Tuesday, November 4, 2014


 Guessing the future has probably occupied people since the beginning of time. Yet, ponder as we might, reality seldom turns out very close to our predictions. Some things change much more slowly than expected, while others change in ways we couldn’t have imagined. 

Some of our fancied futures are bright, some are not. In his cautionary tale “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, George Orwell, writing from the vantage point of 1948, speculated on a sinister time in which hapless citizens were under the complete control of an omniscient government. What a relief, then, that the most notable thing 1984 actually brought was the Macintosh computer. 

On the other hand, director Stanley Kubrick’s then-disquieting film “2001: A Space Odyssey” turned out to be a good deal less frightening than the real year did. In Kubrick’s 2001, after all, the most menacing thing was a smartass computer.

Disneyland's House of the Future:
It was Monsanto's dream, but not
necessarily anyone else's
The late 1960s television documentary, “The 21st Century,” foresaw people flitting around in personal jet packs, among other things. Alas, here in the actual 21st century, most of us still get around in beat up Toyotas. 

As for architecture, one of the most memorable conjectures about things to come was the House of the Future, constructed at Disneyland in 1957. Jointly designed by the chemical giant Monsanto, MIT, and Disney, the reinforced-polyester structure was meant to demonstrate how Americans might live in the distant year 1986. Its major talking point: The house consisted of 99.97% artificial materials, including plastic windows. plastic dishes, and plastic clothes in the closet. 

As usual, there were many nonstarters in its predicted roster of gee-whiz features. The kitchen, for example, boasted an ultrasonic dishwasher, along with “atomic food preservation”, whose purpose I dare not imagine. Yet many of the home’s innovations now sound familiar: hands-free, push button telephones with automatic dialing, sprayed urethane foam insulation, nylon carpeting, and foam-cushioned flooring, all of which have come to pass in one form or another. 

Moreover, two of its predictions were spot on: the then-unheard of microwave oven in its kitchen, and the giant-sized television/movie screen that dominated its living room.

In general, though--no doubt to Monsanto’s chagrin--the home’s 100 percent-synthetic theme turned out to be far off the mark for the world of 1986. Indeed, even by the mid-Sixties, the idea of an all-plastic house was already looking a wee bit tawdry, This was, after all, the era of Hippiedom and the nascent ecology movement. Saddled with this increasingly doubtful vision of the future, Disney closed the attraction and razed the house in 1967.
The Innoventions Dream Home:
Maybe 1957 wasn't so bad after all.

But the story doesn’t end there. In 2008, Disneyland unveiled an updated take on its House of the Future, known as the Innoventions Dream Home. This time, it was sponsored by Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, LifeWare and the home builder Taylor Morrison. Ironically described as having “a more modern and accessible interior”, it's perhaps more accurate to say that this concept of tomorrow looked like a casino’s version of yesterday, but with electronic gimmicks. As the Associated Press put it:

“The 5,000-square-foot home...will look like a suburban tract home outside. But inside it will feature hardware, software and touch-screen systems that could simplify everyday living.”

A 5,000 square foot suburban tract home? Systems that “could” simplify living? I think I liked the old future better.

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