The meeting of product design and architecture is always something close to our hearts here at Viewport HQ. It’s what we do, whether we are designing cabins for Virgin Atlantic or a product installation for Space Furniture in Singapore. Back in that golden age of the future called the 1960s, a Finnish architect Matti Suuronen created a piece of domestic architecture that was all product design: the Futuro House.
Originally conceived as a ski lodge, it’s a perfect ellipse with matching port holes that sits on a blown up fondue stand (without the bunsen burner natch) and a set of aircraft steps that fold down. When they were first built they cost the same price as a three bed London semi which was pricey enough, but then the oil price shocks that followed in the early 70s pushed up the material costs – the unit is made of fiberglass-reinforced polyester plastic – and nearly tripled the price which choked off the demand for these static flying saucers and the last one was built in Finland in 1978.
Fewer than 100 were made, although it was licensed for production to 25 countries. Mostly they can be found in the US (one as the private room of a Florida strip club), but are as far afield as Taiwan and New Zealand, in varying states of repair and use. A US-based geek (and I mean that kindly of course) Simon Robson, has put all this information together in a comprehensive website with a handy map of their global locations. One of them has recently come to land on top of Matt’s Gallery in East London and is the only one in the UK, since one last appeared on a barge on the Thames in 1968 as part of the FinnFuture Trade exhibition.
So we at Viewport are a bit late off the starting block here – it arrived there last year for an exhibition which finished in December. But we caught up with Craig Barnes, the artist behind the restoration of this 1972 model for a chat and a tour. Mostly we thought that things had not turned out quite as planned from the days when this Futuro House was first designed – we don’t all wear synthetic one pieces, swallow tablets for breakfast, and get to work with a jet pack strapped to our back. Instead we got phone apps and global warming, with a reheated cold war thrown in. But this house was part of a long held dream for Craig – he first saw it while on holiday in South Africa at the age of three. He kept going back to take a look and then at some point decided he just had to have it. Despite the then owners’ initial reluctance, Craig eventually managed to persuade them to sell. And so began the long journey of bringing it back to the UK and its long and sometimes tortuous careful restoration. Still then then what do you do with it? Well first off he put the house on the roof of Matt’s Gallery in Mile End as a “Centre for Remote Possibilities” to be a space for talks, screenings and discussions. On the day I was there a magazine turned up to look at the possibility of a fashion shoot. I am sure if you had an idea for the space, Craig would be keen to hear from you. And try and grab a look at it while it’s still in east London- it’s a reminder from when the future was bright.