Architecture Magazine

The Futuro House Project - Information, Photos & Locations

By The Grumpy Old Limey @GrumpyOldLimey

The Futuro House AN ONGOING SPECIAL FEATURE - UPDATED 091111
More accurately called Futuro Houses these 20th Century prefabricated homes are often referred to as "UFO Houses". I first came across the Futuro House at the beginning of July 2011 right after I had started this website and the one in Royse City, TX, USA became the subject of one of my early articles. Since then I have been fascinated by the Futuro House and I have spent ...   [Image By Runder]


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... many an hour in front of my monitor and tapping on my keyboard researching and collecting all manner of information pertaining to Matti Suuronen's legacy. This "Futuro House Project" is my home for all things Futuro. It is a work in progress and my expectation is that it will be regularly updated as I uncover more information about the Futuro House.
I have made every effort to provide accurate and verified information and as at the date posted information is, to the best of my knowledge, accurate. In particular I have tried to be accurate about the locations of the Futuro Houses; more specifically I made every effort to find them in Google Earth and then to provide the satellite imagery date - clearly as at that date location information must be accurate. No doubt there will be changes; houses will have moved after that date; most likely some of my information will be inaccurate or lacking in detail. I would appreciate all the Futuro fans out there taking an active part in this project. If you can correct something, verify something, add some detail or history, add an image or add video please use the Futuro Contact Form below or email me - any assistance will be greatly appreciated and all contributions will receive full attribution.
Now immerse yourself in the fascinating world of the Futuro House.
GENESIS OF AN ARCHITECTURAL ICON

John F. kennedy
The human creative process is fascinating; there is an old saying that "necessity is the mother of invention". That may well be true but it seems to me that there are "muses" other than necessity that are just as likely to inspire creativity and new ideas. The Futuro House may well have come about because of the era in which it was born and it is entirely possible that it simply could not have ever seen the light of day had the initial idea, that spark of creativity that still fascinates so many of us decades later, come into being in a different era.
Apollo 11 Logo
The Futuro House was born of the 1960's. Being born in 1958 the limited recollection I have of those times is filtered through the eyes of a child but the internet is awash with information and remembrances of those times. Despite the ongoing Vietnam War the 60's was a vibrant time, a time of enthusiasm and a time fondly remembered by those who lived it. The nightmare of the Second World War, never forgotten by those who lived through it, was at least beginning it's long transition from "now" to "history". The Great Depression was a couple of decades in the past. It was the era of the hope, and then the ultimate tragedy, of John F. Kennedy and of the heyday of the American Civil Rights Movement and of the always remembered "I Have A Dream" speech by Martin Luther King, Jr. The 60's also saw, and perhaps could be said to have been dominated by, the "Space Race" and the never to be forgotten Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969. I still recall having goosebumps as Neil Armstrong spoke some of the most famous words ever uttered by man; "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
Woodstock Poster
In popular culture the '60's saw the "hippie" movement, "make love not war", Woodstock and The Beatles. Psychedelic Drugs were in vogue. The fashion world saw the Bikini become mainstream and Mary Quant give the women of the world [or is that the men?] the Mini Skirt. The world was living in an era of hope and plenty. The Postwar Economic Boom had a few years yet to run and with the inexorable technological progress of the times it looked like technology would be the answer to the world's problems.
So how does all of this equal Futuro. While the world was experiencing an economic boom it was not without problems; one was its growing population and the associated need for economically viable, easily produced and transportable housing. So, while the Futuro was initially conceived of as a ski cabin that would be “quick to heat and easy to construct in rough terrain” the times into which it was born ultimately caused it to morph into a relatively cheap, "production line" house that would be at least one part of the answer to the world's housing issues.
Thus was born the Futuro House    "Product For The 60's - Architectural Icon For The Ages"
CONCEPT, DESIGN, MANUFACTURING AND MARKETING
Futuro - Bed Chairs
As a product of 60's Finland the Futuro House was born of a society comfortable in the same euphoric times as the rest of the western world. A faith in technology and a strong economy that offered the hope of a higher standard of living and more leisure time typified the times. Finnish architect Matti Suuronen's initial idea was for a prefabricated ski-cabin and seemed very natural given the times. The cabin would be light and therefore easy to transport to remote locations, easy to construct once on site in unforgiving landscapes and efficient when it came to heating and retaining heat in very cold locations.
In order to meet the primary design criteria the main construction material chosen for the Futuro House was a fiberglass reinforced plastic. Derived from oil in a time when oil was cheap a plastic met all of the requirements; it was relatively cheap and easy to work with, it was light and it offered good insulating characteristics.
The Futuro House also featured polyurethane insulation and this combined with a powerful electric heating system allowed the house to be heated from -20° Fahrenheit to 60° Fahrenheit in only 30 minutes. Criteria met!
Futuro - Transparent Shelving
The Futuro House was manufactured in 16 prefabricated pieces. The pieces could be mass produced. The house could either be transported by helicopter pre-assembled or it could be assembled on site with little more work than simply bolting the 16 pieces together. Criteria met!
The assembled Futuro House would sit on a steel frame which in turn sat on four concrete piers. The only real onsite construction needed to site a Futuro House was laying the concrete piers. Given the simplicity of the onsite requirements the Futuro House could be situated in almost any terrain [see image above : source]. Criteria met!
The Futuro House, with an approximate diameter of 26 feet and an approximate height of 14 feet was completely furnished and supposedly could accommodate 8 people. To be honest I am not sure I know 8 people I would want to cozy up to quite so much but maybe I am just anti-social - check out the image of the "bed/chairs" a little further down the page and see what you think - it sure does not look like you would have a whole lot of privacy unless you were one of the lucky ones and had the bedroom. The floor plan featured accommodations around a central space to which living and dining areas were open and the very center featured a fireplace and hood. The entry staircase was retractable which helped with insulation and heat retention as well as adding to the "spaceship" like aura of the house. The house also featured many "space age" features [probably very retro now] including light switches installed in the chair/bed armrests and transparent shelving. The image below shows a little marketing "blurb" along with a typical floor plan.
Futuro Brochure

Source: Carly & Art
Without a doubt the best views of the Futuro House as it would have been right out of manufacturing are afforded by the detailed and clearly very painstaking restoration of the prototype Futuro House for an exhibition currently running [May to October 2011] at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, Netherlands. A video providing some Futuro facts and history along with some footage of the restoration project can be found on boijmans.nl [Dutch narration]. Happy Famous Artists took a wonderful set of photos at the exhibition and then saw fit to host them on Flickr under a creative commons license - I sincerely thank the photographer for doing so. That collection of images is worthy of a page of its own which you can access here.
Perhaps the best and most complete doumented resource available on the design and structure of the Futuro House is the document "Futuro no. 001 : Documentation and evaluation of preservation need". Written as her final thesis for the Metropolia University of Applied Sciences in Finland Anna-Maija Kuitunen authored a document with great detail on specifications, materials, construction methods and so on. In addition the document includes a large number of plans and images of the interior of the Futuro house. This thesis is freely available online here.
Futuro - Bed Chairs
You could say that the design was perfect for its intended purpose. In fact perhaps it was too perfect. In a world clamoring for cheap, easily manufactured housing it suddenly became perceived as meeting the needs of another, much greater, market. Housing for the common man.
An excerpt from a February 1970 copy of Architecture D’Aujourd’Hui describes “Futuro” as:
"the first model in a series of holiday homes to be licensed in 50 countries, already mass-produced in the United States, Australia and Belgium. The segments of the elliptic envelope are assembled on the site using a metal footing. Through its shape and materials used, the house can be erected in very cold mountains or even by the sea. The area is 50 sq m, the volume 140 cubic m, divided by adaptable partitions."
Source: Wikipedia's Page On The Futuro House

Futuro - Fireplace
Examples [here, here and here] of marketing materials from the period of manufacturing clearly show the product targeted at a much broader market then the "ski cabin crowd". How did they do? Perhaps not too well; however while some possibly suspect and cheesy marketing [and maybe that assessment is tainted by a 21st century perspective] may have contributed to the Futuro becoming a relatively rare architectural oddity rather than a feature of every street corner it actually ran into much bigger problems than the power of its marketing. The first video below will let you be the judge of at least one example of Futuro marketing and as a bonus it will give another glimpse of how the interior looked.
The Futuro was not the only modular manufactured house designed by Matti Suuronen; there was also the Venturo [Venturo Brochure]. The second video showcases a Venturo followed by a Futuro. If you can get past the Whitney Houston soundtrack it is some interesting footage. The Futuro footage starts at around a minute forty and showcases one of the customizable features of a Futuro; the standard Futuro had a single row of oval windows circling the structure but it was possible to have additional windows added below the standard row as seen in this example.

Estimates of how many Futuro Houses were manufactured vary with the most common number seeming to be something around 100 and the Futuro house was still, pardon the pun, finding its legs when the calendar hit 1973 and that years Oil Crisis. The almost immediate tripling of the cost of oil caused an almost immediate tripling of the manufacturing cost of a Futuro House. The once bright and powerful business model for Futuro became almost unworkable overnight and with that the future for Futuro tanked. With the radical change in manufacturing cost dooming the Futuro manufacturing continued for only a short time before ceasing for good. Criteria no longer met!
Thus the Futuro House became only an    "Architectural Icon For The Ages"
Interior Images Source: Anna-Maija Kuitunen
SO JUST HOW DID THEY GET TO WHERE THEY WERE GOING?
Futuro - Helicopter Transport
Given the [original at least] perceived main use of the Futuro as a "ski cabin" one of the primary design considerations was ease of transport. By its very nature skiing tends to take place in more rugged and sometimes difficult to access, terrain; I do not ski but I figure skiing on a flat plain would likely not be the best skiing. The choice of materials made the Futuro relatively light and it's construction in 16 pieces made it more convenient for transport.
Primarily there were two methods of transport available. A Futuro could be transported in 16 pieces by road and then assembled on site [or presumably rail though I have been able to find no evidence of this to date] or it could be air lifted by helicopter. Though not specifically advertised as far as I can tell during the early [manufacturing] days a Futuro could also be transported by road fully assembled. Though its size makes this a monumental undertaking even over relatively short distances modern examples of this mode of transport exist and some are well documented.
The image top right illustrates a Futuro being transported using a helicopter - a Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane [source: "Futuro no. 001 : Documentation and evaluation of preservation need"] and the document futurohousecanadadoc.pdf found on futurohouse.com includes the image to the left of such an event. The document also includes the following narration originally from the Montreal Gazette of July 11th 1972:
Futuro - Helo Transport - Chinook
"Woodbridge, New Jersey - An S-64 Skycrane, built by the Sikorsky division of United Aircraft Corporation, Stratford, Conn., recently airlifted a (FUTURO) Bank Branch Unit and placed it on its site in the main parking area of the Woodbridge Shopping Center here. The unique structure owned by the City Federal Savings and Loan Association is called a "space Bank". It is a factory built spheroid 26' in diameter, 12' feet high, containing 5,000 cubic feet and weighing 13,500 pounds. * It was flown and placed with interior appointments including carpeting, teller counters, cabinets and seating. Electrical and telephone connections were made immediately and the bank was opened for business 30 minutes after it was lowered from the sky.
* Including the weight of the safe and other banking equipment.
"
I had thought that the video below was of the same transport event but looking at the photo and the video the helicopters are clearly different; in the photo there is a twin rotor craft [appears to be a Boeing CH-47 Chinook to me] and in the video a single rotor craft [which I believe is an S-64 Skycrane as mentioned in the text accompanying the photo]. There appear to be a couple of possible scenarios; there were two "space bank" transport events and the image in the document was incorrectly associated with the Woodbridge Shopping Center "space bank" or there was a single event and again the image used in the document was of another transport not associated with the "space bank" transport. Further research is needed here and I will update as and when I have clarification.

I have been unable to locate any images or videos of road transport from the early days but there are well documented cases from more recent times.
Futuro - On The Road
In December 2004 Futuro owner Milford Donaldson oversaw the move of his "baby" from San Diego to a rocky Idyllwild mountain top in the San Jacinto Mountains of California. Donaldson had purchased the Futuro that had been located in Hillcrest Canyon, San Diego since 1977 in 2002 and after, being at a temporary location for refurbishment, it was making the move to what Donaldson hoped would be its final home.
Considering the Futuro had ease of transportation as one of its primary design considerations the five hour journey was perhaps a little more complex than one might have imagined. Preparing for the trip involved months of extensive planning. A passable route had to be devised; not too difficult on the freeway portion of the journey maybe but once up in the mountains there were sections where clearance dropped to inches and trees had to be trimmed to allow the Futuro through. There was the flatbed to arrange, pilot cars to arrange, highway patrol escorts to arrange and permits to obtain.
Luckily for Donaldson a good friend of his was in the moving business. Larry Wood was the owner of San Diego Boat Movers and it was his company that, ever so carefully, transported the Futuro. Wood was quoted as saying:
"We've moved a lot of strange things, but that's the first flying saucer house we've ever moved."
All in all it was a seriously significant undertaking. A SignOnSanDiego.com article dated January 2nd 2005 perhaps sums up most aptly the kind of challenge the movers faced:
Futuro - Flatbed
"And in downtown Idyllwild, the entire crew held its breath while more measurements were taken before the Futuro – which measures 26 feet wide – headed for its tightest squeeze: Only 4 inches to spare, ideally 2 on each side, between hefty trees that hug the road. Driver Larry Wood cleared it on the first try."
An image of the Futuro on the road is above left [source: JoelInSouthernCA]. You can see clearly the Futuro overhanging both sides of the roadway and the vehicles that had to pull completely off the road to get out of the way. The image to the right is from the moving company's website, San Diego Boat Movers, and shows the Furturo on the flatbed before being wrapped in its protective "blanket".
More recently the cost of moving his Futuro is proving possibly too prohibitive for one Futuro owner. Matt Damon owns the Greenwich, New Jersey Futuro; a PressOfAtlanticCity article from December 2009 reports as follows regarding the liklihood of the Futuro being moved:
"Damon plans to live in the Futuro at the marina or on a lot nearby, as the cost to transport the house is infeasible. Often, helicopters were used to carry Futuros to their destinations, but Damon estimates it would cost him about $100 per mile to do so.
The permitting and costs required to put the saucer-shaped house on a flatbed and drive it up to Damon's home in Tuckahoe, N.Y., also would be unrealistic, he said. Being at the marina, however, Damon said - if he guesses right and the Futuro is the next hot thing - the house can be put on a barge and sent all around the world.
"
So Futuro's clearly got moved somehow and that begs the question "where are they now?"
Oh and one final video for this section - a little tongue in cheek actually. This video made the rounds a while ago; it is not about Futuro but it does feature Futuro in a comparison to another video touted by some as a "real" UFO being moved - I have my opinion and I will leave you to yours.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
The following is [or more accurately right now "will be" since I have about 25 more to add and additional information to add to the current locations listed] a list of all of the existing Futuro Houses I have been able to identify; I am sure it is a far from complete list. Click the links for more specific information, photos, videos and maps. I am always looking for additional photographs, videos and more detailed information so if you have anything you would like to have me add [with full attribution of course] please use the Futuro Contact Form below or email me.
I have made every effort to provide accurate location data. A "Confirmed" date is the later of either:

  • The date of satellite imagery in Google Earth showing the Futuro at the location
  • The date of capture of an image of the Futuro annotated as being at the location

In the absence of either of those dates being available the date the location information was added or updated is shown as that is the latest information I have. It is entirely possible that any given Futuro has been moved since the date provided and is no longer at the listed location. If you have information regarding such a move I would greatly appreciate it if you would let me know by using the Futuro Contact Form below or emailing me.
Address information is also the most accurate I am able to provide. An address which is not listed as "approximate" is correct as verified by Google Maps. That means a search in Google Maps using the address provided will return the Futuro; it does not mean that the address is the correct postal address - it may be and it may not. An address indicated as "approximate" means a Google Maps search will return the approximate location of the Futuro. Again I would appreciate any information you might have that can help me either correct inaccurate information or improve approximate information.

  1. * Australia - 8 Hawdon Street, Dickson, ACT, 2602 | Added 090711
  2. Netherlands - Restored Prototype 001 On Museum Display, Rotterdam | Confirmed 052811
  3. * USA - Eagles Crest Rd, Lewes, DE 19958 [Approximate] | Added 090811
  4. * USA - 1304 Panferio Dr, Gulf Breeze, FL 32561 | Added 090811
  5. * USA - 2309 N Dale Mabry Hwy, Tampa, FL 33607 | Added 090811
  6. * USA - 224 Wright Street, Covington, KY 41011 | Added 090811
  7. USA - 390 Hancock Harbor Road, Greenwich, NJ 08323 [Approximate] | Confirmed 071111
  8. * USA - 310 Beverly Rancocas Rd, Willingboro, NJ 08046 [Approximate] | Added 090811
  9. * USA - 52256 N Carolina 12, Buxton, NC 27920 Approximate] | Added 090811
  10. * USA - 9961 Central Ave, Carlisle, OH 45005 | Added 090811
  11. * USA - 173 S Munson Rd, Royse City, TX 75189 - Approximate | Added 090811

Click here for a Google Map of all locations
* Update Pending
RESOURCES - WEB, MEDIA, VIDEO, PRINT
Note that this is a general list of available resources not a list of sources used in the creation of this article and it's associated pages; a list of general sources used can be found at the bottom of this page. Each specific Futuro House page contains a list of sources relating to that specific location.
ACADEMIC

  • "Futuro no. 001 : Documentation and evaluation of preservation need"

DOCUMENTS

  • futurohousecanadadoc.pdf on futurohouse.com

ONLINE - GENERAL

  • FuturoHouse.com - An Extensive Source Of All Things Futuro
  • Wikipedia's Page On The Futuro House

ONLINE - MEDIA

  • PressOfAtlanticCity [Greenwich Futuro]
  • SignOnSanDiego.com [Idyllwild Futuro]


FUTURO CONTACT FORM
Please use this form to suggest additional sites or information, corrections or updates to existing data or for questions regarding image or media attribution - basically anything Futuro. If you provide your email address it will be used to respond to your submission only and then deleted unless you check yes to be added to the mailing list. In that case your email will be used for that one purpose and the only emails you will receive will be advising you that updates to the "Project" have taken place. As with most things this site will improve only if it's readers provide feedback indicating what I can do to make it serve their needs better and I encourage and look forward to all feedback be it positive or negative.
I would also encourage the use of the comment form below for general comments and discussion that all Futuro aficionados can take part. There is a great deal of factual information here but there are also opinions - how the Futuro came about - success or failure and so on - and lively debate about opinions is what keeps the world, and in particular the web, a tickin'.




Sources Used In Creating This Project

  • "Futuro no. 001 : Documentation and evaluation of preservation need"
  • futurohousecanadadoc.pdf on futurohouse.com
  • FuturoHouse.com
  • PressOfAtlanticCity
  • SignOnSanDiego.com
  • Wikipedia

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