My baby girl is the most beautiful, exquisite, affectionate, innocent four-year-old in the whole world.  But lurking in the back of my mind is that series of conversations we’ll have to have when she gets older… you know the ones.  When she starts getting attention for reasons other than her delightful personality.  Most kids are entering a physical adulthood before they understand the dangers of its power. 

But it is powerful, isn’t it? 

One of the main points I want to talk about to her is the difference between what is SEXY and what is merely SKANKY.  Here’s what I mean:


SEXY IS enticing, inviting, surprise, promise, hinting, healthy balance, vibrant, real, thrives in relationships, well-groomed yet natural, vital, energetic... and includes (unfortunately for definitions) a healthy dose of je ne sais quoi.

Milwaukee Art Museum by Calatrava
Image courtesy of Thomas Hawk via Flickr

  1. Slightly hidden entryways whose path is easily discovered, but whose door is sheltered.  The way in is hinted at, but not seen from the street.
  2. Foyers large enough for pausing, but not imposing.  The point is to have a glimpse of what is further inside... and the hope is to be invited.
  3. Landscaping that defines and protects the property without seeming unwelcoming. Again, a glimpse should show/invite to what ideally is your own private oasis.
  4. Playful details that delight the senses: the sound of rain runoff filling a birdbath from a spout, the slow dance of diurnal daylight across a south-facing room with multiple windows, the smell of fresh spring air through a breezeway, the texture of a hand-plastered wall.
  5. Private nooks for one or two people with a view or a small library, or just visually/acoustically protected.

You know what’s really, powerfully sexy? A sense of humor. A taste for adventure. A healthy glow. Hips to grab on to. Openness. Confidence. Humility. Appetite. Intuition. … Smart-ass comebacks. Presence. A quick wit. Dirty jokes told by an innocent-looking lady. … A storyteller. A genius. A doctor. A new mother. A woman who realizes how beautiful she is.
Courtney E. Martin


SKANKY IS obvious, revealing, garish, mono-dimensional, unrealistically-fantasy-driven, aggressive, egocentric; its good qualities are too-heavily emphasized with paint and fashion.  

Signage at the Riviera Hotal, Las Vegas.
Image courtesy of  daBinsi via Flickr.
Sin City
Image courtesy of Tord Sollie via Flickr
  1. Entries that are enormously out of scale, meant to impress. Entries which contain all that is good about a place; everything beyond is a letdown.
  2. Too many windows; or, any windows with faux "divided light." 
  3. A garage door that should be hidden and instead dwarfs the entry (this is only a slight reference to the signage pictured at right). 
  4. Showing off all assets at once, rather than expecting that someone will have the patience to discover them one by one.  
  5. Spending the most money on a rarely used public room (the equivalent of a neon sign) rather than where the inhabitants spend most of their time.
  6. Using a cheap material like styrofoam to mimic elaborate details on a facade.
  7. Using the most expensive material for a job rather than the most appropriate, simply to show off wealth.
  8. Lighting or colors that are excessively bright and attention grabbing rather than in moderation.
  9. Building forms that vie for prominence rather than work together as a balanced collection.


Queen Victoria
courtesy of Ross Dunn via Flickr
And don’t forget the less discussed danger of UPTIGHT which is unwelcoming, protected, security-driven, staid, unblemished, unrealistically perfect, devoid of ornament, devoid of relationships, old fashioned, restrictive, withdrawn.


  1. Perfectly symmetrical white-column classic revivalism: even the landscaping is perfectly groomed and symmetrical.
  2. Sharped-edged white-plane modernism: neither blemishes nor inhabitants welcome. These are not meant to be lived in, but photographed for magazines.
  3. Twelve-foot ornamental fences that still give off the vibe of razor wire: you are not welcome here.  
  4. Those grass lawns that are perfectly groomed and never used.

Vittori Emmanuele II Monument by Storm Crypt via Flickr
Managing to be skanky and uptight at the same time!
What do you think?


In defense of my choice, Vegas has been the subject of a popular 1972 architectural treatise called Learning from Las Vegas.  The main point of it is that perhaps UPTIGHT architecture could learn a thing or two from SKANKY architecture.  I guess I'm proposing somewhere in between.


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