House of the Future
The Seven Wonders of the World are considered the most spectacular natural and manmade structures to ever exist. The Great Wall of China is one, as is Rome’s 1st century Colosseum and Machu Picchu, built in the fourteen hundreds by the Inca civilization in Peru. For centuries, cultures across the world have been erecting sites and building cities that challenge modern day reasoning. These historic marvels are considered engineering feats while offering a great deal of understanding into the history of architectural innovation.
With each generation comes a new set of challenges and barriers which to break, ultimately contributing to the progression of culture. Historically, this trend has repeated itself and will in perpetuity. Modern marvels – places and structures that decades and centuries before seemed unthinkable – are the products of this cycle at work. The 19th and 20th centuries saw numerous advancements in the fields of architecture and technology. From Thomas Edison’s invention of the light bulb in 1879 and the world’s first skyscraper, to the introduction of plastic-based, synthetic materials in 1907 and the founding of the Walt Disney Company in 1923, all such innovations changed the world forever and gave birth to an onslaught of new ideas.
One such 20th century example that embodies this philosophy is the ‘Monsanto House of the Future,’ an attraction at Disney’s ‘Tomorrowland’ in Anaheim, California from 1957 to 1967. Sponsored by the Monsanto Company, an agrochemical corporation founded in 1901, and made possible by Disney and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the House of the Future was a futuristic home and amusement park attraction that was intended to demonstrate the immense versatility of modern-day plastics through the medium of architecture.
Built in Disneyland in 1957, the House of the Future was constructed out of 16 identical pre-fabricated plastic shells, which were shipped to Tomorrowland for on-site assembly. The project’s design team included MIT architects as well as faculty from the school’s engineering department; a far cry from the youth-focused environment one associates with a Disney theme park. The house featured four symmetrical wings – each of which were capable of supporting 13 tons – that cantilevered off of a central core support system, and were fabricated entirely out of glass-reinforced plastics. While for Monsanto the home’s primary purpose was to advertise plastic as a high quality, engineered material used for the design of everyday objects and structures, the project also had architectural and technology-driven motives.
In conjunction with exhibiting the wonders of modern day plastics, the House of the Future was an attempt to build a fully functioning home out of fewer but larger parts, challenging conventional architectural methods and practices. Furthermore, the completed structure was intended to house technological marvels of the time – an important aspect of the project for Disney – including a microwave oven and speakerphone. Though compact, the home included a family room, kitchen, master bedroom, vanity area, and bathrooms, as well as a child’s bedroom. Like many midcentury homes, the family room was the primary living space while also doubling as a dining room. The kitchen was the core utility area of the house and the most technologically advanced, including a microwave, dishwasher, electrically engineered cabinets, and a ‘cold zone’ that served the purpose of a refrigerator. The master bedroom occupied an entire quarter of the house and featured its own intercom as well a closed circuit TV system, while the master bathroom was constructed out of just two plastic shells.
The House of the Future was a new-age concept that could have easily failed to attract the attention of amusement park goers expecting a traditional Disney experience. It was a tremendous gamble but one that ultimately paid off. Marketed as a futuristic home filled with modern technological marvels, the park offered tours of the space and saw 435,000 visitors in its first six weeks alone, a number that ultimately reached 20 million over the decade it was open. After 10 monumental years, the attraction eventually closed in 1967, though the building was still so sturdy that demolition crews failed to demolish the project at the speed in which they had intended.
Gone but not forgotten, The House of the Future had a significant impact on later designs at Disney. In 2008 the company announced it would conceptually bring back the project with an updated interior and a new group of partners. The ensuing $15 Million ‘Innoventions Dream Home’ was a collaboration between the Walt Disney Company, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, software maker LifeWare and homebuilder Taylor Morrison.
Though perhaps not considered one of The Seven Wonders of the World, The House of the Future was a marvel in its own right, forever changing the future of how technology, new-age materials, architecture, design and spatial layouts work together to innovate for the future.