What will the house of the future be like? A new design competition hopes to find it.

Houses of the future
House Ad Houses of the future, from the past

There's an interesting design competition happening in Ontario, Canada right now, called House 2020: Student Ideas Competition for a Smart House of the Future It's only open to design students in the Province of Ontario but it raises a lot of questions about the notion of a "House of the Future".

The House of the Future has been a preoccupation of mine since I was a kid and was inspired to be an architect by the Monsanto House of the Future at Disneyland. I described it earlier as " a glimpse of carefree futuristic living inside a plastic-walled floating cruciform structure with picture phones, height-adjustable sinks, dishes washed by ultrasonic waves, and atomic food preservation."

© Historic Preservation Education Foundation

It was one of a long line of houses of the future; the competition brief lists many that have been covered in TreeHugger, from Bucky Fuller's Dymaxion House, covered in "Mr. Fuller, Why would you build a round house?"

The Case Study Houses and the work of Charles Eames;

Larry Richards, who is running the competition and I believe wrote the brief, even mentions what is perhaps the most minimal house ever designed, Michael Webb of Archigram's Suitaloon.

So what might today's house of the future be like? Larry Richards writes:

With the widespread use of smart phones and tablets, increasing concerns about climate change, and a movement toward low- or zero-carbon emissions in everyday life, innovating for the smart house of the future has meant multidisciplinary engagements with networking and information technologies, biomimetics, passive energy strategies, security systems, productive use of land, and fitness and healthy living components, all within the domestic sphere. Electric cars and easy access to public transportation systems are further impacting on notions of “smart”, particularly in the rapidly transforming suburbs.

There are a couple of things that trouble me about this competition; we need more dumb homes, not smart ones; we certainly don't need new houses for absolutely standard flat suburban developer former cornfield lots of 52' by 130', which is not what anyone who cares anything about the future of housing should be proposing, at a size of 2500 to not more than 4000 square feet, which is no Suitaloon. However there is no zoning bylaw here, and entrants are "encouraged to think openly and broadly about a smart house and changing life styles. For example, there is no fixed notion of family, number of occupants, or number of units on the site."

The sponsor of the competition, WORKshop, Inc. "is seeking ideas that are realizable, pragmatic, and cost-effective." That's a shame; most Houses of the Future are anything but, and are explorations of ideas and technologies that are truly "of the future" John Bentley Mays explains that otherwise, houses of the future can get dated real fast, like that the current Dream Home of the Future (which I trashed here) at Disneyland.

Kitchen, Innoventions Dream House, Disneyland/ Microsoft/Promo image

But if Dream Home were on top of its futuristic game, the place would also offer visitors experiences with new materials, radical furnishings. It would celebrate new spatial strategies that reflect the changed character of the North American family, new ways of negotiating our life-practices within the framework of legal and environmental limits. It would be about everything “smart,” not just phones and screens.

However Bentley Mays also hits that there might be more to just a cash prize in this competition; It's backer is a developer with an interest in smart homes and some undeveloped property.

It's a shame that the competition is limited to Ontario students; it is an interesting program and a well-considered jury and it would be nice to fish in a bigger pond. But it does raise the question of what the house of the future should be; I think the result of this competition will be too big, too suburban, and too smart. However it could be fun.

More at House 2020

Other houses of the future in TreeHugger:

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