The 1957 Monsanto House of the Future was an attraction in Disneyland's Tomorrowland meant to give vistors a vision of what homes would be like in the year 1986 .
In 1954, Monsanto Chemical Co. approached MIT with the proposal to develop a prototype house built of structural plastic, an industry the company hoped to cultivate. Richard Hamilton and Marvin Goody of the Department of Architecture worked alongside Albert Dietz of the Department of Building Engineering and Construction to design the house, initially for no specific location. After Disneyland opened in 1955 with only two attractions in its Tomorrowland theme area, Monsanto agreed to sponsor the building as an attraction at the theme park.
The attraction was a cross-shaped pavilion whose 16' square, 8' tall fiberglass wings cantilevered off a 16' square concrete foundation and utility core. Each wing consisted of a floor and ceiling bent together in a 'U' and sealed on the walls with glass. The interior was decorated in the manner of a residence with objects and systems which were imagined to become commonplace, such as microwaves and push-button telephones. Visitors toured the home in a procession, entering into the kitchen and touring the exhibit is a circuit.
Six months in 1957
Tomorrowland was an original themed precinct within Disneyland when it opened in 1955, however there were only two attractions there on opening day: Autopia and Space Station X-1. Monsanto's House of the Future joined the attractions sponsored by other corporations such as American Motors Circarama (a projected video tour of the American West).
Monsanto's House was designed to be innovative, to intentionally push the limits of technology and aesthetics with the hopes of serving as a prototype. As a project of the Monsanto Plastics Department, it was also a ploy to popularize their industry. Hamilton, Goody, and Dietz of MIT tried to utilize the capabilities of fiberglass to design a different, new kind of structural system.
The trio developed a frame based on four identical U-shaped wings, each broken into two pair of curvilinear 'L's (the longer arms of which compose the ceiling and floor). This modularity would allow for facility of production and distribution on a large scale, which was ultimately, Monsanto's impetus for the project. The structural use of fiberglass was innovative, and its performance was unknown, so Dietz subjected a prototype to extensive testing at the MIT Plastics Research Laboratory before it was installed at Disneyland. Of primary concern was expansion/contraction at differently exposed areas of the structure causing sudden material failure. Ultimately, ten layers of fiberglass mat (3/10") composed each unit, and the roof elements were tied together with steel tension rods. A layer of urethane foam and honeycomb kraft paper shaped the interior surfaces. The result left the two nonstructural 'walls' of each wing free for glass or opaque siding. Interior partitions separated the space into its various rooms. Most notably, those room requiring plumbing (kitchen, bathrooms) were over the center core.
Disneyland spent two weeks attempting to demolish the Monsanto House in 1967 as part of a redesign of Tomorrrowland. Wrecking balls bounced off the walls, and the Park was forced to scrape the plastic into pieces sizeable enough to haul away.
"Plastics," Mr. McGuire's one word for Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate (1967), promised to advance modernization as a new and unexplored medium of design and engineering. While the material has indeed become ubiquitous, it is not in the way Monsanto anticipated in the 1950s when it commissioned the House of the Future. A year after opening the attraction, the company published in Architecture and Building News an especially pointed appeal to the Modern architect: "It is expected that in the future, because of plastics' versatility, the shape of correctly designed structures can be a function of their use rather than of the form of the materials from which they are constructed" (v.212, p.478).
The most difficult issue Disneyland faced with Tomorrowland was to keep up with changing conceptions of the future. Monsanto had to update its exhibit in the House twice in ten years in order to appear current. The curvilinear aesthetic had more in common with California Googie style modernism than international style modernism. Googie had been popularized in roadside service buildings - gas stations, restaurants, and even airports - but it was innovative to employ it in a house. It seemed appropriate, on the other hand, for an attraction at a theme park in Southern California.
Monsanto's House of the future was simultaneously at home and out of place at Disneyland. As an attempt to transcend the modernist movement, it created somewhat of a caricature of modernism, not unlike how Sleeping Beauty's Castle relates to its European precedents. Hamilton, Goody, and Dietz sought to divest this ultra-Modern house from every reliance on conventional motifs, but with the expressed intention of doing so and especially by locating it alongside theme park attractions, the House turned its future of Modernism into Science Fiction. Visitors fresh off the Matterhorn roller-coaster (around the corner) wandered through Monsanto's House with the instruction to experience their futures. Ironically the functionalism so fundamental to the design of the House was completely absent, replaced instead with a programmatic interpretation such as those found in historic house museums. Nobody over twelve wanted to live in Monsanto's House of the Future anymore than they wanted to live in the Haunted Mansion.
The house was demolished in 1967. The foundation of the house remains in its original location, now painted green and used as a planter.
Alan Hess. "Monsanto House of the Future." Fine Homebuilding 34 (1986): 70-75.
Robert Haddow. "House of the Future of House of the Past: Populist Visions from the USA." Architecture and Ideas 1 (1996): 68-79.
"Monsanto Plastics 'House of the Future'." Architecture and Building News 212 (1957): 478-485.