Weren’t We Supposed To Live In Plastic Houses In The Future?

Futurism is dead. At least, the wildly optimistic technology-based futurism of the middle years of the 20th century has been replaced in our version of their future by a much more pessimistic model of environmental challenges and economic woes. No longer will our flying cars take us from our space-age wonder-homes to the monorail which will whisk us through sparkling-clean cities to our robotised workplaces, instead while we may have a global computer network and voice controlled assistants we still live in much the same outdated style as we did decades ago. Our houses are made from wood and bricks by blokes with shovels rather than prefabricated by robots and delivered in minutes, and our furniture would be as familiar to a person from the 1950s as it is for us.

A Plastic Future That Never Quite Happened

There was a time when the future of housing looked remarkably different. Just as today we are busily experimenting with new materials and techniques in the type of stories we feature on Hackaday, in the 1950s there was a fascinating new material for engineers and architects to work with in the form of plastics. The Second World War had spawned a huge industry that needed to be repurposed for peacetime production, so almost everything was considered for the plastic treatment, including houses. It seemed a natural progression that our 21st century houses would be space-age pods rather than the pitched-roof houses inherited from the previous century, so what better way could there be to make them than using the new wonder material? A variety of plastic house designs emerged during that period which remain icons to this day, but here we are five or six decades later and we still don’t live in them. To find out why, it’s worth a look at some of them, partly as a fascinating glimpse of what might have been, but mostly to examine them with the benefit of hindsight.

Disneyland's Monsanto House Of The Future. Orange County Archives from Orange County, California, United States of America, CC BY 2.0
Disneyland’s Monsanto House Of The Future. Orange County Archives from Orange County, California, United States of America, CC BY 2.0.

The most famous of the plastic house designs is the Futuro, designed in the late 1960s by the Finnish architect Matti Suuronen originally as a skiing lodge but later commercialised in modest numbers across the globe. It’s a sectional fibreglass reinforced plastic design that resembles a flying saucer, with oval windows around its circumference and a Learjet-style folding staircase for its entrance. It stands on a tubular frame that locates with four concrete pads, making it capable of being placed on almost any terrain. Internally it has several rooms and fitted furniture incorporated into its curved shape.

It wasn’t the only famous plastic house of the era even though it was the one most commercialised, aside from Suuronen’s smaller Venturo design there were also buildings such as Jean-Benjamin Maneval’s Bubble House and the Disney Corporation’s popular Disneyland attraction, the Monsanto House Of The Future which happened to be MIT-designed and was visited by many millions of people from the late 1950s to the late 1960s. These were both more practical designs than the Futuro, in which fibreglass modules would be assembled from central structures in a variety of configurations. The Disney house’s modules had steel frames cantilevered from a central concrete tower containing the building’s utilities, and was a serious attempt to model a house for a typical American family. All of its internal furniture and features were also made from plastic as a showcase of the new material, and though it was never inhabited there are period films showing park cast members acting the roles of residents. (As an aside, the central tower foundation is said to survive to this day at the park as a planter.)

So Where Did It All Go Wrong?

The interior of a Futuro house. Ilkka Jukarainen (CC BY-ND 2.0)
The interior of a Futuro house. Ilkka Jukarainen (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Given that the technology was proven by the serial production of the Futuro, ultimately by the longevity of the surviving houses, and by the resilience of the Disney house under the pressure of millions of visitors, it is evidently not a lack of practicality that caused them not to catch on. Maybe your tastes are different, but I for one would happily live in a clone of the Disney house if I were satisfied of its fire safety, and were someone to offer me the keys to a Futuro I’d have my bench installed within the day. But perhaps surprisingly given our popular view of the era as an explosion of the new, they struggled to gain acceptance when placed in real-world locations.

In fact though its influence on later decades was huge, the 1960s mod-wonderland showcased in popular myth like the Austin Powers movies was in reality restricted to a relatively few places and select age groups, and the appearance of a Futuro at the end of the street would have been too much for the more conservative residents whose tastes would have been formed decades earlier. Those few Futuros and their ilk which were built faced hostility from their neighbours, and were excluded by planning ordinances and home finance companies. The oil crisis of the early 1970s provided the death-knell by driving up the price of the raw materials, and by the 1980s that future was but a distant memory.

Turns Out You Can’t Order Everything from Amazon

Perhaps a further surprise comes in how relatively few of us today live in truly prefabricated homes (as opposed to site-built kit homes) even if they aren’t made from plastic. We have an immense demand for affordable housing in developed countries coupled with a building industry still using intensive techniques perfected in another century, and these conditions should be a perfect environment for prefabricated housing.

Manufactured prefabrication of housing units has a long history in many countries from Soviet apartment blocks through Western European high-rise buildings to Japanese and American modular homes. But they still meet resistance from local planning authorities, in building codes, and sometimes even from would-be customers themselves. In some respects this is driven by the interests of a construction industry that would face ruin were the need for its thousands of wet-trade workers to end, but in others it seems driven by a continuing obsession with making houses look as though they were made centuries ago. Perhaps if we are ever to solve our housing crises, we need once more to revive futurism. After all, our children might need it.

Header image: Futuro house, Nan Palmero (CC BY 2.0).

116 thoughts on “Weren’t We Supposed To Live In Plastic Houses In The Future?

  1. There’s a reason plastic houses never caught on, and that was discovered in the 70’s – though not immediately. The oil crisis brought the first wave of energy efficient housing, and they solved the problem by wrapping them up – in plastic. They figured all the heat from homes was lost through drafts and warm air getting through the walls, so they put plastic films and tarps all around, under and over, with the result that the houses started developing air quality problems and rot.

    It’s all fine for a showcase home that is never actually lived in to be made completely out of plastic, but normal day-to-day cooking and cleaning, drying clothes, having showers, breathing, sweating… all makes moisture which condenses on the impermeable surfaces and sooner or later it’s like living inside a smelly fridge – because you can’t clean all the spots where the moisture collects.

      1. In the end it’s relatively cheap to just build the house. Transporting huge sections long distances into difficult places tends to cost money as well.

        Many modern homes are semi-prefab. They’re built out of sections and modules, which are far cheaper to transport stacked and put together on-site. Smaller pieces don’t need such heavy equipment to move.

          1. No, a 2 for 1 deal. The house comes in a shipping container, and then the box can be used fir a sevond house.

            Actually, I seem to recall the whole reuse of shipping containers was because of a surplus.

            But today I saw a story that there’s a shortage, at least coming to North America. So they are going back empty because filling them takes time, and demand us high.

      2. I lived in a flat in prefab elements building. It was a pain to adapt it to your specific needs not just in terms of floorplan, but electrical installations, too. The walls were imperviable, because in construction they were lifted and put in place with a crane, so they had to have formidable structural integrity to keep themselves in one place, hanging by their top corners while being placed. I heard rumors that that particular type of building in earthquakes tended to fold, like house of cards, squishing residents in a concrete tables’ sandwitches. Perhaps I worried too much.

    1. And, the shelf life of plastics isn’t infinite either. The pure polymer itself may last forever in warm, dry and dark conditions, but the additives which they put in to make it flexible, fire retardant, etc. tends to go away with time and the parts turn brittle and stiff. Usually in 20 years or so, which made the plastic tarp houses rather disposable anyhow.

      1. Silicone + UV rays = basically nothing, even over many years. In contrast, (most) plastics + UV rays = broken down plastic at a chemical level.

        Plus burning (many) plastics can be an issue since some can burn somewhat similar to wood. Also the lower strength, decent cost, etc. Ever tried to use plastic decking? Not exactly cheap although at least better than wood in terms of not being able to rot or be consumed by insects. Neither are fantastic though.

        Plastics in general certainly have some uses but the shell of a home has better materials to use. Also looking at you, wood.

        1. Yeah, when I looked at the ideas of plastic houses in this article it made me invision a billowing self-feeding fire tornado blasting through a rapidly melting red plastic mcdonalds playplace-looking house. Even with flame retardants it would melt like shit and collapse in on itself in no time flat

    2. Prefab, fiberglass living spaces are definitely still made, and lived in:

      https://www.catalinayachts.com/

      The qualities of Glass Reinforced Plastic are great for boats, like keeping the water out and letting you form all sorts of hydro/aerodynamic curves, are really not desirable for a home on land (but worth putting up with for boats).

      If you’re on land, there’s no reason to make cabinets that have curved walls and can’t hold boxes.

      1. I was thinking much the same thing, plastic isn’t inherently unsuitable for living in, and many boats are good examples.

        It just requires different building methodology and design to make use of the benefits while avoiding the downsides of the material you build in. Its not (usually) a good idea to just wrap the old design concepts up in a new material.

        The modern trend for removing fireplaces, and replacing the usually wooden window frame with UVPC means more air quality and damp problems inside – because you have changed the building’s materials and function without also changing the design – if you are going to cut out of passive airflow (which is a good thing for insulation and drafts are bad for occupant comfort too) you must put in some method to control the inside air quality and humidity, or you end up leaving the windows open to avoid damp and stale air, and getting a worse level of insulation than the passively slightly leaky windows!

        1. Indeed. A boat is usually not open at the bottom, unlike houses which are often sitting on concrete foundations or have open crawlspaces underneath.

          The thing is, you have to have some passive airflow, especially in colder climates, otherwise the walls and the insulation inside will never dry properly.

          Likewise, if you insulate too much, there will be a temperature gradient between the cold exterior wall and the warm interior wall, and somewhere in the middle becomes the dew point which condenses water into the structure. In traditional structures they leave an air gap there and make a double wall, but the new “energy efficient” houses plugged that gap up and filled it with insulation. Part of the reason for the plastic tarp was then to act as “moisture barriers” to keep water away from the condensation point, but they always leak, and over time they start to crumble up anyways.

    3. I don’t like the plastic house idea, but I sure do wish they’d revive the Dymaxion house plans Buckminster Fuller designed. The surviving prototype at the Henry Ford museum is fascinating.

  2. Have seen the Futuro in Espo, Finland. Think it would fit more into the summer house/vacation property than permanent home. Distinct lack of privacy within – even less than the average camping trip. But much more sturdy and spacious than a tent.

    Maybe several linked together would work as a sort of sealab type tree house. Hopefully it would explode less.

  3. Except, in the US we *do* live in increasingly plastic houses, they just aren’t futuristic domes. They’ve kept the general appearance of “bricks & wood” houses, but take a closer look:

    -Waste plumbing is either PVC or ABS plastic almost everywhere. Supply plumbing is increasingly PEX (cross-linked polyethylene)

    -Electrical wiring is all insulated with various plastics, though you can’t get around metal conductors.

    -Structure is generally still mostly wood and masonry products, but the wood is becoming more “plastic-y” — Laminated veneer lumber, parallel strand lumber, I-joists with OSB webs, plywood or OSB sheathing — it’s all various small bits of wood plus some form of resin (often phenol-formaldehyde)

    -Insulation can be a variety of things, but various polymer foams are cheap and plentiful. Polystyrene, polyisocyanurate, spray-applied polyurethane

    -PVC everywhere — Vinyl siding, vinyl window frames, vinyl flooring (ugh, “luxury” vinyl plank)

    -All but the highest end carpeting is synthetic fibers

    -Kitchen countertops on the low to midrange are various polymers — even “quartz” is just rock bits held together by some form of polymer resin.

    -Low to mid cost furniture is increasingly also composite lumber products, held together by bits of plastic (go check out your local IKEA and try to find any pieces of solid wood). Upholstered furniture is usually padded with polymer foams and might be skinned in synthetic fabrics

    So, plastics certainly have permeated the building industry, just gradually and in a way that only makes slow shifts away from traditional looks. We aren’t living in retro-futuristic pods, but we are surrounded by the products of that age. Some of them are great engineering materials, some are just cheap substitutes, and some are probably leaching endocrine disruptors, carcinogens, and persistent pollutants into your home.

    1. Thank god the water pipes are still made of metal, at least..

      I don’t like to imagine what happens to water quality if PVC becomes popular here.. 😥

      PS: I’m from Europe.

      1. deains use PVC
        Supply lines use PEX, its my understanding that germany already uses PEX extensively in new construction and retrofits. Im sure they arent alone in europe in its adoption.
        Copper pipes are fading fast

        1. Went to the hardware store (in Munich) looking for some PVC pipe to make a low-vacuum chamber out of. There isn’t any!

          And all the PEX tubes and fittings have gaskets at one end, so they’re totally simple to use for their intended purpose, but a PITA to hack.

          Sometimes I would kill for a Home Depot…

  4. We had a Futuro in our neighbourhood many years ago. It was set ablaze and repaired many times, before eventually being torn down. I liked it, but it was too much of a temptation for some.

  5. The most impactful reasons things fail are regulations and economics. In this case, I think there may be some fire regulatory issues with building houses out of plastic. However, it seem the economics didn’t work out because integrating plastic into existing construction methods and materials was cheaper than a radical overhaul in construction methodology.

    However, I think the future of the home may actually be composed mostly of plastic because the petroleum industry is going to be forced to reduce their prices.

  6. I’m actually quite glad I don’t live in a plastic house. I try to minimize my contact of foodstuffs with plastic, and living in a plastic house, breathing whatever molecules are continually being outgassed sounds like a certain recipe for cancers and such. Plastics have their place mind you, but I would rather live in bricks and mortar.

        1. Ah but none of the niceties of life post industrial revolution can we have evolved to deal with at all, its all too rapid. Also at best evolution makes you slightly more resilient to something (which is far from nothing), its not going to make you magically unable to take harm from massive or sustained doses…

          Everything is about dose, rate and balance of risk – I’d rather drink properly processed water delivered by lead pipe than have to take my chances with the stagnant pond or well potentially full of heavy metals nearby…

    1. As argued above: you probably already live in a partly plastic house, even if it still has some bricks and mortar. Your food has already toched plasic before you bought it (aka packaging)
      Your lack of knowledge seems to lead to fear. Fear is not a good advisor…

  7. “The Second World War had spawned a huge industry that needed to be repurposed for peacetime production, so almost everything was considered for the plastic treatment, including houses.

    I think you misspelled “alumin[i]um”.
    B^)

  8. The big thing being ignored here is zoning laws and neighbors. If I live in a neighborhood full of wood and brick houses, the last thing I want to see is a house that is made of plastic and looks like a flying saucer built next door or across the street. I don’t want anything to threaten the potential value of my property. That’s why we can’t have high speed rail, wind or solar power in the US in any location where they would be most beneficial- close to the people who would use them. NIMBY!

    1. “That’s why we can’t have high speed rail, wind or solar power in the US in any location where they would be most beneficial- close to the people who would use them. NIMBY!”

      Like a Tesla solar roof?

      1. In a lot of neighborhoods you’d have problems getting past the CC&Rs (covenants, conditions, and restrictions), and possibly building codes in some locales. It’s not impossible, but you’re going to have to fight every step of the way, and most people aren’t willing to do that, especially if they have to hire a lawyer to do so.

        Ask a ham radio operator how easy it is to put up an antenna…

        1. When we had our house re-roofed, we went with white shingles to reduce cooling costs in the summer (it did indeed help) Some of the neighbors freaked out, saying that our white shingles looked out of place and lowered their property values. There is no HOA or covenants in our neighborhood (I’d never buy a house with such conditions), so they were out of luck. Now 10 years later some other homes in our area have white shingles. They also freaked out when we painted our garden shed green, apparently white or red are the “proper” choices. Again, they just had to learn to live with it.

        2. “Ask a ham radio operator how easy it is to put up an antenna…”
          In the US, very easy for VHF/UHF since such an antenna doubles as a TV antenna and FCC law says that HOAs cannot ban or unreasonably impede the installation of a TV antenna.

    2. If you’re living in your “forever home” where you intend to stay until you die, then you shouldn’t want anything to increase the property value. All that leads to is paying more property taxes and higher insurance premiums.

      Anyone who inherits your home might care about its value, if they intend to sell it to get money.

      Convincing people who aren’t looking to sell their homes that an ever increasing property value is a *good thing* has been one of the biggest scams ever. Government and insurance companies love it.

      1. I don’t know where you live, but in the US the only thing most people ever own that usually increases in value is their house/land. While you may not care about the value of your property increasing, you can bet your neighbors will be very concerned about anything that decreases the value of their property. Anything that stalls the increase or reduces your property value will be felt by your neighbors.

        Maintaining your property and making changes that increase its value, or at least don’t decrease its value, is being a good neighbor. I know that caring about others is not popular in about 1/2 of the US population, but if you’re one of those, you’re better off living in a rural area, far from neighbors or at the Citadel or similar “patriotic” encampment, where it’s every man for himself and the motto is “F**k you, I got mine”.

        1. If property prices are just going up and up, then who’s gonna buy all the houses in the end?

          The point of gentrification is to pump the prices up so the working poor would go away, which kinda makes it a “F**k you, got mine” situation just the same.

    1. I like the styles of much of the furniture designed by Eames. Supposedly their stuff was designed to be “affordable” but Herman Miller, the company that’s always had the manufacturing licenses for Eames designs, puts stupid high prices on those 1950’s~1960’s designs. Ray Eames died 10 years to the day after her husband Charles. Supposedly the last few months of her life she’d ask if it had been 10 years yet, and finally, when it had, she died soon after she was told it’d been 10 years.

  9. Extending this further to dense, urban, high-rise is even MORE problematic. There was hopes that the unitary design for each apartment might allow for some replace/refresh over time. But there’s no way to detach a unit without removing the one directly above it. And the cost! OMG. It would cost more to replace all the units than to tear a whole building down and replace it. But the dream still lives on to this day in the Nakagin Capsule tower in Tokyo JP: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nakagin_Capsule_Tower

    1. Use to live in a modular apartment, single-level. Thing is you’d never be getting that apart without a lot of work due to…1) anchored to it’s neighbor… 2) anchored to the foundation. But otherwise a nice place.

  10. Futurism was an aesthetic change at the same exact time as a materials and functional change, which seems to indicate that appearance and practicality were considered together, Bauhaus “truth to materials” style. This is not a truly modern or high-tech idea. Real high tech allows us to consider appearance completely separately, by faking whatever is necessary to get exactly the look you want.

    Traditional houses haven’t gone away, and to me that means the aesthetic never really stopped being in demand. Futurism made up a completely new novelty aesthetic, which was kind of cool and exciting, but ultimately a novelty, and then implemented in the most direct way possible, with novel materials to give a high tech appearance.

    The moment any kind of Bauhaus-ism sneaks in, you are no longer doing low cost high tech design, you’re doing some kind of philosophy experiment in physical form. Real tech is about the design, with material used to make that design happen.

    But futurism expresses the negative, dampness retaining aspect of plastic at full power. It also gives you weird curvy business that reduces available space while looking like some kind of spaceship, which seems to be done to highlight the materials and techniques. Not everyone wants to live in something that looks best suited for mars.

    And for me personally, I don’t like the symbolism. It means that we have to adapt to technology, rather than technology adapting to us. Which makes it barely “tech” at all, and more like just another passive tool.

    To me, futurism is just kind of a scam. They took some of the most obnoxious ideas in design and cranked them up, combined it with some fairly craptastic material that was available at the time, and wound up with space pod houses and tools made of solid steel with no rubber grip, weighing twice what the modern stuff does.

    Where’s the real modern or high tech concepts? I never hear of any industry standard spec for
    how modules fit together to expand your plastic house later. I don’t see any fancy multilayer metamaterials that optimize thermal properties. I don’t see multi zone sensor controlled ventilation to deal with moisture buildup. There’s definitely no solar power, that barely existed at all back then.

    They had some interesting mechanical designs, but in most locations, mechanical properties don’t seem to be the big concern for people. Existing houses are strong enough unless you have tornadoes or civil unrest or something.

    It just… Wasn’t all that special, and the space age aesthetic is now more reminiscent of the age itself than the space.

    We could definitely learn a lot from them, and current techniques are no longer enough for environmental needs, but… I’m not sure they’re anything to emulate. Truth to materials needs to take a long hike. Away. It’s the same kind of thinking that keeps diamond mines open, and really doesn’t have much of a place in truly modern design.

    A+ excellent article though on the history, I never knew about some of those projects.

    1. Agreed – these houses have a bad case of trying to design a house to look like what would be in the future, without considering why certain shapes have been popular in the past. While sometimes new materials let you explore new aesthetics, when I look at the Futuro, I wonder what I’m supposed to do with all the awkwardly shaped areas created by curving walls. Monsanto’s house at least seems to be a more livable design – but it has a ton of surface area, much of it glass, and that’s going to carry a pretty big cooling penalty.

      And as others mention, there’s a functional problem from sealing a house too tightly. You want to keep heat in or out, and liquid water out, but water vapor can be a pest. A sealed plastic house can be fine in a hot climate where the house is never warmer inside than outside, but once you start heating an overly-sealed house, you get moisture condensing on the inside of the walls.

      There are other problems. Optimize a house too much for being built in one spot and transported to another, and you get a trailer – a house designed around lane widths and bridge heights. This makes for a rather awkward interior layout and limited outside styling. (Making the house in a number of sections, ideally with a decent roof, wouldn’t have the same issue.) Still, there’s a lot more Fleetwoods out there than Futuros.

      But I think the biggest problem these designs have is that they try to solve the wrong problem – usually when housing is expensive, the problem is the land rather than the building. And the usual way to handle that is to make large buildings that you can divide into smaller individual spaces – condos, apartments, row houses, or quadplexes, for example. These plastic houses may have been thinking a bit too small to solve that problem.

    2. Im quiet a fan of th eFuturo House and have often considered building a clone as an office/ retreat in my back yard – but want to make it from more modern materials with better thermal/ fire /weight/cost properties fiberglass just doesnt cut it for me.

    1. Not all houses in the US were made in the last few decades. The house I owned before my current house was made in 1847. In 1997 we had a 150 year party for it. Of course, i understand that in some countries, even 1847 is modern…

      1. This house was built in 1923, it’s been in the family since then. Someone gave it to my grandmother, since she was a nurse, I’m thinking she did something extraordinary during the Flu Pandemic of 1918.

        In Winnipeg, one of the oldest houses dates to about 1850. It’s the Ross Hiuse Museum now, but belonged to my great, great grandmother’s brother.

    2. Bullshit

      >Historically ambitious plans

      >The city government’s plans are at a historically ambitious level: only once in the past 24 years have 7,500 homes been built in Amsterdam in a single year. The average number over the last 24 years has been around 4,000 homes a year.

      “The average number over the last 24 years has been around 4,000 homes a year.”

      Tell us more stories of your idealistic Eurotopia, immune from entropy, frozen in time. Or maybe wakeup and get in touch with the reality around you.

  11. My current house is a trailer, and an older one from the 80’s. It’s basically a piece of crap particle board box made out of the cheapest shit they could get away with. The sheetrock is stapled up, all the pipes were plastic (and split), the outlets are one piece cover plate box & all that is held in the hole with 2 flippers like mud rings have.
    The only advantage besides cheap is I don’t have to give a shit how things look when I renovate. I ripped out the carpet and painted the backside, cut to 2′ strips = skirt.

    I do intend to build a new structure here and I will be using quality materials for that. Then the above gets bulldozed or turned into storage since the roof is still ok.

    1. The funny thing is that a trailer doesn’t have to look like that. One of my neighbors lives in a double-wide and it’s decent inside. I also see those going down the road from time to time so there’s a demand for them.

      1. There’s some “trailer” homes around, that when sited and two halves put together, don’t look any different than a conventional ranch bungalow, and build quality can be excellent. Yet many municipal codes will ban them for being a “trailer” and depending on wording could ban other kinds of modular homes.

        1. We don’t have much of a trailer home culture around my place, but people still use them to skirt zoning regulations. If it’s on wheels and moves, it’s not a “building”. You build a “trailer” and then drive it into a pit foundation so the wheels sink into the ground. If needed, it can be pulled up and driven around the property to show that it’s a trailer.

          I also saw one family build a guest lodge as a giant lawn swing, out of spite because they couldn’t get building permits on the property. Two heavy steel tube A frames on both sides hold it up, and if you kick the anchors off it does swing. No foundation – not a building – and there’s no law that regulates the size of garden ornaments like swings and table sets.

  12. I don´t agree: Plastic houses is a *phenomenal* success. It hosts so much bacteria in the gut of animals, protecting them from aggressive digestive enzymes. it provides shelter to billions and billions of marine organisms, being both a vehicle and a shelter.

    It´s literally a substrate for life, with a bright future: https://www.labmanager.com/news/tracking-pervasive-microplastics-across-the-globe-2565977

    I can´t wait (some millions of year) to dig out plastic sediment. It will be a trove of polymer diversity.

  13. It failed because at the end of the day who wants to live in a big plastic bubble. The 60s gave birth to a lot of crazy ideas. Some were good, others were pretty far out there. Just like everything else somethings catch on, others don’t. Progress and people determine what stays and what doesn’t.

  14. That interior color scheme- it’s like someone took Ronald McDonald, threw him in a wood chipper on a lazy suzan, and coated the inside of the house with him.

    That is just painful to look at, I don’t know who could stand to live in there

    1. It was the ’60’s. A wild and wonderful time. A lot of experimentation. New materials. New engineering forms and structures became possible. We had the freedom to try new things.

      Like drugs.

      A lot of drugs.

  15. The first time I remember a “modern home” was Habitat 67 during Expo 67. An apartment building that was sort of modular, the “futuristic” nature came just because it was current. We coukd visit it then, but it’s been an apartment buildig ever since.

    There was a house on display that was given to a winner at the end, but nothing really futuristic.

    Sears sold prefab houses in the first half of the 20th century. Modern at tge time, but not futuristic.

    Buckminster Fuller had his Dymaxion house, certainly unusual, and sold as a kit (but not sure how many sold).

    In the sixties, people going “back to the land” could build unusual structures because they weren’t in urban areas. Hence all the yurts and geodesic domes, usually built from scrap so cheap. The cost of housing goes up with the need to conform to standards.

    1. I don’t think Sears houses were prefabbed at all, they were kits of materials with plans. Until recently one could order similar through Home Depot. Last time I looked the site was falling apart so I assume discontinued.

  16. Today those houses look dated but there are many elegant homes built over 100 years ago. Some designs are timeless but many especially from the 60’s look ridiculous today. As far as plastics go, we have oceans full of the stuff so thank heavens we did not add all the building waste to it. Wood and brick is surprisingly green and renewable.

  17. These days the talk is all about 3D printed houses, made from mud or concrete. Can you imagine people like Musk or Bezos living in a 3D printed house made of mud? I see it as the future of housing for the poor masses of undercompensated employees of the Googles, Apples, and Amazons in the US. We’re going to move from an employer sponsored medical insurance (COVID has demonstrated how well that works) to that plus an employer sponsored housing system. Throw in employer sponsored groceries and the transformation of the population to corporate slaves will be complete. When you lose your job you’ll be locked out of your home (that’s the whole point of “home automation”), the grocery store, and the local hospital.

    It’ll be perfect! So many solutions to the problems of modern living!

    1. I thought in the future housing would go underground, like apartments but going down instead of up. Then the surface can go back to nature. Heinlein envisioned this in “Tunnel in the Sky”.

      1. I’d bet that building downward (digging holes) and reinforcing the walls, pumping out water, pumping sewage up, costs more than building upward, which is probably why we build upward most of the time. That and sunlight and “fresh” air…

  18. You can make interesting shaped houses from concrete or wood, it doesn’t have to be plastic to be futuristic looking. We don’t do it because it makes it impossible to use prefabricated things like windows, furniture, carpets. Everything asides from the walls is kind of designed for an orthographic axis system. Even adding some wonky angles to a plan will give you quite a few headaches when doing furniture and finishings later.
    You can’t have affordable houses of weird shapes unless they come with pretty much everything, including furniture, windows etc. And people usually want at least SOME kind of customization in their home.

  19. “In some respects this is driven by the interests of a construction industry that would face ruin were the need for its thousands of wet-trade workers to end,”. In the Netherlands, there is a shortage of about a million homes, and they try to ramp up production from 60 to 100k/year. However, there’s hardly the labour force to even reach the 60k.

  20. The one in the picture had it’s entry in the Whole Earth Catalog. The furnace could bring 0F up to 70F in an hour and then it would stay up there for a day coasting. I remember being fond of idea then and saw one in Naples Florida right on Highway 41 back then. The same for the Disneyland house in ’65. They had to break that one up.

  21. There has been one of these homes on Pensacola Beach for as long as I can remember and it has survived at least two direct hits from hurricanes which says a ton about the quality of construction and overall design.

    With the whole tiny home movement these should be brought back, they would make a killing.

    1. I always loved seeing that flying saucer house whenever I had to go to Portofino for anything. I liked that the owners fully embraced the quirkiness with the stuffed aliens in the window.

  22. The funny thing is, that architects of modern designs are often living in traditional houses.. 🤣

    That being said, the round dome design isn’t totally dead.
    Biospheres, Iglus, appartements built into mountains, inflatable buildings on the moon.. There are many applications that can make good use of a round design. :)

    Also, there’s more than plastic. Glass, transparent aluminium, clay.. ;)

    PS: Plants.. Futuristic designs need to include more “green”..

  23. I have to disagree we do live in plastic houses now. Most material now have plastics in it ie. PEX, Insulation, House wrap, ducting, flooring, OSB, doors, windows, trim board, decking, tubs, countertops (Corian), appliances, the list is endless.

  24. “A serious attempt to model a house for an American family”. It makes me wonder perhaps if they began doing this with a few houses the copycat effect would have settled in and maybe the plastic houses would have become a norm to some degree. Would have been awesome. It surprises me that the mainstream method of building houses is still so costly and labour intensive. There’s better ways, but it works and I guess it would take a lot to change that. Who knows… maybe some day we will get our plastic houses.

  25. A comfortable house needs to provide thermal mass, to smooth out the day/night temperature difference. Brickwork and concrete have plenty of that, and are also moisture permeable, while plastic has neither of these important properties.

    If you want to see the modern future of building materials, have a look at e.g. plastic-free mycelium insulation and low-carbon cement alternatives.

    1. While thermal mass certainly can be a good thing, its not in and of itself required in the outer shell of a building – a well insulated shell without drafts etc means you don’t need to worry about the outside temperature cycles much at all, your cool/heat doesn’t get out the outside doesn’t get in and if you don’t have much thermal mass inside it means you also don’t have to expend the extra energy driving that mass to the desired temperature.

      Moisture permeable also can be a good thing but isn’t necessary, with the right design indoor humidity can be effectively and efficiently managed, and the lack of drafts and permeability of metals and plastics makes that management easier, all the inside air can be cycled through the air freshening, and heat exchangers with nothing sneaking in or past…

      On the whole I do agree though brick and concrete are superb building materials for most situations for more than just the reasons you list. But with the right design and construction methods you could use just about any material strong enough to hold itself up – heck snow makes a superb building material if you are in the right environment, and mud/dirt can be very effective pretty much anywhere in the world…

  26. Before you will experience a housing revolution over here, something big has to happen: getting rid of medieval to stone-age building codes.

    Here in my village, I am forced to heat the building with wood chips or pellets (oil heating is forbidden to save the river system nearby), but I would not be allowed to position a new house in the optimal way for harvesting maximum solar energy, as only “simple box with gable roof parallel to the street” is allowed over here.

    And don’t get me started on the absurd insulation craze over here in Germany. What is the point in saving heating oil, if I have to buy it as foam, attach this tinder to my home, and hope that nothing burns, no hail thrashes, no protected bird species hammering cavities to nest inside, and no rodents or ants settle inside?

    I’d like to build something like a “small high thermal mass house insite a greenhouse” type of building, but I’m not in the deep rural east of germany, so it won’t happen anytime soom. Over here, alpine yodel style is mandated. So, also no tiny houses, container houses, circus caravans and other such things.

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