Smithsons – A House of the Future

Some of the most extreme and influential proposals in the history of modern architecture were made in the context of temporary exhibitions. Forming their agenda and new ideals of habition the Smithsons – in 1956 – made a imagination of the house of 1981. Their vision is described in Beatriz Colomina’s essay “Unbreathed Air 1956” from 2003. She implies the renewed importance of the ‘House of the Future’ (H.O.F. in the Smithson’s private notes) because of a comtemporary tedency of the rise of the architectural archives. In my article I will try to clearify the Smithson’s notions on the subterranean potential.

H.O.F. was the Smithsons’ participation in the Jubilee Ideal Home Exhibition which was comissioned by Daily Mail in London. It is important to determine that is not ‘the House of 1981’ but ‘a House of 1981′. A vision for a new type of housing. The interior was all plastic and filled with plastic objects. A display of modern living in an ever-changing and consuming society. A picture of a glossy and shining fantasy world of goods. They intended to sell the house at its best. – An advertising and seductive image. Like Reyner Banham once put it; “a powerful and memorable image”. An intense and momentary image that quickly could be replaced according the ever-changing society. The house itself became an expandable and mophing object.

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As Colomina evokes in her introduction actually describing the content of the exhibition: “Outside it was a wooden rectangular box of almost blank walls. The words ‘House of the Future’ flashed on and off, projected onto one of the longer walls. A small opening to one end og the wall acted as an entrance. Inside was a black box”. It sounds like a rather enclosed house and H.O.F. is kind of a bomb shelter. There is no inside, the house is only an inside. Or more likely, the inside of an inside: A box (the black one) inside another box (the wooden outer case).

The house suggest complete enclosure except the electrically operated steel door piercing both layers of walls. Like a submarine. So if there is no outside it could floating under water – or under ground. The Smithsons is of course facinated by technology and the very anticipated evolution of the 80’s with would eventually come. However, they claimed to find their inspiration for H.O.F. in the Caves Les Baux de Provence, visited in 1953. Like submarines and bomb shelter these caves correspond to a time of danger outside. The Smithsons wanted H.O.F. to inculcate that – a natural response to post-war architecture.

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A specific example of a cave dwelling was presented at the New York Fair in 1964; a project called ‘Underground House’. The visitor would descend to an entire suburban house with an artificial garden walled underground. And again, the walls were protected by a second set of walls – a box inside a box. H.O.F. suggested complete enclosure and absolute tranquility. Almost every system can be describe as an defensive or protective system. One will find food storages and even a garden in this complete controlled environment.

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