Futuro: The flying saucer-shaped house from the 1960s

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Milica Sterjova
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The late 1960s were a time when people were to some extent obsessed with space travel and this influenced the design of many products, including the Futuro house, a small UFO-like house designed by Finnish architect Matti Suuronen in 1968. Although it looks more like somewhere E.T. would live, it was designed to be a vacation home for a Finnish physician.

Dr. Jaakko Hiidenkari, a schoolmate of Suuronen’s, commissioned the architect to design a ski home for him. The first Futuro (number 000) was completed in March 1968 and was assembled in June the same year in Turenki, Finland. Number 001 was sold also in Finland, to an actor who subsequently sold it to WeeGee Exhibition Center in 2011. Number 002 was an exhibition house for the 1968 Finnfocus Export Fair in London. After the fair, the Finnish company Polykem started producing the house and also started selling manufacturing licenses to other companies. The price of a Futuro house in 1968 was $12,000.

Suuronen’s goal was for the house to be easily transportable, easy to construct on any kind of terrain and easy to heat. The outcome was a plastic, prefabricated, flying saucer-shaped house, 4m high and 8m in diameter. It was easy to construct on site, it was even possible to transport it directly to the site, with a helicopter, fully constructed. The total weight of the house together with all the equipment was about 4,000kg (8820 lb). It only needed four concrete piers for its installation so it could be placed almost anywhere.

Futuro house by Matti Suuronen. Author: Grigur. CC BY-SA 4.0

 

A Futuro at Espoo Museum of Modern Art, Finland. Author: J-P Kärnä. CC BY-SA 3.0

The house consists of sixteen pieces made of fiberglass-reinforced polyester plastic, bolted together to form the floor and the roof. Seven of the upper pieces and two of the lower have windows on them, made from acrylic or plexiglass. The Futuro house had an electric heating system and integrated polyurethane insulation which allowed it to be heated to a convenient temperature very quickly. In about thirty minutes the temperature could go from -28ºC to about 15ºC. The house was designed as a home that could accommodate six people.

Futuro in Munich. Author: User:Mattes. CC BY 2.0 de

The elliptical shape of the house is repeated in the shape of the windows, and in some interior details like sockets, door handles and lights. The original interior of the house included six chairs (kept in sitting positions through the day and used as beds at night), a bedroom, a small kitchen, a fireplace combined with a grill, and a bathroom. The door was very similar to the entrance of an aircraft in that when closed it integrated into the building and it served as a staircase. The house was available in three colors: white, yellow and light blue.

The interior of the Futuro house in Modern Art Emma Museum in Espoo, Finland. Author: Ilkka Jukarainen. CC BY-ND 2.0

 

Another view of the interior. Author: Ilkka Jukarainen. CC BY-ND 2.0

 

The kitchen in Rotterdam. Author: seacucumber/ pepino-do-mar ANNEKE. CC BY 2.0

Even though there was domestic and international interest in the unusual building, the Futuro failed to live up to the maker’s expectations. Between 1968 and 1978 twenty Futuro houses were produced in Finland, twelve of which were sold to foreign buyers. Manufacturing licenses were sold in twenty-five countries but only about ten of them started manufacturing the houses.

First of all the company that produced them didn’t have the experience nor the resources for an international large-scale launch. Secondly, the public didn’t welcome the new unusual design. The first Futuro house that was constructed in Finland, near Lake Puulavesi, immediately started public protests because it looked too unnatural for the rural surroundings. Several towns in the United States banned the Futuro by zoning regulations. The banks were unwilling to finance them and a lot of people who already had put down deposits for buying a Futuro backed out. A large number were destroyed or vandalized. The 1973 oil crisis tripled the oil price and made the production of plastic too expensive. This was the final nail in the coffin and the last Futuro was produced in 1978.

The Futuro House in Rockwall, TX. Author: Steve Rainwater. CC BY-SA 2.0

 

Futuro in Pensacola Beach, Florida. Author: BrandlandUSA. CC BY-SA 3.0

It is estimated that about sixty of the original houses still exist today. Most of the surviving examples are owned by private owners, but some of them are in museums. The Futuro prototype was purchased in 2007 by the Boijmans van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam, Netherlands. It underwent a restoration and was exhibited in the museum in 2011.