A look at Alison Smithson's 1956 House of the Future

house of the future
© Smithson House of the Future

Author and BoingBoing founder Cory Doctorow often tweets retro architecture, and recently tweeted this:


In fact, this is not your usual image of domestic bliss. It is part of a much bigger picture, the House of the Future designed in 1956 by Alison Smithson with her husband, Peter Smithson for the Daily Mail Ideal Home Exhibition. The Smithsons are among the most important architects in the UK of the period, designing Robin Hood Gardens and more; Alison was also author of the seminal Team Ten Primer.

interior with courtyard© House of the Future

The drawings of it are all in the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal. Sabine von Fischer writes in the CCA document What the future looked like:

The House of the Future was designed by Alison Margaret Smithson, in collaboration with her husband, Peter Smithson, and was installed at the Daily Mail Ideal Home Exhibition in London and Edinburgh in 1956. Unlike other works by the famous architect couple, the House of the Future is not an architectural project, but a scenographic mock-up at full scale of a living unit for a childless couple, set twenty-five years in the future.

plan house of the future© House of the future

The house gets rid of windows, and is totally inward looking to a courtyard in the middle.

The house is spatially detached from the outside; wired acoustics are the only way it interacts with the outside world. The door elevation shows a speaker and microphone system above a mailbox, all to be installed to the left of the blob-shaped, electronically controlled entry door.

courtyad with table© Modern Mechanix

Here you can see the courtyard, complete with dining table that sinks into the floor.

House of the future bedroom© House of the Future

the bed also sinks into the floor, and has a single electric sheet instead of blankets.

The line between commodity and fiction is deliberately blurred: flanked by existing pieces such as the “Tellaloud’ loud-speaking phone” manufactured by Winston Electronics Ltd., various modern kitchen equipment and an Arteluce lamp from 1953, imagined devices such as after-shower body air-driers and telephone message recorders are exhibited in the house.

House of the future in colour© House of the Future

Calls are not only transmitted by telephone, but broadcast over loudspeakers through the entire house. The model inhabitants explain their gadgets and activities to the audience over microphones. Spatially disconnected from the world, the house re-connects by electro-acoustics.

dressing room© House of the Future

Getting ready for dinner

indoor dining area© House of the Future

The dining area

clothing design© Alison Smithson

Alison Smithson did everything, including designing the clothing that the models wore in the house. (Modern Mechanix thinks that “In the future men will apparently dress like Smurfs.”

typeface© Alison Smithson via CCA

They even designed a typeface which still looks pretty good.

page 1© Mechanix Illustrated

It was also published in Mechanix Illustrated, which notes:

A short-wave transmitter with push buttons controls all electronic equipment. We’re sure you’ll be interested to know that the shower stall has jets of warm air for drying and the sunken bathtub rinses itself with detergent. No bathtub rings left for Mother.

Mechanix Illustrated© Mechanix Illustrated

There is a lot to learn from this house; the courtyard design maximizes privacy and could use land very efficiently. It was a grand experiment in the use of plastics, new materials and new ways of communicating. And, as Cory notes, a scene of domestic bliss, even if they were actors.

Tags: United Kingdom | Wayback Machine

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