Skip to Content
Uncategorized

The House of the Future That Wasn’t

MIT’s plastic house was a hit at Disneyland but never made the leap to mass production.
January 1, 2005

Between 1957 and 1967, millions of visitors toured the Monsanto House of the Future at Walt Disney’s new theme park in Anaheim, CA. The modular, plastic house looks to today’s eyes more like a space station than like the archetypal house of suburbia 1987, as it was billed. Tourists marveled at its futuristic furnishings: an intercom system, a microwave, and closets filled with colorful nylon and polyester clothing. But though the house seemed to be equal parts Disney magic and Monsanto know-how, the original concept was pure MIT.

The house was the marriage of converging needs. During the early 1950s, homebuilders could barely keep up with demand as families moved to the suburbs. At the same time, Monsanto Chemical was looking for new markets for its plastic products. Seeing a business opportunity, the company sponsored research at MIT to design a low-cost, prefabricated house that would be made almost entirely of plastic. The researchers suggested the rounded, Jetsons-worthy home—which delighted Monsanto.

MIT architecture faculty members Marvin Goody, MAR ‘51, and Richard Hamilton spent two years designing the 1,280-square-foot house. In 1956, Monsanto decided to build a full-scale prototype and Goody and Hamilton formed a private practice to take over the commercial planning of the house. Meanwhile, Walt Disney was searching for exhibits for Disneyland, which had opened in 1955. He heard about the futuristic house and offered Monsanto space to display the prototype.

The house consisted of a central square room with four wings. The center held the kitchen and the bathroom. “It was a sort of command center, where the housewife of the future could control the entire house,” says Gary Van Zante, a curator at the MIT Museum, which now owns the drawings of the house. The wings had one room each: a master bedroom, a children’s bedroom, a dining room, and a living room. Each wing was made of  fiberglass modules placed one on top of the other to form the ceiling, floor, and a wall; the remaining two walls were windows. Robert Whittier ‘51, Monsanto’s project manager, recalls that when the modules arrived at Disneyland, the receiving clerks were puzzled. “They said, ‘What’s with all these boats that are arriving?’”

In 1957, some 60,000 people visited the house each week. “Everybody marveled at it, everybody loved it, and everybody wanted one,” remembers Whittier, whose desk was flooded with mail from the house’s admirers. But as enthusiastic as the response was, it wasn’t enough to create a viable market. “This is a pretty radical proposal for a very conservative housing market,” says Van Zante. But the house has not been forgotten. Van Zante is planning an exhibition about the house that should open at the MIT Museum in the fall of 2007.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

mouse engineered to grow human hair
mouse engineered to grow human hair

Going bald? Lab-grown hair cells could be on the way

These biotech companies are reprogramming cells to treat baldness, but it’s still early days.

ai learning to multitask concept
ai learning to multitask concept

Meta’s new learning algorithm can teach AI to multi-task

The single technique for teaching neural networks multiple skills is a step towards general-purpose AI.

Death and Jeff Bezos
Death and Jeff Bezos

Meet Altos Labs, Silicon Valley’s latest wild bet on living forever

Funders of a deep-pocketed new "rejuvenation" startup are said to include Jeff Bezos and Yuri Milner.

conceptual illustration showing various women's faces being scanned
conceptual illustration showing various women's faces being scanned

A horrifying new AI app swaps women into porn videos with a click

Deepfake researchers have long feared the day this would arrive.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.