Finland’s plastic home of the future turns 50

The Futuro House is an enduring space oddity that aimed for the stars, as the 1960s imagined a bright new millennium.

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When a Futuro House was put on display in the middle of Helsinki’s Stockmann department store in 1969 for a month, more than 50,000 people came to see it.

In the late 1960s the world was looking to the stars, as America planned manned missions to the moon. The age of space travel inspired new design, new products and new ways of imagining how we might live in the next millennium.

Amid these bright visions of the near future, a space oddity from Finland captured the zeitgeist.

A blue Futuro House in Baltimore, USA, 1971 / Credit: WMAR-TV

Bringing Futuro to life

Espoo architect Matti Suuronen was given a challenge by a school friend to design a ski chalet, and it took the Espoo architect three years of trial error and invention to come up with his iconic futuristic egg-shaped cabin.

At just 24 square metres inside it was certainly compact. The kitchen was tiny. The first version had a toilet and sink but no shower, which would only come with an updated design the following year. But in 1968 the Futuro House was born.

“At that time plastic was considered the material of the future” explains Futuro House historian Marko Home.

The original interior of the capsule can best be seen in the lovingly-restored Futuro which has landed behind WeeGee at the Espoo Museum of Modern Art EMMA.

The moulded plastic chaises longues arranged around a central fireplace converted to beds for night time, but the design was too radical for foreign markets.

“In USA, Australia and New Zealand there were companies there that licensed the manufacturing rights for the Futuro, but they changed the interior. They built a bigger L-shaped kitchen which was quite reasonable because the original kitchen was quite tiny, but they didn’t include the futuristic-looking sofa beds. They left them out and just the interior was made of regular tables and chairs” Home tells News Now Finland.

The yellow Futuro 001 at WeeGee in Espoo / Credit: News Now Finland

Rescuing Futuro 001

The WeeGee Futuro was the first one to roll off the production line at a factory in Vantaa,  following Matti Suuronen’s prototype.

It was bought by a popular actor and entertainer Matti Kuusla who starred in many films and television shows of that era.

Kuusla – who died just a few days ago aged 85 – took the Futuro to Hirvensalmi near Mikkeli, and set it up on the side of a lake.

Over the years however it fell into disrepair, as Kuusla visited less often, and curious sightseers broke in and left the door open, exposing the yellow Futuro to the elements.

In 2011 the Futuro was rescued, and brought from Hirvensalmi for months of refurbishment. The wood trim and fabric inside had rotted away, and some of the plastic was damaged so replacement panels had to be made.

When the Futuro was put on display at the museum in 2012, the original architect Matti Suuronen, and the original owner Matti Kuusla both came to see it. Suuronen died the following year.

The end of the future

The futuristic world promised by the Futuro House – where by the year 2000 it was imagined helicopters would become as common as cars, and families could pick up their Futuro and transport them to a different location every weekend – came crashing down in 1973.

The oil crisis of the early 1970s pushed up the price of plastic products, and the cost of a Futuro home skyrocketed.

“There was an oil crisis which tripled the price of plastic which made the Futuro House even more expensive to the general public. Right from the beginning it was too expensive and too peculiar for mass market but it was thought that once they get the production going the price will go down and it will become more affordable, but that never happened” says historian Marko Home.

These days there are fewer than 70 Futuro Houses still in existence. Many are dilapidated although vital restoration work has been taking place to preserve those that remain. They’re scattered as far apart as Sweden – where the Swedish Air Force used them on top of plinths as lookout posts at air bases – to Taiwan, USA, New Zealand, Australia, Japan and Russia.