The 1956 House of the Future by Alison and Peter Smithson was one of several residential designs built for Daily Mail’s Ideal Home Exhibition in London. Participants were asked to create a home fit for life in the year 1980. The Smithson team created a home made up of rooms built from a single mold of plastic, suggesting the possibility for mass production and efficient assembly. The rooms boasted the ultimate modern conveniences: all-electric appliances, remote controlled television and lights, central heating, and even a self cleaning bathroom. A major element of the design which particularly interested me was the integration of all aspects of the home into the walls and floor of the plastic body. This raised several questions in my mind regarding the space required to house these integrated systems, the rise of “modern” being equated to “streamlined,” and the contemporary tendency for form not to follow function.
I was inspired by one image from the original exhibition of the House of the Future which showed two of the model inhabitants (whose “futuristic” costumes seem not to have come into being as the future became the present) situated in front of a wall of shelves built into the plastic structure. With that image in mind, I sketched out designs for a paper-cut model of a triple section-cut corner of a “modern” room, much like the ones found in the House of the Future.
This room shows what could be the corner of a bedroom, with a space for a bed sunk into the floor and various shelves and a wardrobe built into the walls. I kept the walls and ceiling section cut in order to view the interstitial space between the interior walls of the bedroom and the exterior walls of the house. I found that a large amount of space is wasted in this manner. In order to optimize this wasted space, a “modern minded” architect would have to pay very close attention to filling every interstitial space to the brim, and leaving no hidden square foot untouched.
The stylistic quality of the House of the Future is in keeping with the desire to hide or contain all items of function in order to create a clean, streamlined aesthetic. It is simple enough to deduce that this want of order arose from mass production of goods, huge advancements in industrial design, and the mechanization of daily home life. Yet how does all of this apply to the widely accepted architectural mantra of “form ever follows function?” I think that today, that mantra is no longer valid in the majority of technological and design success. Take a look at any iPhone and you will inevitable fail to deduce its function by its mere form. The Smithson’s House of the Future is no exception.