Home Futures

07 November 2018 - 24 March 2019
The Design Museum

Twentieth-century prototypes are compared with the latest innovations in domestic living to question whether yesterday’s fantasies have become today’s reality. An exhibition by the Design Museum in London in partnership with IKEA Museum Almhult, the exhibition explores the radical domestic visions of the 20th century and asks: what happened to the future? The exhibition includes important works by Ettore Sottsass, Joe Colombo, Superstudio, Archigram, Alison and Peter Smithson, Hans Hollein, Jan Kaplicky, and Dunne & Raby. The ‘home of the future’ has long intrigued designers and popular culture alike. Bringing together avant-garde speculations with contemporaryobjects and new commissions, Home Futures explores today’s home through the prism of yesterday’s imagination. The exhibition asks: are we living in the way that pioneering architects and designers once predicted, or has our idea of home proved resistant to real change. Through more than 150 objects and experiences, historical notions of the mechanised home and the compact home are displayed alongside contemporary phenomena such as connected devices and the sharing economy. Rare works on display include original furniture from the Smithsons’ House of the Future (1956), original footage from the General Motors Kitchen of Tomorrow (1956), Home Environment by Ettore Sottsass (1972) and an original model of Total Furnishing Unit by Joe.


It's within the human condition to ponder our future, either ourselves, the people around us, or the society and environment that we live in. In the last few decades, our domestic efficiency has drastically changed on the global scale. In the recent exhibition ‘Home Future’, located in the Design Museum, these issues have been addressed and challenged retrospectively in the context of modern culture, and its new and predictable outlook to the near future.​


The Italian artist Ugo La Pietra has several approaches in improving our living conditions, as well as the ‘Telematic House’ (1983) installing artificial light and cutting edge furniture to illustrate a more futuristic/ dream-like habitat. The artist had the most nonchalant approach to gentrify the street of Milan. In the series ‘Urban Equipment for collectivity’ (1979), the redundant wire box becomes a wine and liquor cabinet for the public; and an antique bollard becomes a host for parasols and potentially a summer havens for pedestrians and tourists. By restructuring and remobilising street furniture, the urban area becomes more friendly and more inhabitable for its people. ​


On the contrary of the Italian’s idea, designed for the immediate future, Living Cells by the French-Israeli Artist Absalon Meir Schel (1991) suggests a bleak housing future, by displaying his post-modern, monotoned models and its harsh man-made material. Also in the short film to demonstrate their functions, the actor walks around in a minimalist overall (Wouldn’t be surprised if it’s from COS), interacting with opaque white furniture, which resembles an altar, a well, and other domestic furniture. Absalon’s almost Martian-like architecture and Kubrickesque tone of the film is a conceptual approach to the housing crisis and Human behaviour, but lacks human interactions and blurs the boundary of living and to live.


Materials and their qualities have a strong emphasis on Absalon’s series, and similarly, so does the architectural firm Haus-Rucker-co. The designers take the material use to the next level, by creating a plastic living environment: Cover protect you (1971), which presents the participants to  a notion of living in a half transparent plastic. The form of the material is very much similar to contemporary fashion, from Virgil Abloh’s ‘Plastic’ Bag to Nike’s cutting-edge trainers, the progression of the material is having an impact on consumer culture, using synthetic rather than natural material for one’s utility and luxury, suggests maybe we are not far from a future  where spaces are filled with neon light and rock shaped couches, and the overall aesthetic of the entire show certainly suggest that, by the shape of the rooms and curatorial spatial judgements.

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Contrasting this bygone future, are recent, a more realistic artist film takes place, interrogating contemporary issues. For example, in the film ‘Uninvited guest’ by Superflex, the artist group illustrates evidence of that older generation resists technology, comply with their own rigid, personal lifestyle. In the short, the recent widower has been given new technology fork and cone by his concerning children, in order to monitor his health and activities. The old man found his ways to appear on the app to be active, however just carried on with his routines. There is no doubt that the pace in our society’s growth is exponential, the older generation simply cannot catch up, and the underlying message of how to improve society and make it more inclusive.​

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At another gallery in the museum, Superflex also showcased two parallel films: Kurma, sig Eddy & Our friend electric (2017), both demonstrating the highly advance artificial intelligence by having none demanding conversation with our devices, letting them making lifestyle decisions for us. In Kurma, the device’s mood can be altered from six buttons(Humour, Politeness, Mood Personality and Confidence) giving the device human traits and passing our pieces of information; and in the other movie, the electronic is our friend, giving advice and having conversations with the character. Although the films had a positive approach to technology improving our lives, there surely an underlying concern in the continuous development of Siri and Alexa, there’re issues one should be alarmed about.


‘Home Future’ doesn’t provide an answer for these issues, wither social, technological or environmental, it simply provides different ideas from the past, of generations hoping what would become of us, or our children and grandchildren. In an excerpt of ‘The Jetsons’ displayed in the exhibition, Jane was informed by her mother during a video call (on a tv) that a robotic maid is available to rent and is cheaper than an actual maid, hence improving her domestic crisis. Now we are closer to actually achieving this goal, the element of government surveillance, pointed out 

by Orwell’s 1984 and Eisenstein’s sketches for Glass House (1926-30) at the front room of the gallery maybe reasons for us to reconsider the impact of a supposedly easier, better future? ​

Image Credits:

Felix Speller for the Design Museum (1,2,3)