Futuro: Tomorrow’s House from Yesterday

‘Futuro: Tomorrow’s House from Yesterday’ by Marko Home and Mika Taanila (Eds);  Desura (Finland), 2003. 192pp

Review by Maari Vertainen | 4 November 2003

The book of the film of the concept of the building. When, in 1965, Dr Jaakko Hiidenkari asked Matti Suuronen to design a ski cabin that would be ‘quick to heat and easy to construct in rough terrain’ the result was a simple, space-age structure that divided public opinion. It was eventually named the Futuro in 1968.

When it was installed aboard a ferry on the Thames at the ‘Finfocus’ export fair in the Sixties, the Daily Mail wrote: ‘This object, looking like everyone else’s idea of a flying saucer from outer space, is the Finnish idea of a perfect weekend cottage.’

Straight after that the model went into large-scale production by the Polykem factory.

When it was displayed in a Helsinki department store (in the main hall rather than in the window), more than 50,000 people came specifically to see it. At the time, it was treated with contempt by many architectural commentators for its lack of site-specific contextualism – and with bewilderment by the public. Even so, it continued its journey to expos and trade fairs around the world, and soon it was being manufactured in the US – only to fold four years later.

As well as the six documented case studies, the authors of Futuro: Tomorrow’s House from Yesterday have tracked down a further 24 surviving houses. Some are holiday homes – principally those in New Zealand – but others form part of Canberra’s Planetarium or are museum pieces, while one, more tragically, is part of a UFO exhibition in Finland. With this latter example, the authors try to put on a brave face, describing it as a ‘transformation from utility building to art icon’. Sad, indeed, that a groundbreaking piece of architecture should be transformed into a mere curio.

Other chapters in the book explore some of the more positive aspirations of the age, so that we can enjoy the context, which seems an eternity away from today’s architectural vision.

The best chapter is undoubtedly Harri Hautäjarvi’s examination of the architectural utopias of the space age. From the Italian Futurists to Archigram, it is noticeable that examples do not figure substantively after the mid-1970s (although he suggests that Foster, Rogers and Piano ‘have kept alive the stylistic legacy… albeit on a smaller scale and within a strictly formalist framework’).

In 1975, Hautäjarvi reminds us, a team of scientists commissioned by NASA published a plan for the settlement of 11 million people in space colonies by 2008. Unable to grasp the dynamic of the age, Hautäjarvi says: ‘Today, as we struggle to cope with the environmental hazards of modern construction – crumbling, eco-toxic (sic) synthetic materials, mould damage and asbestos – we can only be amazed at the optimistic faith of early scientists.’ His amazement marks his demoralisation at today’s culture of limits.

He adds: ‘Their utopian notions of space settlement were little more realistic than contemporary sci-fi fantasies. With the dark cloud of nuclear war hanging over a planet already grappling with a population explosion, pollution and ecological disaster, it was probably easier to gaze into space than to try to deal with more tangible terrestrial problems.’

The fact that 1960s society saw the opportunities rather than the dread, means Hautäjarvi has turned reality on its head.

This is an enjoyable and quirky history of a lost period of transgressive architecture. Also, as a nice touch, the book – developed from a TV documentary – includes a DVD of the original programme in the back.

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Author: austinwilliams

Austin Williams is the director of the Future Cities Project and author of a number of books on the environment and on China. The latest are "China's Urban Revolution" (Bloomsbury) and "New Chinese Architecture: Twenty Women Building the Future" (Thames and Hudson).

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