Transurban Sex: The Architecturalization of Romance

Andrés Jaque / Office for Political Innovation | Miguel Mesa

In the last decades, four simultaneous phenomena have revolutionized the way architecture participates in the making of sexuality: 1. The development of location-based dating media (such as Grindr); 2. Monopolized control of the distribution of adult films (MindGeek); 3. The financial crisis; and 4. The money-storing condominium towers with “helicopter views”. These four emerged in 2008 as a coordinated process that produced an unforeseen outcome: a shift from the desire for true sex to the collective assessment of verified sexuality. Post-2008, sex has progressively stopped being an interpersonal human transaction (in the US, interhuman intercourse has decreased at a consistent rate of 5% per decade; in Japan, half of the adult population claimed not to have engaged in interhuman intercourse in the past month) and has instead become an architectural business. This started as a process of urban atomization. At the height of the HIV crisis, humans were distributed in bubbles of comfortable prophylactics, and risk was surrogated to pockets of recorded promiscuity. Thirty years later, this has resulted in a process in which romance has progressively been embodied in architectural devices that no longer provide accommodation for sex, but have become sex itself.

0. Antecedents: Air-Filled Urbanisms: Surrogating Risk Into The Unlatexed

Sexuality was changed radically by the 1984 Betamax Case, and so was its urbanism. That year, the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of Sony Corp. that VCR users had the right to make copies of complete TV shows as a way to achieve a new media experience: “television time shifting”.[1] In four years, the percentage of US homes equipped with VCRs grew from 19% to 88%, as revenues from film studios drastically shrank.[2] VCRs allowed many people stay to at home instead of going to the movies.

Something was already happening to the architecture of homes. In 1969, the Monroe, Michigan-based company La-Z-Boy patented the first upholstered reclining chair. Promoting the predominance of latex-made rubber foam in domestic furniture, in a single year the company absorbed many of its competitors in the US furniture market by massively rendering domestic interiors upholstered. Its sales grew from 150 million in 1981 to 500 million by 1983.[3] A year later, General Mills developed the first mass-produced microwave popcorn with butter flavoring, which shifted the $53 million home-popcorn market of 1983 into a $250 million market 10 months later.[4] VCRs and couches came with fat. In 1985, Tom and James Monaghan’s Domino’s Pizza opened franchises in Japan and the UK in a transoceanic expansion that, 10 years later, brought their “mouth watering” meals to five continents.[5] The transnational retreat of the social into fat-retaining homes synchronized with the transnational HIV crisis, which resulted in the disappearance from cities of spaces where sex was staged and negotiated, a regime that established the fear of fatless bodies. The architectural socialization of movies left theaters to circulate within the connected but isolated, sweet, homey couches of the living room, where hyper-caloric food was delivered.

Air-filled-latex-couches make love sex go home. La-Z-Boy. A chair by any other name is just a chair.

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[1] Sony Corp. v. Universal City Studios 464 U.S. 417 (1984)
[2] Asa Briggs and Peter Burke, A Social History of the Media: From Gutenberg to the Internet (Cambridge, UK ; Malden, MA: Blackwell Publ, 2010). 262.
[3] “La-Z-Boy Feels Energetic about Future: Company Is Restructuring to Return the Brand to Profitability." Winston-Salem Journal (Winston Salem), August 30, 2006, sec. D.
[4] “Microwave Key to Popcorn War,” The New York Times, June 22, 1987
[5] Sean Farrell, “The Rise and Rise of Domino’s Pizza,” The Guardian, January 9, 2014, sec. Business
[6] MeliaRobinson. “How LA’s ‘Porn Valley’ Became the Adult Entertainment Capital of the World.” Business Insider, March 2016
[7] New York Times, The New York Times Guide to Essential Knowledge: A Desk Reference for the Curious Mind, Edición: 3rd rev ed. (New York: St Martin’s Press, 2011)
[8] People v. Freeman, 758 P.2d 1128, 46 Cal. 3d 419, 250 Cal. Rptr. 598
[9] Terrell Tannen, “Sharon Mitchell, Head of the Adult Industry Medical Clinic,” The Lancet 364, no.9436 (August 28, 2004): 751, doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(04)16921-3.
[10] Susan Abram, “Founder of Clinic for Porn Actors Fights Back” Los Angeles Daily News,December 19, 2010
[11] Chris White, “Lawsuit Alleges ‘Smart’ Vibrator Illegally Transmits Intimate User Data Back to Company,” Law Newz, September 15, 2016
[12] Jamie Bartlett, The Dark Net: Inside the Digital Underworld, Reprint edition (Brooklyn, NY: Melville House, 2016).
[13] Matthew Haag, "It’s Not Just You. Americans Are Having Less Sex." The New York Times, March 8, 2017
[14] Burns, Janet. "Millennials Are Having Less Sex Than Other Gens, But Experts Say It's (Probably) Fine." Forbes, August 16, 2016
[15] “YRBSS | Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System | Data | Adolescent and School Health | CDC.”
[16] Arielle Kuperbergand Joseph E. Padgett. "Partner Meeting Contexts and Risky Behavior in College Students’ Other-Sex and Same-Sex Hookups." The Journal of Sex Research 54 (2017): 55-72.
[17] Jiji. "Abstinence on rise as nearly half of Japanese report no sex." The Japan Times, January 19, 2015.
[18] Abigail Haworth, "Why have young people in Japan stopped having sex?" The Guardian, October 20, 2013.
[19] Emma Hope Allwood, "What’s Grindr’s new agenda?" Dazed, June 2016.
[20] Vernon, Polly. "Grindr: a new sexual revolution?" The Guardian, July 4, 2010
[21] "An encounter with Joel Simkhai, founder of Grindr." Numéro, August 25, 2016
[22] Joel Simkhai in conversation with Andrés Jaque. Los Angeles, 2016. Included in ”Intimate Strangers” Video installation by Andrés Jaque / Office for Political Innovation, included in Fear And Love, 2017 exhibition at the Design Museum, London.
[23] Vernon, Polly. "Grindr: a new sexual revolution?" The Guardian, July 4, 2010
[24] Woo, Jaime. Meet Grindr: How One App Changed the Way We Connect. Canada, 2013.
[25] ”Intimate Strangers” Video installation by Andrés Jaque / Office for Political Innovation, included in Fear And Love, 2017 exhibition at the Design Museum, London.
[26] Ibid.
[27] Ferzoco, Jeff. The You-City: Technology, Experience & Life on the Ground. San Francisco: Outpost19, 2012.
[28] Grindr development team in conversation with Andrés Jaque. Los Angeles, 2016.
[29] Musto, Michael. “Let’s Dance. But Where?” The New York Times, April 28, 2016, New York ed. Sec. D.
[30] Isaac, Mike. "Grindr Sells Stake to Chinese Company." The New York Times, January 12, 2016, New York ed., sec. B.
[31] VB Staff. "Mobile app analytics: How Grindr monetizes 6 million active users (webinar)." VentureBeat. April 11, 2016.
[32] Cochrane, Lauren. "JW Anderson mixes mundane and strange in fashion show streamed on Grindr." The Guardian. January 10, 2016.
[33] Allwood, Emma Hope. "What’s Grindr’s new agenda?" Dazed, June 2016.
[34] Salter, Steve. “Why you'll soon be seeing diesel ads on Grindr, Tinders and Pornhub | read." i-D. January 10, 2016.
[35] “Mindgeek.com Traffic, Demographics and Competitors - Alexa.com”
[36] Mix, “Pornhub Launches ‘Snapchat for Nudes’ so You Can Put Filters on Your Genitalia,” The Next Web, April 18, 2017
[37] Daniel Indiviglio, “Did Porn Cause the Financial Crisis?” The Atlantic, April 23, 2010
[38] Evan Bindelglass, “Everything You Need to Know About NYC's 421-a Tax Program, Poised to Expire Today,” Curved (New York), January 2016
[39] Kriston Capps, “Why Billionaires Don’t Pay Property Taxes in New York." CityLab.com
[40] Harry Macklowe, CEO of Macklowe Properties, codeveloper of 432 Park Avenue in association with CIM Group, claims to have invented the concept “helicopter views” as the main feature of a real estate product meant to create a high-profile condo market based on “uniqueness”.
[41] Michael Kimmelman, “Seeing a Need for Oversight of New York’s Lordly Towers"- The New York Times, December 22, 2013
[42] Published, “The Influentials: Architecture & Design,” NYMag
[43] Julie Satow, “Selling Park Avenue Condos at $250,000 a Minute,” The New York Times, June 21, 2013, sec. Real Estate.
[44] “DBOX › 432 Park Avenue,” DBOX.
[45] Mathew Bannister in conversation with Andrés Jaque and the Columbia GSAPP advanced studio “Revolting Apartments”. New York, 2015.
[46] Marjorie Garber, Sex and Real Estate: Why We Love Houses, 1st ed. (New York: Schocken Books, 2000).
[47] “George W. Bush: Remarks to the National Association of Home Builders in Columbus, Ohio,” accessed June 19, 2017, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=64585.
[48] “George W. Bush: Remarks at the Plenary Session of the President’s Economic Forum in Waco,” accessed June 19, 2017, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=73101.
[49] Michel Feher, “Self-Appreciation; Or, The Aspirations of Human Capital,” Public Culture 21, no. 1 (December 21, 2009): 21–41, doi:10.1215/08992363-2008-019.