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futurePlay
from The House of Tomorrow
19 March – 29 May 2005

Introduction | Essay | Gallery | Sponsors

image: image still from 'Futuro-A New Stance for Tomorrow' dir. Mika Taanila 1998, 29min., 35mm from the Experimenta House of Tomorrow cinema program 2004 image still from Futuro–A New Stance for TomorrowMika Taanila 1998, 29min., 35mm from the Experimenta House of Tomorrow cinema program 2004 more detail

Home Sweet Home

Experimenta's House of Tomorrow explores a new world of mightlihoods; of future dreaming, of future fear and future fun.
It asks, "how much do our fantasies of the future shape its design?" It asks, "what does the home become when you never need to leave it?" It asks, "will your home still be a reflection of your personality when it’s got a mind of its own?" It asks, "where’s my robot housemaid?" It asks, "are we there yet?"

Show Home

The home and its environs has long been the front-line in the battle for the future. The Australian intellectual and architect, Robin Boyd identified the home and suburbia as the ‘real Australia’ and the battleground in which the forces for good, Modernism and Minimalism battle the ‘The Australian Ugliness’ and the coca-colanisation of Austerica. In 1949 his House of Tomorrow featured in the Modern Home Exhibition at the Melbourne Exhibition Buildings. It was a mock-up of a two story flat-roofed building fully furnished in the latest Australian designs. It was less of a vision for the future than a plea for good design in the present.

Both Experimenta’s and Boyd’s House of Tomorrow belong to a strong twentieth century tradition of Houses of the Future that featured at exhibitions, World Fairs and on screen. Sometimes these homes represented innovations in planning, design and construction whilst others offered futuristic visions on the transformation of the living environment of the home through new technology. Sometimes, as with Boyd’s, they provided a forum to critique the present, to parody and play.  Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle presented ultra-modernistic notions of the house - all moulded surfaces, gadgets and automated everything, right down to the fountains. The candy-coloured space age home of The Jetsons came complete with neurotic housebot and automated dogwalker.

It was Le Corbusier who first, infamously, envisaged the home as a "machine for living in". His Pavillon de l'Esprit Nouveau at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs in Paris (1925) idealised the industrialisation of domestic life. R. Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion Dwelling Machine of 1927 looked like fin-topped flying saucer and was designed for mass production. The 1932 pre-fabricated Aluminaire House, “for contemporary life,” included built in furniture, inflatable chairs and discreet ultraviolet lighting for easy indoor tanning. Architects William and George Keck’s The House of Tomorrow for the Chicago World Fair of 1932 had two garages: one for the family car and one for the airplane its designers believed all families would one day own. Disneyland’s Monsanto's House of the Future (1967) was made almost entirely from the latest plastic technologies. It too looked like a landed spaceship - although not nearly so much as Matti Suuronen’s Futuro (1968), a wonder of prefabrication and modern ’luxury’ which looked like it could fly you to Mars.

image:Angela McNiece 'Untitled' 2003, still image from digital video, Collection of the artistAngela McNiece 'Untitled' 2003, still image from digital video, Collection of the artist more detail

Today the home of the future is looking increasingly mediacentric: digital technologies are already colonising our households on every level. Ubiquitous computing means that the fridge can now restock itself via internet, the microwave can help you plan balanced meals and even provide the recipes. You can turn on the house lights, set the thermostat and start the washing from work  and you can check your children over the Internet. People now shop, pay their bills, have sex and gamble from the comfort of their own couch. Today, the home is less of a castle and more of a media command centre.

The British telecommunications company Orange turned an ordinary suburban house into a remote-controlled show home for wireless technologies. MIT’s House-n, ("n" for "variable") is working with information technology and communications companies who are  “looking to the home as the next big market.” House-n promises a more individual and customised vision for the future – a plug-and-play system for individual needs including active health.

Better Living through Technology

The promise that  ‘the house of the future will be like having a servant’ really appeals to a generation with a flotilla of remotes and a passion for instant everything. But is the key to better living really a bigger home theatre?

MIT’s researchers talk about the house of the future as achieving a net-zero status where the house produces as much energy as it consumes. Smart houses are being designed that work at being energy-efficient for heating and cooling. As ‘green’ ethics permeate the consumer market, more companies are investing in sustainable living. Washing machines with artificial intelligence are able to calculate just how much water is required for each individual load. Dishwashers that clean sonically, rather than with water, are currently in development. It is easy to imagine these innovations installed in our own homes tomorrow, but what other possibilities are there in the future. Current research offers even more extraordinary technology. The Institute of Nanoscale Technology (University of Technology, Sydney) have produced a ‘cold’ lighting system that channels white light, allowing sunlight falling on one end of a cable to travel like water to the other. Nanotechnolgies offer more fantastic possibilities like the self-cleaning bathroom that chemically rejects dirt and mould.

SIMs: Synthetic Families and the global village

New technologies are reshaping the ‘software’ as well as the hardware that surrounds us. When Marshall McLuhan predicted that electronic communications would reconstruct the world as a global village, a meta-community, he little thought that the neighbourhood would turn out so trashy. Celebrities have replaced our families and friends, we often know more about the day-to-day lives of American supermodels than we do of our own relatives; they have become the social glue that equally binds workmates around the NASA watercooler as Russian schoolkids chattering on the bus. Families are taking increasingly heterogenous forms; test-tube babies, surrogates, genetically modified and cloned babies are just the beginning. Changing work and earning patterns, atomisation of family members into separate demographic markets and specialisation of media all ensure that we can inhabit different planets whilst living in the same house. The popularity of online worlds, RPGs and quasi-Artificial Life games such as Petz or SIMFamily all indicate that real-life is failing to live up to expectations.

Fortress or Cocoon?

image:Angela McNiece 'Untitled' 2003, still image from digital video, Collection of the artist

Angela McNiece 'Untitled 2003, still image from digital video, Collection of the artist more detail

As the gap widens between the rich and the poor, as society becomes ever less civil, and as the environment degrades, the home becomes the sanctuary of those who can afford it. It protects and it nurtures. It becomes a filter that excludes everything that threatens its occupants whilst containing everything that these occupants might need. Many of us already live in a climate-controlled filtered-water world; air-scrubbers and radiation-filters may soon become equally as common for the planet’s ‘haves’ whilst the rest drink polluted water and breathe carcinogens.

A man’s home is no longer just a castle, it is becoming a redoubt. Entry is filtered by ever more sophisticated and ubiquitous security systems. As discontent simmers, fortifications cease to be sufficient. Deterrence is rapidly becoming aggressive and promises to become more so.

Staying in is the new going-out. Neighbourhoods become dormitory suburbs, and stranger-danger doesn’t threaten just children. As the environment degrades around us, and the streets become ever more threatening, new services, new products and new entertainments are generated for the domestic market. Electronic commuting, home shopping and personalised media make never leaving home a real choice. 

Media Saturation

Whilst the home is turning inwards, excluding or ignoring most aspects of the outside world, it is becoming ever more permeable to a flood of media.  The medium is the massage – one-to-many or many-to-many, broadband, narrow-channel, free-to-air or pay-by-view, indie or pirated, print or electronic. A never-ending wash of information, opinion, and exhortations to “buy buy buy!” aimed at each of us individually and drowning all of us equally. New ways to meet new people or catch up with friends. New entertainments and activities to distract us from our increasingly circumscribed lives. Electronics are already embedded in many consumer commodities; this will increase. Screens are multiplying and the air crackles with the static generated by the wash of information swilling through them.

Knock, knock…

The heterogeneous and convergent site that the home is becoming is mirrored in Experimenta House of Tomorrow. This is ‘House’ as Rosetta Stone; a translation device between yesterday’s Modernist exhortations and tomorrow’s technophiliac commercials. It presents palimpsests of past imaginings, each bearing the traces of familiar utopias and dystopias, parallel with fantasies of future plenitude. Experimenta House of Tomorrow does not promise anything: rather it is a snapshot of potentialities, a ‘note to future self.’ Both archaeology of impossible dreams part-realised and klaxon wake-up call, this House sums our contemporary nostalgia, a messy equation of fear and desire. It suggests that, whether we cower within the electronic carapace of our future homes or wear them as infinitely metamorphic extensions of out own psyches, the home will continue to be a battleground of fiercely contested ideologies. When the future comes calling, will you be at home?

 

Liz Hughes, Shiralee Saul and Helen Stuckey
House of Tomorrow exhibition curators