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Property Porn

By June 30, 2009January 23rd, 201016 Comments

“Porno is the unconsciousness of culture, the libido of humanity.” (unknown)
A comment from one of our contributors, ‘Helen’, suggested that we explore the proposal of Property Porn. Very well, Helen, we’ll see what we can come up with. Innuendo, for a start, I guess. But first a choice quote or two (seeing as we may be restricted in a choice of images):

My reaction to porno films is as follows; After the first ten minutes, I want to go home and screw; After the first twenty minutes, I never want to screw again as long as I live. (Erica Jong).

But are we even using the right word? Is Porn something that you could accuse Architecture of being capable of? Doesn’t porn mean: “creative activity (writing or pictures or films etc.) of no literary or artistic value other than to stimulate sexual desire” ? Can you really compare the purposeful subjugation of woman for the titillation of jaded male eyes, with the carefully composed architectural composition of a well designed building? What is it about the design of a nice piece of building that provokes such desire, and does it ever get to a level that we could describe as sexual? Is it this following quote that is the real issue?:

“Pornographers subvert this last, vital privacy; they do our imagining for us. They take away the words that were of the night and shout them over the roof-tops, making them hollow.”George Steiner

It may be therefore that we’re getting the medium mixed up with the message. Just as there is nothing inherently wrong (and arguably nothing more beautiful) than the naked human body, it is the depiction of it and the method of that transmission that gets qualified as “porn”. It is the book containing the images that is the pornography, not the naked body itself. So, in the same way you could argue that nakedness is natural, it is not the building’s fault that it is beautiful. Or as Jessica Rabbit once famously said: “I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way.”

“Pornographers are the enemies of women only because our contemporary ideology of pornography does not encompass the possibility of change, as if we were the slaves of history and not its makers. Pornography is a satire on human pretensions.”Angela Carter

But it turns out that there is already a well recognised definition of Property Porn. “Property porn: a genre of escapist TV programmes, magazine features, etc showing desirable properties for sale, especially those in idyllic locations, or in need of renovation, or both”. (Collins English Dictionary). Here, Angela Carter is quite right: Pornography IS a satire on human pretensions.

Just as there is a full gamut of pornography to cater for all (mainly male) tastes, ranging from firm to saggy, young to old, pure to depraved, so there is a parallel industry of property porn ranging from simple DIY jobs (which still sounds very masturbatory) to professional and very slick. Take this quote from the About Property website:

“Property porn is an interesting concept – not least because you can’t have property porn without property porn stars. Fulfilling this role falls to the TV presenters ranging from the lovely Amanda Lamb who presents Channel 4’s A Place in the Sun, to the lewd and crude Justin Ryan and Colin McAllister from Five’s How not to decorate. And neither can you have property porn, without spawning a generation of property porn addicts – those among us who spend hour upon hour watching property TV programmes.”

So at the risk of over-doing it, over-egging the pudding, or going too far with an over-extended simile, is there really that much difference between a thinly veiled diaphanous membrane floating in the breeze in a idyllic sea-side cottage, and a barely clothed torso, flesh rippling in the pale light of the photographers focus spot? I’d make an impassioned plea that we don’t get architectural erotica muddled up with property porn.

In the same way that the visual images portrayed here are tasteful, carefully arranged, with good design lines and well maintained facades, there is nothing wrong with an appreciation of a good curvacious Zaha Hadid building. By contrast, the tatty, full frontal presentation of the gutting of a aging Victorian villa by a crew like the TV show “Carter’s My House, My Castle” is as rude, crude, and socially unnecessary as a line-up of “reader’s wives” or “rabid grannies”.

Update: And just in case there is anyone unsettled by the prospect of unclad cowgirls or overclad shopping centres, then just for you, here is an amalgam of the two! Enjoy…

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Join the discussion 16 Comments

  • thomas says:

    I’m not buying that spiel, and think you have missed an important distinction between property porn and architecture. One is fixed within the notions of real estate and marketing, which transcends the physical object (hence the unequivocalness of tearing it apart for a more marketable product), the other requires a whole different notion of porn.

    If we return to your initial definition as: “creative activity (writing or pictures or films etc.) of no literary or artistic value other than to stimulate sexual desire”, then would not architectural porn be equivalent of the vacuous form driven excess of much starchitecture (perhaps visual sublimity rather than sexual desire however) – and in which case, what does it mean for architecture (and/or society), when the dominant (by celebration rather than quantity), mode of architectural production is actually pornographic?

  • batgirl says:

    Rumor has it that only girl-brains like erotica (freud would say they can only relate to things when something is missing)…

  • Red says:

    Property porn is definitely different from architectural erotica. Even the word ‘property’ conjures up seedy real estate ventures, money-centric developers and scantily clad tilt-slab boxes. It is the word ‘property’ that is more concerning than the term ‘porn’.

  • Fruitbat says:

    Red seems to have hit on a relevant point there. There seems to be a love of the word Architecture, and Architects: but the title Property Developer seems to be almost universally sneered at. Indeed: property = seedy but architecture = beauty.

    Girls love architects. In the latest Fashion Quarterly, an article on style says: “If you want style, you should marry an Architect”.

  • NSFW says:

    Not sure where Thomas is coming from. Drawing production isn’t Porno although the wages they pay young Grads is shocking and outrageous. Is a bare skeleton of a building more sexy than a fully clad one though?

  • t says:

    I think Architecture New Zealand or Houses should pick up on this thread and include a centrefold spread in their next editions. Imagine the readers realising how close to porn admirers they are as they fold the page out and tilt the mag to view the full beauty of the building. “Whoarrrr! Check out the structure on that!”

  • Guy says:

    NSFW – “Is a bare skeleton of a building more sexy than a fully clad one though?”

    Surely not. Anorexia isn’t hot. Curvy is in.

    Surface is only skin deep. While a building needs good bones, you need to flesh out the design ideas a little more than that. Nothing wrong with a nice bit of cedar planking, as long as you rub oil into it on a regular basis.

  • thomas says:

    I guess that what I might be saying is that the body/building, however it is clothed/realised, is not inherently pornographic. The pornographic ‘content’ comes from portrayal/representation, and/or the mode in which it is viewed – ‘dirty is in the eye of the beholder’…

    So, by extension, it is the way that our architectural journalist/critics/academics portray architecture in our glossy magazines that is the problem – either that, or the way the profession and interested lay people have come to view architecture as eye-candy. And just as the mainstreaming of pornography has accompanied a relaxation on how much sex/flesh we are able to witness in mainstream media (or even on the street it must be said), then so too has the pornografication of architecture relaxed our architectural ‘morals’ – eye-candy is ok/celebrated/the movement du jour…

  • Tom says:

    “Is a bare skeleton of a building more sexy than a fully clad one though?”

    Not quite the right analogy: that would be the same as looking at a skeleton rather than flesh. What makes a building “naked” is the absence of context and human habitation, and as thomas says, that’s the way they’re presented in the architectural media.

    In the same way that a body stripped of emotional response, narrative and human desire is mere flesh, ready for presentation and consumption, a building without context, meaning and interaction is mere form, and that’s what makes the “Architecture Porn” concept valid. Concentrating on the visual denies the fullness of our senses. What seems hot in the pages of a glossy magazine may turn out to be cold, fake and lifeless in real life.

  • Big John says:

    I’ve never really thought about mh love for architectural glossy magazines in the same way as I think of soft porn mags and I guess that now your conversation has ruined it for me forever. I would say that any response on my behalf to one form of media would differ greatly from the physical response to he other.

    However, if what Tom says is correct, it’s the magazine producers who are the true pornographers in both cases and am I therefore just a sad lonely wanker in everyeaning of the word?

  • thomas says:

    “it’s the magazine producers who are the true pornographers” – or are they simply delivering to the ‘market desires’ of “sad lonely wanker”s (to use your delightful turn of phrase)…? (that comment had me laughing out loud I must admit)

    I suspect the wrist action of the viewer is slightly different in the architect’s case however, as one strains to quickly sketch the provocative details for later use rather than, well, you know…

  • m-d says:

    Who’d a thought it would take a post about porn to stimulate such lively architectural debate!

  • Guy says:

    Would’ve thought it? Well, I had an inkling it might. Architects like to watch, you know. And they like to think about the details too. Put the two together – actually, Wallpaper* magazine just has, with it’s latest issue on 21st Century Sex “Fashion, furniture and fetishism”.
    Definitely worth a read, if only just to look at the pictures.

  • Guy says:

    Just now, whether by coincidence or intent, a friend of mine has sent me this link. Highly appropriate to the subject, i would have thought….

    http://deputy-dog.com/2009/07/ceiling-porn.html

    don’t worry, it’s entirely safe for work. Mind you don’t drool on your keyboard though.

  • Teina says:

    the ceilings images are stinning….. ive been to st Sophia, istanbul Turkey and its a stunner ceiling.

  • J Lo says:

    there’s a whole lot more “porn” links you might want to explore. my homie done send me this one y’all:
    http://stairporn.org/

    love them naked balustrades….