Ever wonder what the future will bring? Technology moves so fast these days, it seems anything is possible! I love to look back at what previous generations predicted The Future would be. There is no better way to do that than check out an exhibit from one of the World’s Fairs of the 1930s.
One of my favorites is the 1933-34 Chicago Fair’s Homes of Tomorrow, a village of examples of the impact science and technology could have on daily life.
The Homes of Tomorrow exhibit was one of the most popular attractions at the fair—and why not? The future of home life is relatable; we all live in a structure of some sort, right?
Each home was sponsored by a corporation promoting their cutting edge construction technology and materials. The interiors illustrated modern, forward-looking concepts for space planning and furnishings, and showcased labor-saving appliances and gadgets for entertainment.
Though many homes were not that futuristic in style, they were presented as such based on construction and materials.
Let’s look at the most ultramodern home in the exhibit.
THE HOUSE OF TOMORROW
Chicago architect George Fred Keck understood this was an important opportunity to introduce modern design to the American public, most of which had not set foot in a modern home. Think about it, it’s only 1933. Modern design is still very new to the masses who would consider it radical, maybe artsy…or…gasp!…European.
Keck took full advantage of this opportunity, creating a twelve-sided, glass and steel model that defied convention.
Aesthetics aside he wanted to devise a “machine for living” that would make life easier, so he packed in as much technology as possible. He hoped that if fair-goers were impressed they would be more open to modern homes in the future.
Even more importantly, if the house were a success, perhaps lenders would be more open to financing construction of modern homes. New materials and methods sound risky, especially at the peak of the Great Depression!
BEHIND THE DESIGN
Keck was inspired by a home he knew from childhood, the mid-nineteenth century Richards House in Watertown, Wisconsin. An octagonal house, it was the modern home of its day.
Keck included a photo of the house in the pamphlet for House of Tomorrow. He explained its influence went beyond the floor plan; Richards House creatively used gravity and convection to control temperature and ventilation…and even running water.
Although Keck never acknowledged it, he also likely took inspiration from Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion House, an experimental dwelling currently on display at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.
Fuller was ahead of his time. Dymaxion was conceived in the late Twenties, but it required aluminum alloys which did not yet exist, so it had not been built at the time of the Fair. Dymaxion was a hexagonal, portable house. Its floor and roof were suspended from a central mast, similar to Keck’s design.
THE FINISHED PRODUCT
House of Tomorrow was three stories:
Ground Floor—Service area, complete with two garages, one for your car and one for your plane—we all need a handy place to park our planes, right?!
2nd Floor—Living Space, Wrap-around Deck
3rd Floor—Conservatory, or Solarium
The wall of glass effect on the second and third stories prompted the nickname “America’s first glass house.” No functioning windows called for temperature control through air-conditioning and traditional shades and blinds. He took advantage of the glass walls by introducing a passive solar heating system for the winter.
Keck chose modern furnishings for this thoroughly modern house: clean-lined European-inspired designs, chrome tubular pieces, and furniture as room dividers.
Carrara glass on the few interior walls added to the futuristic vibe: soft gray, black or white.
He installed the very latest in gadgets and appliances for the home. The kitchen was electrical and featured an “iceless” refrigerator and a mechanical dishwasher that washed and dried.
He even included a photoelectric cell which emitted a beam that when broken would either open or shut the kitchen door—very “Jetsons,” don’t you think? (Or maybe Flash Gordon is more appropriate!)
He also showcased a television set, which was evolving technology at the time.
The public ate up the Homes of Tomorrow exhibit, but only in terms of a fair exhibit. Most of the published comments from fair-goers were positive in terms of enjoyment, but the homes were found to be strange and cold, not places to call “home.” No one actually wanted to live there.
This sentiment caused the Fair to traditionalize the decor for the 1934 season. Americans were not quite ready yet. Though beginning to warm up to the idea of modern architecture and design, they still sought the comfort of the familiar.
Could you live in a home like this? Maybe you do! Tell us in the comments…is your home a “machine for living?”
Raley, Dorothy ed. 1934. A Century of Progress: Homes and Furnishings. Chicago. M.A. Ring Company.
Schrenk, Lisa D. 2007. Building a Century of Progress: The Architecture of Chicago’s 1933-34 World’s Fair. Minneapolis, MN. University of Minnesota Press.