Farewell to the Futuro: an interview with Marko Home and Mika Taanila


10 September 2012

This week sees the close of Futuro 2012, an exhibition in Espoo, Finland dedicated to the utopianist Futuro house. In celebration of the Futuro, Disegno spoke to Marko Home, the curator of Futuro 2012, and Mika Taanila, the director of the 1998 short film Futuro: A New Stance For Tomorrow.

The Futuro was created in 1968, when the Finnish architect Matti Suuronen was commissioned to design a ski lodge. Instead of a wooden chalet, Suuronen created the Futuro, an 8m-diametre plastic ellipsoid that some billed as the prefabricated home of the future.

The Futuro captured the public imagination and the house went into production in Finland and America. However, the 1973 global oil crisis caused a dramatic increase in the cost of plastic, and the Futuro quickly fell out of production. Only 60 to 100 Futuros were ever created.

Since May this year, the first Futuro house - Futuro 001 - has been on display at the Weegee Exhibition Centre in Espoo, Finland. As part of Futuro 2012, the centre has also created the Futuro-Lounge, an exhibition space dedicated to the house.

Below, Home and Taanila, the authors of Futuro: Tomorrow's House from Yesterday (2002), speak to Disegno about the Futuro's design legacy.

How did the Futuro House fit into the design landscape at the time it was built?

Mika Taanila It fitted in perfectly. It was a sign of the times. The same week it was launched, man landed on the moon. So the Futuro resonates interestingly with the optimism of the time and man's ideas about expanding his horizons in a mental and physical sense.

Marko Home In their Manifesto of Futurist Architecture (1914), the founders of futurism - the architect Antonio Sant'Elia and the poet Filippo Marinetti - declared that the buildings of the future would be dynamic and mobile, and throughout the 1960s the architectural group Archigram developed those ideas further. But whereas Archigram's designs existed only on paper, the Futuro is an intriguing physical example of space-age utopian architecture.

Was the project's aesthetic intended to resonate with the utopianism that abounded at the time?

MH Suuronen had a very functional approach to the project. For him, Futuro was a functional solution to a practical problem of how to build the best possible ski cabin. Suuronen emphatically denies that the Futuro was inspired by futuristic utopian visions of the late 1960s space-age architecture and mobile homes. He insists that the design is based purely on mathematics.

MT His idea was not to create a saucer-shape or a UFO. Rather, he started the project with calculations about making a house that would be very strong in windy and snowy conditions. That's why he came up with the oval shape. For Suuronin the choice was functional, not aesthetic at all. We can easily enjoy the crazy and bizarre shape, but for Suuronin it was simply a mathematical task. He was not a great architect or a visionary, but rather a mathematician who, by beautiful chance, was able to create this house.

The Futuro was never produced in large numbers. Was it a failure?

MH It was a commercial failure, but a cultural success. The 1973 oil crises took its toll by tripling the price of plastic, but I doubt that the Futuro would have succeeded even without the oil crises. It was simply too weird for the mass market. But from the 1990s onwards, it became an icon of space-age architecture and design.

MT The Futuro was not appreciated in a serious way by designers and architects. At the time, it was seen as trash. Maybe the idea of a house made of plastic on an assembly line was just too strange an idea. But then several things happened at the end of the 1990s. The Futuro house started getting more exposure, especially in the fine arts world. It was shown in galleries and museums as an art object. That's something really new and unexpected.

Are people interested in Futuro for reasons other than nostalgia and novelty?

MT For most people it's a nostalgia thing. It's something that you can remember your own childhood through. It reminds us of the 60s and the era of plastic. For younger generations, it's also a symbol of something outrageous. There have been several plans to recreate the Futuro, but that's not a good idea. It was a child of the late 60s, so why do it all over again?

MH For some it's just nostalgia and novelty. But for others it is a visionary house that challenged the mainstream notion of "good architecture" in the late 1960s.