British tabloid the Sun (famed, of course, for the quality of its scandal reportage) published a short article last month covering what it describes as the "saucy set of blueprints" design student Ruth Bowie submitted to graduate from her Interior and Environmental Design studies in Dundee, Scotland.
Inciting torch burning and pitch-fork brandishing across the country, the piece helpfully goes on to describe the "orgy room, porn cinema, adult shop, fetish rooms, dungeons, pole-dancing bars and bedrooms" that would be contained within the unassuming grey box pictured above. Clearly needing some expert opinion the Sun quotes an, erm, art dealer—one Mr Alexander Knox, 67— who comments "I do not see what is elevating about designing a glorified bordello." Delighted as any student would be to get a bit of exposure, a post on Ruth's project blog linking to the article says cooly "I made the Sun...They say any press is good press! Even though they twisted everything..."
The motives for Ruth's work were, of course, far more noble than the gossip rags, and perhaps the concept title, would have you believe. Identifying trends and problems arising in a sexually liberated society (Dundee, interestingly, is widely regarded as the UK's, if not Europe's, teen pregnancy capital) the SexPlex takes a if-you-can't-beat-them-build-a-service-around-them approach to sexual promiscuity.Ruth envisages the SexPlex as an urban complex where socialising, sex and strangers can mix in a safe, controlled environment. Starting out in the provocatively named "Full Frontal" cocktail bar or "Orgy" dance club, the SexPlex users identify a potential mates with which they gradually progress through a number of "levels", through sexual health check-up clinics, towards the "HotelSex" at the top of the building where they can spend the night together—having already stocked up on essential amenities in the "Total Desire" store.
SexPlex will strike many as a dystopian vision of our society's wanton moral abandonment. With shifts in sexual practices, however, and not too disimilar things already happening in Tokyo's "Love Hotels" you have to wonder how far we are from seeing these kind of services sprouting up in urban capitals around the world— perhaps the diversification strategies of major condom brands or hotel chains. Ruth's SexPlex wil no doubt be criticized for its idealism and apparent naivety(believe me, we're the first to wonder what kind of clientele this place would attract on a Saturday night in central Dundee) but you have to credit the audacity and thoroughness of her vision. Perhaps its the old fuddyduddy in all of us that stopped us thinking of it first.
Sam Dunne is a designer, strategist and writer based in London. Sam is founder of design strategy agency Cohere and Contributing Editor at Core77—reporting broadly on design, technology, food and object culture.