Home Fit for Tomorrowland

CA-Modern story gets inside Disneyland's plastic and fantastic 'House of the Future'
House of the Future
Photo: courtesy Walt Disney Company

What will the house of the future look like? It's a question that man has pondered through the ages, "imagining in excited reverie that the future years had come," as poet William Yeats once put it.

Well, in the mid-1950s, Walt Disney, the Monsanto Chemical Company, and engineers at MIT took a stab at that imagining and created an attraction that, during the decade that followed, drew 20 million visitors to Disney's new theme park in California: the Monsanto 'House of the Future.'

While Disneyland still stands and thrives today, its House of the Future only lasted from 1957 to 1967, demolished and replaced by another attraction. Features editor Dave Weinstein resurrects it for the 21st century, however, with an insightful piece in the summer 2014 issue of CA-Modern magazine titled 'Plastic Fantastic Living.'

For his story, Weinstein tracked down the lone surviving member of the MIT design team that worked three years on the project, creating an ultra-modern elevated, four-room house constructed and furnished almost entirely out of plastic.

"We could have done something more practical as an outgrowth of this research," admits the design team's Ernie Kirwan about the House of the Future, which Disney had commissioned as a theme park attraction with all the desire to be as visionary as the rest of his Tomorrowland plan. "But [in the end] it was influential in getting people to use plastics in architecture."

And certainly that was part of the plan for Monsanto, whose public relations staff seized the day long before the words 'product placement' were part of the American lexicon.

A sidebar to our story compares the project's successes and failures with those of Joe Eichler's own house of the future, the steel-framed X-100 experimental house of the San Mateo Highlands, which was erected a year earlier. Both stories reveal the challenges of trying to accommodate future lifestyles in current housing design.

For more, click here for a sneak preview of 'Plastic Fantastic Living' and the new summer '14 issue of CA-Modern.