Monsanto’s House of the Future was surely an aspirational work of architecture. Its formal properties, both in and out, were truly “plastic”: soft edges, sculpted interiors, and a bold authenticity in materials. Even the furniture embraced a clear material language: Nelson tables and chairs nimbly perched on their metal legs. Fiberglass Eames rockers formed into ergonomic shells. These are objects that broke from tradition in ways that are lusted after even today. As a prototype, the house did not speak honestly to the fabrication process that it aspired to, but it nonetheless inspired.
The Monsanto House of the Future was demolished in September of 1967. While its walls allegedly repelled the force of a wrecking ball, it eventually succumbed to destruction and was replaced by a souvenir kiosk.
In May of 2008, the House of the Future returned. This time, though, it was different. At 5000 square feet of neo-craftsman style, it did not speak to ideas of density or sustainability. Tom Zofrea, a senior designer at Disney who played a part in the project, explains the home’s ignorance of things like peak oil, and the utter lack of any space-saving, environmentally-friendly features:
“The optimistic view of the future is, ‘we’ll solve these problems and we’ll learn to design around them.’”
Simple as that. The kitchen of the 1940’s is still here, just bigger and with touch screens that tell you what to cook. So too is the warmth of “hand-carved” woodwork, juxtaposed against constantly changing LCDs that display only the current occupant’s favorite art.
But what does this strange Frankenstein of a house mean as we look back upon Disney’s original house? Does it speak to a disenchantment with material innovation? The promise of plastic in many ways was a bait-and-switch. This cheap, durable material was supposed to simplify our lives, but with it came oceans and landfills inundated with trash, chemical additives that jeopardized our health, and imitative applications that identified plastic as a second-rate, disposable alternative to the real thing.
The new House of the Future is less an aspiration than a re-creation. As a response to the follies of the past, we have doubled down on imitation: even more realistic, low-maintenance, faux-wood laminate floors; the warmth and charm of a turn-of-the-century house without all the troublesome maintenance of actual exposed beams, plaster, and lap siding. The architecture itself evokes comfortable nostalgia, but little else. The home of the future, both in design and material, is in even more precise duplication of the past. Yes, we have resigned to the presence of plastic, but we do ask that it hide itself in new and innovative ways.
Poole, Adam K. “Monsanto House of the Future.” Docomomo US. 17 Aug. 2012. Web. 09 Nov. 2012. <http://www.docomomo-us.org/register/fiche/monsanto_house_future>.
Rakoff, David. “The Future Knocks Again.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 10 July 2008. Web. 09 Nov. 2012. <http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/10/garden/10disney.html?pagewanted=all>.
“WED Enterprises, Disneyland, Tomorrowland, House of the Future, Anaheim, CA.” Pacific Coast Architecture Database. University of Washington. Web. 9 Nov. 2012. <https://digital.lib.washington.edu/architect/structures/11149/>.