Architecture and Sex

01
of 10

Do Buildings Have Gender?

Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey
Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey is one of the world's most beautiful buildings, and a finalist in the campaign to select New World Wonders. Is it male or female?. Press photo © 2000-2006 NewOpenWorld Foundation

Are sex and architecture related? Are some buildings "male" and others "female"?

Yes, of course, some architects are male and some are female. But what of the buildings?

Does a Victorian cottage, dolled up in gingerbread, seem "female"? Is a rough-hewn stone castle "male"? How would you describe the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey?

The questions might strike you as a bit absurd, but many serious architecture scholars are looking closely at the relationship between architecture and human anatomy and human sexuality.

This photo tour explores several ways we can think about architecture, sex, and gender.

02
of 10

Male Architecture? The Empire State Building

Empire State Building in New York City
Empire State Building in New York City. Photo by joeyful/Moment Open Collection/Getty Images

Some architecture critics say that the tall, forceful shape of a skyscraper expresses masculinity.

Any number of skyscrapers, such as the Empire State Building in New York, might be called male.

03
of 10

Male Architecture? Pei's Johnson Museum

I.M. Pei, Architect - Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University
I.M. Pei, Architect - Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University. Photo © Jackie Craven

A building does not have to be tall or phallic to suggest masculinity.

Some architecture critics believe that "male" architecture is architecture that expresses heaviness, strength, or power. Something about its shape, proportions, or sheer mass shouts out, "Uh! Me Tarzan!" Or, perhaps, "Uh! Me Bill Gates!"

Architect I.M. Pei seemed to express masculine ideas when he designed the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University. The building is composed of heavy angular shapes.

04
of 10

Female Architecture? The Singapore Esplanade

Merlion and the Esplanade Theaters Singapore
Merlion and the Esplanade Theaters Singapore. Photo by Tom Bonaventure/Photographer's Choice Collection/Getty Images

Some architecture critics believe that "female" architecture is architecture that seems to express femininity. There is something womanly about the building's shape, size, proportions, color, or texture.

Curved shapes may suggest the womb. Perhaps you long to crawl inside the building and curl into a fetal position.

The dumpling-shaped Esplanade in Singapore has a round shape that might be called feminine. Built in context with the more "masculine" skyscraper shape, this 2002 Performing Arts Center changed the skyscape in Singapore. Add to the mix the nearby Merlion spewing forth its liquid and Singapore becomes one hot city!

05
of 10

Bold Female Energy? Sydney Opera House

The Sydney Opera House
The Sydney Opera House by Pritzker Prize winning architect, Jorn Utzon. Photo © David Messent, courtesy of Jorn Utzon/Utzon Architects and the Pritzker Prize Committee

A "female" building doesn't have to be delicate. Perhaps the building is bold and brassy - not the sort of girl you'd bring home to your mother. The "femininity" of the building is expressed in its curving forms.

Architecture critics might say that Jorn Utzon's Sydney Opera House expresses a bold "female" energy.

06
of 10

Androgynous Architecture? The Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal in Agra, India
Both male and female: the Taj Mahal in Agra, India. The famous memorial is a finalist in the competition to select New Wonders of the World. Press photo © 2000-2006 NewOpenWorld Foundation

Many buildings have both male and female qualities. Perhaps the texture is male, and the shape female. Or, the color is female, but the proportions... Well, you get the point.

A building that has both male and female characteristics might be called androgynous.

The Taj Mahal in Agra, India combines rounded shapes with masculine forms.

07
of 10

Architects and Gender

Hearst Castle
One of many buildings at Hearst Castle by Julia Morgan. Photo: ArtToday.com

Does the gender of the architect affect the gender of the building?

Apparently not.

Julia Morgan's many buildings at Hearst Castle can be viewed as male, female, or both.

08
of 10

Buildings Designed For Sex

The Villages of Loreto Bay - Bathroom
A sensuous bathroom in the Villages of Loreto Bay. Photo © Jackie Craven

Imagine a building designed for sex. Would it resemble those so-called cathedrals of the flesh, the ancient Roman baths?

Would it look like a Victorian brothel in a Montana mining camp?

Or, would it seem more like the back seat of a 1959 Chevrolet?

Architects seek to express an aura of sexuality when they design luxury bathrooms like the one shown here.

09
of 10

Sensual Architecture

Pueblo Style House
Adobe pueblos are inspired by simple structures that date from ancient times. Photo © 2005 Jupiterimages Corporation

Whether you think of architecture as "male" or "female," there is no doubt that buildings can suggest sensuality.

Some buildings, like the X-rated temples of Khajuraho, India are explicitly erotic.

Other buildings are sensuous because they are pleasing to both the eyes and the fingers.

Many people find adobe pueblo homes sensual, perhaps because they are hand-crafted from the earth.

10
of 10

Neuter Architecture? Bauhaus Design

Walter Gropius's Bauhaus home in Lincoln, Massachusetts
Walter Gropius's Bauhaus home in Lincoln, Massachusetts. Photo © Jackie Craven

Great architecture touches the soul and lifts the spirit. The most beautiful buildings also reflect our physical bodies and celebrate our senses.

Buildings that are bland, uninteresting, or downright ugly may strike you as neuter. They lack a sense of masculine or feminine energy, and they do not appeal to the senses.

For some people, streamlined Bauhaus architecture can seem neuter. But for many people, the most simple architecture is also the most sensual. A Bauhaus building such as the Walter Gropius house shown here can express the best of the physical and the spiritual realm.

What do you think makes a building sexy? Tell us!