Throwback Thursday: When plastics built the house of the future

Influential (and visually stunning) architecture and design magazine Dezeen announced last week that it has teamed up with Mini Living, the lifestyle branch of the Mini automotive brand, to launch a competition to design the home of the future. Aspiring and actual architects are asked to consider the challenges that cities might face 100 years from now, and to design accordingly. That reminded me of another home of the future, circa 1957, at then 2-year-old Disneyland in Anaheim, CA.

Monsanto house of the future
The House of the Future welcomed more than 20 million Disneyland visitors until the attraction was shuttered in 1967. Image courtesy Thomas Hawk/flickr.

Sponsored by Monsanto, which had not yet been branded the arch villain of multinational corporatism, and developed with the help of engineers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as well as Disney's own imagineers, the space-age house's defining feature was the extensive use of plastics. That era’s miracle material formed the four symmetrical, cantilevered wings of the house and was ubiquitous throughout the interior. “Almost everything inside the House of the Future was . . . made using plastics, including the walls, ceilings and floors," wrote Tony Long in a 2009 appreciation published in Wired. “The family of the future would sit in plastic chairs, and dine on plastic tables using plastic plates and flatware.”

More than 435,000 visitors toured the house, marveling at such novelties as a compact microwave oven, within the first six weeks. By the time the attraction closed in 1967, more than 20 million people are estimated to have visited it.

Tearing it down proved to be a tough nut to crack, wrote Long. “So tough, in fact, that the demolition crew failed to knock it down with a wrecking ball. Instead, hacksaws and torches were needed to dismantle the structure, piece by piece, in a process that took two weeks.

"You look at the stuff they're slapping up these days and wonder if maybe the architects should go back and have a look at Monsanto's blueprints,” concluded Long.

Long has a point that entrants in the Dezeen/Mini Living competition might want to consider. Plastic’s durability makes it an unwelcome guest in landfills and oceans, but who would dispute that it’s a desirable attribute in a house? Plus, you have the ability to use recycled materials, a possibility that did not even exist in the 1950s.

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