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041 / House of the Present

By Khaled Abou Alfa • Published 29th of December, 2020

In 1957 a new attraction opened in Disneyland. The attraction was not linked to any intellectual property or movie. It was not a new rollercoaster or drop tower. In fact, it had very few moving parts at all. Yet it would attract over 20 million visitors. The appeal was less the attraction itself and rather the promise it made to all those who entered. A glimpse into the future. Come see the House of the Future.

The house was made from fiberglass and a new material, plastic. It included an ultrasonic dishwasher’ (the size of a kitchen table) and microwave oven (to prepare atomic meals’). It had picture phones and height adjustable sinks. The kitchen came with dimmable lighting control. It was exactly what you would expect someone in 1957 would imagine 1987 to be. While the House of the Future got many things wrong (we don’t live in plastic crucible shaped spaces pods), the basics of our homes have not changed dramatically over the last 60 years1. We have sinks, we have indoor plumbing and electricity. We have lighting. We have cooling or heating. For many the buildings themselves are certainly more energy efficient and have better insulated.

Yet for many, our houses feel infinitely more advanced. After all, the house of the present allowed us to manage through a pandemic that upended much of what we took for granted or accepted as the normal. The same events could not have been managed in the same way 60 years ago. As it turns out the real home of the future is less what is happening inside and rather about the facilities and services that hook themselves into the house itself. These have evolved and transformed beyond the imagination of those who looked to predict the future.

Resilience & Experience

While it is not unprecedented, it is rare for the entire world (all 7.8 billion of us), to experience something collectively. 2020 will be a year that we will all remember for the incredible shift in our culture. Our fragile systems were put to the test. Depending on where you were in the world, these systems either were resilient or they failed you. One of the heroes in this entire mess has been our homes. They became centres of versatility and resilience. Our homes quickly transformed into an office, a playground, a school, a university. They acted as our restaurant and cafes. They replaced our cinemas. They became our shopping malls. We could not have managed this shift without the infrastructure in place. The digital infrastructure enabled the video calls and online shopping. Countless hours of online videos allowed us to learn how to do things that previously out of our reach. Meanwhile the logistics and transportation infrastructure allowed for trade between countries to continue and deliveries to be made.

Looking to the future, one of arguably the worst terms used across industry is the Internet of Things’. A dystopian future where everything from your fridge to your toothbrush are all connected and monitored. When we think to the future of the home, 60 years from now, the reality is that certain elements might become slightly more advanced, however the addition of sensors inside everything is hopefully the equivalent of the use of plastic in the House of the Future. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean that you have to.

Our homes will no doubt evolve. The hope is that we have learnt from the excesses of the last 60 years. That when it comes to materials, we eschew towards more sustainable materials put together in a method that can be reused and repurposed. That our homes become self contained units generating their own energy. That they can manage their waste and generate their own food. That they will help us maintain or improve our mental and physical health.

COMMENTARY

Innovation by Design 2020

We can all agree that 2020 was an exercise is disruption. It is easy to ignore the good that was created during this very year, as the bad was so overwhelming. Having said that, the 2020 Innovation by Design list from Fast Company provides a handy reminder.

AuReus

While the lede of this article is strong reading on its own, what caught my eye was the photo at the end of the article showing the houses with PV panels everywhere. There must be a better way, right?

Recognising that there is an inherent inefficiency in the fact that the operation of PV panels is dependant on the incident angle of the light, AuReus seeks to solve this problem, and many more. Created by Carvey Ehren Maigue, AuReus upcycles food waste into the material needed to create panels that capture UV light and convert it into electricity.

There is so much to love about this story and a deserved winner of the James Dyson Awards Sustainability Award. This is the second James Dyson Award product we have featured in the newsletter and both use natural byproducts to solve some of the most difficult challenges that we face as humanity.

Resource Trade & Circular Economy Websites

A pair of websites that present the world in an incredible light for us data nerds. The first, Resourcetrade.earth presents:

…international trade in natural resources, their sustainability implications, and the new economic and geopolitical interdependencies emerging between importing and exporting countries and regions

The sister site, Circulareconomy.earth explores:

…the policy and trade dynamics associated with transitioning from linear to circular economic models and the analyses of the opportunities and trade-offs associated with such transitions.

PUBLICATIONS OF NOTE

BIG Taschen Trilogy

First came Yes is More. Then came Hot to Cold. Formgiving is the third book in the BIG Taschen trilogy. Aside from what these books capture inside them, I also want to draw some attention and recognise the inventiveness of the designs for these three books. A worthy addition to anyone’s bookshelf.

TOOLS OF THE TRADE

Architectural Watering Can

I love it when architects take their hand to product design. Inevitably they come about solving the problem from a different perspective. One of my favourite products in this range’ of products is the Michael Graves designed coffee and tea accessories for Alessi.

The Terra Watering Can’ is a welcome addition to this growing list which brings together Norwegian Snøhetta and Danish Georg Jensen to create a watering can inspired by water itself. I can easily relate to needing something a little more elegant for all of our indoor plants.


  1. Aside: The Starburst home being an exception and the spiritual ancestor to the House of the Future’. Sadly we cannot all live in incredible starburst homes.↩︎