A Look at Alison Smithson's 1956 House of the Future

It is a scene of domestic bliss, and more.

Black and white photo of a man and woman in a room with angular, futuristic furniture

Smithson House of the Future

Cory Doctorow, author, journalist, and founder of BoingBoing, often tweets about retro architecture, and he recently tweeted this:

In fact, this is not your usual image of domestic bliss. It is part of a much bigger picture—the House of the Future designed in 1956 by Alison Smithson with her husband Peter Smithson for the Daily Mail Ideal Home Exhibition. The Smithsons are among the most important architects in the U.K. of the period, designing Robin Hood Gardens (a council housing estate in east London) and more. Alison was also author of the seminal "Team Ten Primer."

Overhead view of an interior courtyard
House of the Future

The House of the Future

The drawings of it are all in the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal. Architectural critic Sabine von Fischer writes in the CCA document, "Unlike other works by the famous architect couple, the House of the Future is not an architectural project, but a scenographic mock-up at full scale of a living unit for a childless couple, set twenty-five years in the future."

Floor plan for the "house of the future"
House of the Future

The house gets rid of windows, and is totally inward looking to a courtyard in the middle.

The house is spatially detached from the outside; wired acoustics are the only way it interacts with the outside world. The door elevation shows a speaker and microphone system above a mailbox, all to be installed to the left of the blob-shaped, electronically controlled entry door.

Layout of the House

Here you can see the courtyard, complete with a dining table that sinks into the floor.

A man and woman sit at an angular table in a courtyard
Modern Mechanix

The bed also sinks into the floor, and has a single electric sheet instead of blankets.

Overhead view of three people perched on a fold-down bed, with another man standing nearby
House of the Future

The line between commodity and fiction is deliberately blurred. Flanked by existing pieces such as the “Tellaloud loud-speaking phone,” manufactured by Winston Electronics Ltd., various modern kitchen equipment, and an Arteluce lamp from 1953, imagined devices such as after-shower body air-driers and telephone message recorders are exhibited in the house.

Two women sitting in a yellow-hued futuristic living room
House of the Future

Calls are not only transmitted by telephone, but broadcast over loudspeakers through the entire house. The model inhabitants explain their gadgets and activities to the audience over microphones. Spatially disconnected from the world, the house reconnects by electroacoustics.

Here are two women getting ready for dinner.

A woman fixing another woman's hair in a dressing room
House of the Future

Here is the dining area.

Overhead view of an indoor dining area
House of the Future

More Than Just a House

Alison Smithson did everything for this design, including designing the clothing that the models wore in the house. Modern Mechanix wrote that, “in the future men, will apparently dress like Smurfs.”

Sketches of clothing designs for men and women
Alison Smithson

They even designed a typeface which still looks pretty good.

Sample alphabet of low, narrow, angular typeface
Alison Smithson via CCA

The House of the Future was also published in Mechanix Illustrated, a printed magazine in the United States, which noted: "A short-wave transmitter with push buttons controls all electronic equipment. We’re sure you’ll be interested to know that the shower stall has jets of warm air for drying and the sunken bathtub rinses itself with detergent. No bathtub rings left for Mother."

Magazine page with photos of futuristic house
Mechanix Illustrated

There is a lot to learn from this house; the courtyard design maximizes privacy and could use land very efficiently. It was a grand experiment in the use of plastics, new materials, and new ways of communicating. And, as Cory notes, it portrays a scene of domestic bliss (of sorts), even if they were actors.