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The House of Tomorrow for Today 

Prophecies and the "Suburban Anywhere" house

The house of the future represents an unpredictable but important vision. As a prediction and premise, the utopian vision of the "next" evolutionary step of the residence guides the direction of architecture. The cultural issues, changes and developments that define each era affect how members of that era conceive of the future. And each era's vision of the future speaks more clearly about that era's contemporary life than what would actually be practical in the future.

The visionary legacy of suggestive prototypes is long and fantastic. Each era, defining its own vision of "progress," proposes a relative advancement of the domestic prototype. Emerging out of technology, materiality and convenience, new formal identities suggest the potential interpretations of the present by describing the future.

Two genres emerge in the depiction of the house of the future: the appliance and the infrastructure. The two combine to define and represent each advancement in contemporary living and the potential of a new prototype. Appliances enter the home to ease life (at least theoretically) while the actual infrastructural re-adjustments of the spaces, forms and structures provide for a new way of living.

History: Premise and origins
Two distinct events have dramatically impacted the modern conception of the house: the industrial revolution and the information revolution.

The turn of the century saw an explosion in mechanical development. The assembly line, electricity and mass production changed the parameters of living. The invention of objects of convenience changed the physical form of the house, while simultaneously redefining the way in which people lived. The division of labor transitioned the work force to specialized tasks and introduced the standard workday. The result was the production of leisure time. The house transformed in response to the methods of production, the standards of living, and the "new" lifestyle.

As technology advanced, the boundaries of space and time were expanded. Nuclear weapons, space travel and the computer emerged to redefine the parameters of life, spatial occupation and the speed of life. With leisure time paralleling these expansions through the ever-increasing conveniences of technology, machines of entertainment emerged in response. Radio, television, computers all entered the home, changing the way we live in the house. The ever-increasing quantities of information bombarding every aspect of work and play transformed the parameters of living. Today's "house of the future" deals with this information explosion. The terrain and type of house must change dramatically to integrate these developments appropriately into everyday life.

Pinnacle Visions
The Monsanto House of the Future was a presentation of the potentials of new technology and materials as they existed in the 1950s. Developed under an alliance between the Monsanto Chemical Company and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Department of Architecture, and constructed in 1957 on Disney's California campus of Disneyland, the house represented a new ecological and technological advance. The construction was a hybridization of the suburban home and plastic construction. The house stood for 10 years, receiving more than 5,000 visitors each day, and capturing popular imagination. The four plastic loops encapsulated the potential that new forms and technological conveniences could bring to daily life. It represented a new utopia celebrating re-defined familial roles (women joined the work force in greater numbers during World War II) in combination with the post-war excitement and economy--not to mention that military materials like steel and plastic, left over from the war, inspired creativity out of the need to find a use for them. The Monsanto House of the Future introduced a new formalism founded in a better way of living.

But the creation was so fantastic that it became more of an amusement ride than an actual proposition for future living. (Its Disneyland location didn't help either.) The result was the deferral of the idea and its capabilities. The house was dismissed as fantasy. Interestingly, it gave one last breath to preserve its legacy when the wrecking ball came to dismantle it. The wrecking ball bounced off the plastic shell. The shell, however, was no match for the backhoe's claw, and in 1967, the house and its potentials came to an end.

The contemporary appliance builds on the traditions and methods of existing systems by making them smaller, more efficient, more responsive and more complex. Cars, HVAC systems (heating, ventilation and air conditioning), computers all respond with material and systematic advancements. The refrigerator gets a brain that can contact the store and order more milk when you are getting low. The house has a security system that uses electrical impulses to keep out intruders and insects alike. The plumbing knows when a faucet is left on and shuts it off before the tub can overflow. These moves and many more, (some readily available and some soon to be), make the house more intelligent. The current model for a central digital brain housing communication systems and information databanks in a central computer infrastructurally linked through miles of fiber-optic cable, pumps security, imagery and sound into every nook and cranny of a dwelling.

Bill Gates' Seattle house, located on the shore of Lake Washington, is a prime example of one of the most expensive and technologically developed private residences (for obvious reasons). Each resident wears a simple lapel pin that holds the identifying codes of the inhabitant. As the individual moves from room to room, the house responds, adjusting the temperature, window blinds, music type and volume, and even the artwork digitally projected on the wall, as inhabitants might like them at that moment. The fabrication of a total sensory environment creates a realm in which the preferences of consumption, through all of the five senses, are stimulated and orchestrated. The form and function, mood and light all become the fabrication of the individual's whim, actively responding to the situation. The appliances provide a response mechanism.

These technological advancements are paralleled by the opportunity for surprise and the celebration of the static, formal beauty innate to architecture. The passage of light across a wall, the integration of form to site, and the use of space to frame and impact use suggest a greater architectural responsibility for the "house of the future."

The appliance becomes "applied technology." However, the appliance industry is merely responding to fad and expediency, and so their products can quickly become defunct, outdated and obsolete, like BetaMax video recorders and eight-track tape players. The ability for the atmosphere of an environment to be unpredictable and to be more than what one might program into it rests on going beyond technologically programmed convenience.

Possibility: The Suburban Anywhere House
The suburban image remains a generic constant in American culture, serving as an icon of living--but for what era? Subscribing to the standard requirements of a 2,500 square foot, three bedroom, two-and-a-half bath house, the "suburban anywhere" house provides for a new way of living as demanded by "ultra-modern" life. It inserts itself into a conventional subdivision while transforming itself.

The conventional elements of domestic suburbia must be reconsidered because their traditional applicability and symbolism no longer apply: the sidewalk in a neighborhood that doesn't walk, the garage door that remains tacked on and secondary, while repeatedly and consistently employed as the primary entrance to the home, the mailbox underscaled for mail-order deliveries and "e-commerce," the front door, the lawn, the gable, the shutter--each demand justification in a world governed by globalization.

The suburban anywhere house re-presents the components found in its neighbors, but updates their cultural reasoning. The house detaches the formulaic equation of tradition, disassembles it, re-articulates the components and reassembles them.

The lot is the basis of the current suburban condition, determining the boundaries of ownership and definition--investment is the foundation of the contemporary home. Right now, we place our cars on the street or in a garage separate from the home. Yet, cars are perhaps the second most important purchase in our lives after the purchase of a home, representing our personalities, our financial priorities and another place where we spend a significant amount of time. In the suburban anywhere house, the car is brought indoors, almost as part of the furniture.

The suburban anywhere house is defined by two crossing bands: a lateral service wall (housing functional appliances: kitchen, bathroom, laundry, stair, etc.) and a transversal product wall (serving to transform the traditional storage of the conventional closet into a transparent display wall visible from both inside and out that objectifies the collection of mass-produced possessions to provide a patchwork image of the resident's personality). Without walls, the framed space remains open and continuous with mobile furniture available as required by convenience or necessity. The house becomes a living entity, constantly adaptable and thus "responsive" to mood, social functions, time of day, whatever suits the homeowner. Spatial sequences flow like a liquid surface across the horizontal plane, transitioning from formal to recreational to commercial.

Domestic activity in the familial living spaces fluctuates between public and private, day and night, commercial and residential, outside and in. Space becomes a product of its use: the house an articulation of the space. Materials like stone, grass, sand, water and wood employ the floor as an articulated surface. This surface suggests use replacing the necessity for conventional walls. The floors can dictate the "rooms" based on what one might do on an indoor grass floor, or indoor stone patio or hardwood dance floor. Since they all could be included in the same room, the function replaces the need for walls to define the spaces.

Image screens become the only vertical partitions or walls, superimposing the activities of daily life with global imagery. Image screens re-present the projected icon of the television screen by integrating it into spatial definition; it's no longer a box but a part of the building, serving a larger function in defining the mood and look of a space and in turn, its occupants (it can be argued that television serves this purpose today). Their undulating information surfaces establish compositional juxtapositions and exposure as distant images infiltrate the most intimate of places. For instance, global television news updates can be projected on the walls of your bedroom while other screens display famous works of art. The boundary of the suburban anywhere house becomes undefinable and unpredictable as the number of combinations and options grows exponentially.

Technology systems and the convenience of information have allowed the workplace to enter the home. The result is not only the demand for different types of spaces within the house, but a change in the infrastructural responsibilities of the home. No longer is the house occupied from 5 till 9, but now becomes activated 24 hours day. The result is an internalization of experience. The house must bring the world to you.

Due to the reduction of social interface previously required by the workplace, commuting and everyday activities, "connection" becomes the responsibility of the house. The street face assumes the interface with community. A series of attached pavilions back against the product wall to filter between the public realm of the street and the private realm of the house. The traditional guest room is extracted from the interior of the house and repositioned, as a self-contained entity (resurrecting the traditional traveler's lodge) allowing the guest varying degrees of familial integration, formalizing their interaction and increasing the convenience and desirability of the visit.

Information, electricity, water and gas enter the house through a utilities entry, formally articulating the umbilical dependence of the house on the social infrastructure.

A product airlock emerges to accept deliveries. The movement of commodity is no longer regulated by the dimension of the automobile's trunk but rather shifts to embrace the extensive networks of FedEx, DHL and UPS. Catering to the ever-increasing virtual shopper, the entry of product occurs through the double-faced holding tank. A "storefront" window to the entry shows off the purchase by displaying the appropriation much like window shopping used to do.

The second floor becomes a private sleeping box. Furniture remains mobile amid the operable image screens. Three service pods provide the necessary bathroom conveniences. Their shapes emerge from the motions of the body associated with each fixture. The pods hover above the floor and beneath the roof to maintain their presence.

Each component of the house, evolving out of an existing legacy (the service wall is merely an evolution of the kitchen counter), is defined by the factors of contemporary economy, sociology, technology and culture. By reinterpreting the functions of the components, their redefinition permits an ultra-modern representation of domesticity.

The potential held by the suburban anywhere house is the potential for architecture to celebrate and recognize the way we live. Through the careful understanding of where we are and how we live, we can move forward into a built realm that fluidly adapts to everyday activity. As a parasitical insertion, the suburban anywhere house attempts to infect the perceptions of its neighbors (and perhaps the readers of this article). The home should "fit" fluidly with any suburban surroundings or neighborhood, yet encourage suburban evolution through its presence. Ideally, its presence should encourage neighbors to begin thinking about their priorities and to redesign their homes to fit their actual needs. The realm of interpretation and adaptation suggests a reading of the inhabitant and the individuality held within each of us; the house allows for our moods, new thoughts, growth. The potential for form, use, space and material to respond as a function of occupation creates a dialogue between the inhabitant and the home: the home's flexible spaces responding to the ideas of the owner and the owner responding to the home's response.

The house of the future represents the potential of architecture and the endless quest for evolutionary types, forms and spaces. Emerging from its era, the vision becomes pure and jubilant with inherent focus on our time and culture.

The house is the primal form of shelter and architecture alike. The role that the house plays in day-to-day life is astounding. It represents our identity, warms our body and mind and protects us from danger, weather and boredom. The evolution of its role is one that evolves in conjunction with our occupational and familial roles. History has illustrated the potential of speculative dreaming, but nothing presented in this article goes beyond the here and now, for in fact, "the house of the future" is the house that should be today. EndBlock

More by Gail Peter Borden


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