Not 15 years before or 10 years after, but precisely in 1968, when optimism for the human race was at its peak, and when the price of plastic was at is lowest, it happened: Matti suuronen, the Finnish architect, built his first family holiday cottage made out of plastic. The prototype, 11 feet high and 23 feet wide, was named Futuro. The material used was a mixture of reinforced fibreglass and polyester plastic that was maintenance-free, easy to heat and non-degradable. American advertisements for the houses from that time show them with plastic chimneys, plastic furniture and plastic dividing walls. The adverts also showed the houses being transported by helicopter, a service that it was believed would be simple to provide as soon as army helicopter squadrons returned from vietnam.
The houses were supplied in 16 parts, making it simple for buyers to assemble them themselves. The idea of living in a uFo-like mobile tupperware house with a plastic chimney could be viewed today as an avant-garde curiosity in the field of domestic furnishing from the late 1960s. However, Futuro was actually a serious utopian project, an attempt to mass-produce cheap housing for everyone using a material which – at that time – was considered to be much better than concrete. Not only was it cheaper, but it was also stronger and – as mentioned previously – maintenance-free. There are drawings of apartment buildings featuring multiple storeys of elliptical plastic homes placed one on top of the other, and sketches of projects that were not quite as ambitious: Futuro petrol stations and Futuro kindergartens. The licence for the houses was sold to 24 countries, including the united states, Japan, israel and the Lebanon, and the commercial market contributed to hyping the product. For example, Playboy magazine presented a series of pictures entitled “Portable Playhouse” and showing Futuro as the perfect bachelor pad. In London, the house was transported to the middle of the river thames in 1968 so that it could be seen from everywhere. Those who help mould public opinion were quick to praise Futuro. For example: After the preliminary tests it will probably be possible to use plastic even for apartment buildings. But plastic houses were primarily designed for holiday use, and hundreds of millions will have more and more leisure time in the 1980s. (Professor rudolph doemach at the Lüdenscheide Plastic House Fair in 1971)
So there were both technical experts and commercial interests to drive the project forward. so why did it never take off? Most analysts highlight the oil crisis of 1973, one of whose results was to make plastic a very expensive commodity. Before the crisis, a plastic house was available for around usd 14,000, a price predicted to plummet once the model entered mass production. In the years following 1973, however, a house made of plastic would cost a king’s ransom. another possible explanation for the death of this futuristic utopian project is that the belief in the future as an age without problems – a “new era” or a “space age” where people were no longer wage slaves, but people of leisure and conquerors of the universe – was no longer as strong. and belief in an unbeatable, man-made technology, which plastic so neatly represented, was replaced by a more disconcerting sense that the human race had still to reach its highest stage of development, and that threats still existed from nature, from space, from economic conditions or from other nations. Today, there are around 60 Futuro houses left in the world – in new Zealand, texas and Finland, for example. A team of Finnish researchers from the electronic Library of the universities of applied science has recently published a restoration plan for these houses, which are considered to be one of the most important pieces of evidence of a collective optimism that found expression in 1968 through music, poetry – and plastic.