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April 30th, 2013

‘House of the future’ was anything but



iStock_Blue PrintsToday’s home buyers naturally want to purchase a home that will hold its value until they sell it sometime in the future. But it can be downright difficult to predict what type of home other people will want to purchase years or decades from now.

House of the future

Consider the “House of the Future,” installed at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., in 1957. Sponsored by Monsanto, a chemical company, the House of the Future was constructed almost entirely of plastic, including the floors, molded walls and ceilings.

In 1957, the architecture was decidedly modern–even, shall we say, futuristic. The all-white structure is shaped like an inflated plus sign with a central space and four protrusions, each with floor-to-ceiling windows. Everything inside was “ultra modern and almost entirely synthetic,” according to Yesterland.com, a Disney nostalgia website. The home included “stylish plastic furniture,” a “revolutionary microwave oven” and a “giant, non-operational, wall-mounted television screen.”

Plastic: The future of construction

The home’s architect, Vincent Bonini, used mostly plastics to achieve the contours and “flowing curves” of the futuristic home. He believed that the cube shape of most conventional homes would eventually give way to his modern, free-form structure.

Read: Not all green home improvements make cents

At the time the House of the Future was built, the use of plastic as a building material was still a relatively new phenomenon.

However, the amount of plastic used in building materials skyrocketed from 511 million to 866 million pounds of plastic between 1956 and 1959. By 1960, plastic was an emerging building materially safely used to update many items previously made of wood or metals. Plastic became the new go-to material for wiring devices and controls, floor­ing, moisture barrier and insulation, and piping.

Not as futuristic as we thought

By as early as 1960, the home’s features—deemed futuristic just three years before—had already grown tiredly contemporary.

The home’s construction came as a result of a four-year study between Monsanto and the Massa­chu­setts Institute of Technology. During that time, the two groups “took a long look at how plas­tics were being used in construc­tion in the mid-50’s and explored other ways their unique properties could be applied in the years ahead,” according to Monsanto Magazine (1960). “It was decided that only a full-scale display house would demon­strate these grow­ing appli­cations both to builders and the public.”

So while the architectural design of the House of Future never quite caught on with any lasting effect, the forward-looking construction techniques are what is still in place today.

Though houses today typically are not constructed principally of plastic, plastics and other manmade materials are found in all sorts of building materials and household items, including latex paint, nylon carpeting, vinyl windows, linoleum floors, laminated cabinets, plumbing, appliances, shelving systems, children’s furniture, lawn chairs, sprinkler systems and waste-water disposal pipes.

At the end of the day, the House of the Future was anything but. It was torn down in 1967. The lot was later used as a garden with a sculpture of King Triton.

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HSH.com's daily blog focuses on the latest developments in the mortgage and housing markets. Our mission is to relate how changes in mortgage rates and housing policy, as well as the latest financial news, impacts consumers, homebuyers and industry insiders alike. Our 30-plus years of experience in the mortgage industry gives us an edge as we break down the latest changes in an ever-changing market.

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Tim Manni

Tim Manni is the Managing Editor of HSH.com and the author of their daily blog, which concentrates on the latest developments in the mortgage and housing markets.

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