Home Futures: Living in Yesterday’s Tomorrow
Eszter Steierhoffer, Justin McGuirk (Editors)
The Design Museum, April 2019
Paperback | 6-3/4 x 9-1/2 inches | 308 pages | 260 illustrations | English | ISBN: 978-1872005423 | $49.95
The “home of the future” has long been a topic of fascination in popular culture and an intriguing prospect for designers, and the 20th century offered up countless visions of the future of domestic life, from the aspirational to the radical. Whether it was the dream of the fully mechanized home or the notion that technology might free us from the home altogether, the domestic realm was a site of endless invention and speculation.
But what happened to those visions? Are the smart homes of today and patterns of use in the sharing economy the future that architects and designers once predicted, or has the “home” proved resistant to radical change?
Home Futures: Living in Yesterday’s Tomorrow explores different approaches to reinventing domestic life, tracing the social and technological developments that have driven change in the home. The first comprehensive survey of the 20th century’s aspirational, radical and futuristic visions of the home, this richly illustrated publication showcases a range of ideas and plans for the future—from the prescient to the fantastical—that designers produced as they imagined new ways of living at home and on the move, independently and collectively, with more and with less.
I’m surely not alone in finding great value in catalogs to exhibitions I’ve seen in person. They serve as mementos of visits — visits that are often too short and therefore benefit from the prolonged intake afforded by books. Furthermore, most catalogs have additional scholarship in the form of essays that expand upon the themes developed by curators and explored by the contributing artists or architects. Visually, the plates of most catalogs combine with my photos of the installations to keep exhibitions fresh in my memory for a long time. But when it comes to exhibitions I missed, that I wasn’t able to travel to and that didn’t travel to my part of the world, that’s a different story. I find the omission of installation photos — a necessary omission considering that catalogs should be done when an exhibition opens — detrimental to fully understanding an exhibition. Without moving through a space to look at displays and therefore orient myself to their contents through the actions of my body, such exhibitions and catalogs are only partial at best.
These thoughts come to mind in regards to Home Futures, which was on display at the Design Museum in London earlier this year and was in turn inspired by MoMA’s Italy: The New Domestic Landscape from 1972. I missed both shows (the earlier one because I wasn’t born yet) so can only try to understand them through their catalogs and from reviews of the exhibitions. Home Futures, done in collaboration with the IKEA Museum, is a visual feast of future-minded living, much of it from the era of the earlier MoMA show. Presented in six easy-to-digest chapters paralleling the structure of the exhibition (or so I read, on a website with photos of the show) — e.g. “Living with others” and “Living autonomously” — the book is loaded with examples of future visions unfulfilled. This is not a book of failures; rather it explores unexpected outcomes, by presenting, for instance, a still from The Jetsons, in which the robot-maid is cleaning up after George Jetson, opposite the Roomba. Not all dots are so easy to connect, but the hundreds of images allow for just as many interpretations on the part of readers. Interspersed among the many images spread across six chapters are short, one-page “What happened to…” essays, while longer essays come at the back of the book, including one by Jing Liu of SO-IL, who designed the exhibition at the Design Museum. Presented across a Supersurface-like gridded graphic design (complete with transparent wrapper), the images and texts add up to a cohesive, intriguing document that makes me wish I was in London before the exhibition wrapped up in March.
Eszter Steierhoffer is Senior Curator at the Design Museum and editor, among other books, of Imagine Moscow: Architecture, Propaganda, Revolution. Justin McGuirk is a writer and Chief Curator at the Design Museum, formerly the design columnist for the Guardian, and editor of Icon magazine.