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We were supposed to be living in pod houses

Introduced in the late ’60s, the Futuro house was shaped like a UFO, contained built-in shag carpet, and could be delivered by helicopter. Unbelievably, it never caught on.

retend it’s the ’60s and you’ve been tasked with building the house of the future. You might ask yourself, What’s the most futuristic thing imaginable? Space. Who lives in space? Aliens. What do their houses look like? Flying saucers. And so your prediction might look a lot like the Futuro house, a prefabricated plastic ellipsoid with porthole windows and a fold-down staircase that bears a striking resemblance to a child’s drawing of a UFO.

Finnish architect Matti Suuronen began work on the Futuro in 1965 after a friend commissioned him to build a ski cabin near Turenki, Finland that would be simple to construct and efficient to heat. A Finnish company called Polykem marketed his design as an affordable, portable vacation home for the postwar masses, and licensing rights were sold for the Futuro to be mass produced around the world. It stood approximately 13 feet high and 26 across, with one large room and a tiny bathroom, and sold for around $12,000 to $14,000 (about $84,000 to $105,000, adjusted for inflation).

Buyers could have it delivered via truck (in 16 segments) or helicopter (already assembled), furnished or not. Exact specifications varied slightly by region, but a 1970 Tampa Tribune article describes a “furnished model with shag rug, wall hugging curved sofa, hooded fireplace and dimmer controlled indirect lighting.” Suuronen’s design had its roots in “pure mathematics” (something to do with pi), not a utopian ideal, according to the writer Marko Home, who has co-produced a book and a documentary about the house. Still, the Futuro “perfectly captured the ideas of space-age architecture and design.”

“During the ’60s some architects began to question why buildings were still being constructed using the same old methods as decades before,” Home told me. “They proposed that architects could harness space-age technology and cater for new social trends such as people’s increased leisure time and mobility. They saw the home of the future as a dynamic, portable unit.”

The Futuro is hardly the only example of space-age architecture — there’s the octagonal Chemosphere, planted on a slope in the Hollywood Hills; Taiwan had Sanzhi Pod City, an abandoned town of “UFO houses”; Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome is immortalized as Spaceship Earth, the symbol of Disney’s Epcot — but its simplicity makes it one of the most striking. Relatively cheap and easily reproducible, the Futuro had the potential to become the Ikea of housing.

As you have probably noticed, this did not happen. According to the impressively thorough website The Futuro House, just 96 were built and 67 remain standing. It has become the kind of cult object that inspires Flickr Pro subscribers to take cross-country road trips. Futuros can be found on every continent except Antarctica (where there are two Futuro-looking houses called Googie Huts; they’re technically their own thing), and there’s one in Tampa Bay serves as a strip club’s VIP room. But outside of Finland and architecture forums, the design is largely unknown….[ ]

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