing the architectures designed by Buckminster Fuller or John Lautner and armchairs by Eero Saarinen or the Eames.
The copied ensembles of the photo settings in different exhibition zones are presented to the visitor as architectural models and furniture arrangements, flanked by oversized magazine pages on the walls, contemporary film documents and background music. Even the bed in which Hugh Hefner gave interviews is on display. As an attention-grabber, the delicate topic is nicely contrasted by a sober exhibition design with plain wooden shelving.

Playboy Architecture exhibition at the German Museum of Architecture, Frankfurt
Playboy Architecture exhibition at the German Museum of Architecture, Frankfurt

Interiors and architectures used for the Playboy photo shoots are staged using original furniture and architectural models alongside oversized prints of the layouts

From 2D to 3D: ERCO illumination accommodates media
The heterogeneous exhibits and information levels, the different media and dimensions at the Deutsches Architekturmuseum in Frankfurt are sensitively, yet effectively staged using diverse ERCO lighting tools – based around the all-round talent, Optec LED. Evocatively illuminated, the original furniture of the Playboy photos, for instance, gives a three-dimensional impression of living in International Style, whereas the architectural models can comfortably be explored in razor sharp light. The magazines, poster-size magazine excerpts and photos of the scantily clad ladies, on the other hand, are set off in glossy contrast with realistic colours.

Playboy Architecture exhibition at the German Museum of Architecture, Frankfurt
Playboy Architecture exhibition at the German Museum of Architecture, Frankfurt

Playboy founder Hugh Hefner has a soft spot for Marilyn Monroe – as demonstrated on this early magazine cover

ERCO and Playboy: Room for dreams
“The 1950s to 1970s were defined by major influences coming from Hollywood – even in Europe,” reports Klaus Jürgen Maack, who took over as CEO of ERCO in the 1960s. Despite the fact that the Bauhaus was considered the architectural ideal in post-war Germany, the German edition of the Playboy demonstrated an affinity with American and avant-garde architecture and design in the mid 20th century. A PR campaign for architectural luminaires in 1973, for instance, reads “Adjustable lamps on practical tracks provide enlightenment: light makes the dark look that much nicer”. A generously sized double-page spread showed luminaires from ERCO, Staff and Kaiser hanging in a row on a single track above a couple in an intimate atmosphere. Yet another rather unusual cooperation between ERCO and the Playboy was the special edition of the TM spotlight – a glamorous chrome version of ERCO’s elegant limited edition luminaire that was state of the art in the 1970s.

“The TM spotlight became one of ERCO’s most popular spotlights and was displaced by flatter lighting tools only with the technology leap to LED” states Klaus Jürgen Maack. “But Marketing Manager Christoph Rudolf and I discussed our cooperation with Playboy at great length – I was of the opinion that it was not a good fit for our brand.” Taking the point of the “Playboy Architecture” exhibition organisers that the men’s magazine in this this era was a medium introducing pioneering architecture to the mass public, its cooperation with ERCO does, in retrospect, seem to make sense. Light, as architecture, can after all provide a backdrop for dreams.

Playboy Architecture exhibition at the German Museum of Architecture, Frankfurt
Playboy Architecture exhibition at the German Museum of Architecture, Frankfurt

ERCO – slightly raunchy? Luminaire manufacturers present their products in the Playboy, here in a 1973 PR campaign

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