Architecture and sexuality
I’m interested in the relationships between architecture and bodies - embodiments both. Not just the spaces where things happen, but more than that; spaces that represent, and epitomise, and shape the people that live in them.
A new book out offers some interesting starting points:
Fire Island Modernist: Horace Gifford and the Architecture of Seduction
by Christopher Bascom Rawlins
pub. Metropolis Books / Gordon de Vries Studio (May 30, 2013)
[…] When it was developed in the fifties, [Fire Island] Pines wasn’t meant to be gay—just another weekend getaway. But because it was next door to Cherry Grove, the community of theatrical bungalows filled with theatrical men, the Pines began to attract closeted gays, who by the mid-sixties defined the place.
In those days, the Pines was seen as an “untainted address,” observes Christopher Rawlins in Fire Island Modernist, his new book about Horace Gifford, who designed just about one in ten houses there. Gifford was a strapping idealist, and his houses were communal, economical, and exhibitionistic: the bedrooms small, the central areas open, with everything wooden or glass (he “essentially treated all surfaces like floors,” Rawlins writes).
Gifford’s was a gay architectural vernacular that eschewed camp—“butch,” Rawlins calls it. “But in its muscular austerity,” he writes, “a hypermasculine form of drag could also be discerned.” As time went on, the houses became more elaborate, with conversation pits and make-out lofts—a form of sexed-up cocaine modernism. Gifford, a fixture in the community, embodied this pre-AIDS boundarylessness.
From AIA.org (American Institute of Architects)
Christopher Rawlins responds, in an interview
Gifford housed the first generation of gay Americans who dared to make themselves visible. It is a bit tricky to speak of a “gay aesthetic” in monolithic terms, but if you look at the older adjacent Fire Island gay community of Cherry Grove, its prevailing artistic and architectural expressions—drag, high Victoriana, camp, a coded language of double entendres—spoke to the profound alienation of a gay man or lesbian circa 1947.
A little later, in the Pines community where Gifford built most of his homes, you have a more assimilated generation seeking its own forms of expression. Those haunted houses in Cherry Grove no longer moved them. Gifford embraced the popular movement of Modernism, while imbuing his work with a particular dialect that mirrored the freewheeling physical and cultural landscape of its inhabitants. His stripped-bare structures of cedar and glass, with prurient lines of sight and an amusing lack of closets, resonated with a generation that had finally emerged from the shadows.
I think the book amply demonstrates that there is such a thing as “gay architecture” in a number of expressive forms, but when it comes to the singular term “gay aesthetic,” I am trying to avoid the error of essentialism—assuming that a particular cultural or ethnic group behaves in a monolithic fashion. In the same vein, one would describe a “black aesthetic” or a “Jewish aesthetic” with a measure of modesty and care. There are often multiple “gay aesthetics” occurring at one time. It’s not as if the Pines’ aesthetic entirely displaced the Cherry Grove aesthetic the world over. But Gifford’s work spoke to an emerging, upwardly mobile New York demographic which was one subset of the gay world.
 Image courtesy of Michael Weber.
 Tom Yee / Courtesy of Artbook D.A.P.
 Image courtesy of Michael Weber