7 Houses of the Future, According to the Past

Updated March 14, 2019

The future changes all the time.

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Since long before the dawn of modern science-fiction in the 19 century, artists and scientists have projected the values of their own age onto their predictions of the future.

Sometimes astute, sometimes idealistic, often absurd, reflecting today on these dreams of how we might have lived creates a sense of nostalgia for that lost innocence.

Rather than laughing at dated illustrations of the homes our ancestors imagined for us, we wondered how they might look if they’d be drawn up using today’s imaging techniques. And the results are kind of awesome. Ready to step inside?

1. Rolling House (1930s)

The September, 1934 issue of Everyday Science and Mechanics assured readers that spherical houses would soon become highly fashionable, even if the appeal of living in a giant hamster ball isn’t immediately obvious. The innovation was intended to make the remote construction and delivery of new homes more straightforward, as travelling in the ball would be a bad idea if you valued your crockery and ornaments.

2. Space House (1950s)

Just four years prior to the Dome House, the cover of the December 1953 Science Fiction Adventures magazine proposed a glass dome – but in outer space. Puerto Rican cover artist Alex Schomburg’s free-floating snow globes come complete with rooftop chutes for launching space hatchbacks out into the great unknown.

Curiously, Schomburg had been the artist and company partner of a window display studio in the 1920s. His house design incorporates a double layer of glass: the dome protecting the property from the space atmosphere, and tinted wall-to-wall windows on the exterior of the house.

3. Glass House (1920s)

Utilizing a special new kind of glass designed to admit the ultraviolet, ahem, “health rays” of the sun, the Vitaglass house would offer a year-round summer thanks to the addition of mercury arc lamps for gloomy days.

Like all the best new architectural innovations, Vitaglass was first tested in the monkey house of a city zoo. But even plain glass was controversial during the interwar years, with worries that its new popularity would discourage people from ever going outside. Unfortunately, even though the advert that inspired our creation was amazing, Vitaglass was a commercial failure so you’ll have to hit the street if you want to soak up some UV rays.

4. Moving House (1900s)

Jean-Marc Côté’s “House Rolling Through The Countryside” featured in a collection of cigarette cards drawn up around the turn of the 19 century, imagining what life would look like in the year 2000.

Equal parts Mad Max: Fury Road and Wacky Races, this utopian vision posits a very social mobile home version of architectural tendencies that we’re actually seeing today. Its rooftop garden, for example, might offset the carbon footprint of the vehicle, easing the conscience of the steam-powered digital nomads onboard.

5. Underwater House (1960s)

General Motors created the Futurama II Pavilion to blow the minds of visitors to the New York World's Fair in 1964. You can see their underwater world in motion in a promotional movie from the time.

While the rest of the world was staring at the stars, GM noted that we still have whole oceans that remain unconquered. “Our new knowledge and skills — new power and mobility — have given us a new and wondrous underwater world,” guide Ray Dashner told visitors on the tour. “A miracle of gifts from the limitless treasury of the sea.” Put that in your real estate brochure!

6. Lightweight House (1940s)

A far more civilized way of moving house is to simply have it transported atop a tray carried by a dozen strong men. Okay, so this creepy image was only suggested for illustration purposes, but seriously: why do our houses have to be so dangerously heavy?

The January, 1942 authors of “This Unfinished World” offered a vision that gets closer every day: using super-light “aerogel” to create buildings that are earthquake-resistant and require less resources to build. Today, the lightest material in the world is graphene aerogel, which can be 3D printed, and boffins are hard at working figuring how to use the material to lighten the environmental toll of conventional construction techniques.

7. Dome House (1950s)

“Current research in solar energy and architecture indicates that by 1989 you may be living in a house with an exterior made entirely of steel-hard glass,” claimed the cover story of Mechanix Illustrated’s June 1957 issue.

The dome house’s ecopunk utopianism took sustainability as its driving factor. The rotating dome would allow homeowners to make efficient use of the sun’s energy. And while hydroponic vegetable patches like those outside the dome house do not yet feature in the average 21 century garden, the hydroponics industry in general is set to triple in value to $725m between now and 2023.

Today we get to witness our leading innovators’ ideas play out in real time as technology outpaces the publishing cycle. From smart speakers to solar panels, even the design tools inventors use were themselves unthinkable half a century ago.

What science-fiction style home design solution would you like to see become a reality?

Sources

1. The Public Domain Review. A 19th-Century Vision of the Year 2000. publicdomainreview.org

2. Sadar, J. The healthful ambience of Vitaglass: light, glass and the curative environment. Architectural Research Quarterly. Volume 12, Issue 3-4, December 2008, pp. 269-281

3. Benford, G. et al. 2011. The Future That Never Was: Pictures from the Past. popularmechanics.com

4. Novak, M. 2012. Tomorrow’s Mobile Home. smithsonianmag.com

5. Alexandru. 45 Vintage Illustrations That Imagine the Future. topdesignmag.com

6. Brownlee, J. 2007. The Retrofuture of Intergalactic Real Estate. wired.com

7. Steele, C. 2014. 50 Years Later: Revisiting the 1964 World’s Fair. pcmag.com

 

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