New Design Museum exhibition ‘Home Futures’ asks, 'What happened to the future?'
A new exhibition at the Design Museum, Home Futures, presents visions of domestic futures from 20th-century architects and designers – from the Smithsons to Sottsass – against contemporary objects we fill our homes with. The question is, are we living as once predicted?
Organised around six thematic pillars, including ‘living with less’, ‘living autonomously’ and ‘living smart’, the exhibition invites consideration about how the driving ideas behind works like Italian industrial designer Joe Colombo’s 1972 ‘Total Furnishing Unit’ – a single piece of furniture intended to fulfil every domestic need – have played out in the 21st century.
As we grow accustomed to the technology that pervades our homes, as architects and designers have to conjure solutions to the challenges of spatial deficits in the world’s cities and even the idea of our homes as being private spaces is called into question, now, the exhibition claims, is a timely juncture to assess such concepts.
At points the exhibition presents the relationship between the past and present ambiguously, other times, like when a 1950s Honeywell thermostat is displayed next to a contemporary one that is able to tell when its owner is home and learn the temperature they like, the trajectory is starker.
But, interestingly, Home Futures does a good job of questioning to what end all the technological advances in the domestic environment have been for. This is evident in the fact that, despite supposedly labour-saving appliances aiding our domestic chores, we still spend the same amount of time on housework as we did 50 years ago.
‘One of the underlying ideas in relation to mechanisation of the home has been that it would liberate us. Most people in the 20th century thought that work would slowly disappear because we’d be freed-up by technology,’ says Eszter Steierhoffer, the show’s curator.
‘It’s still something we’re thinking about with regard to artificial intelligence. But, I’m not sure how much I can believe in it. We’re actually working more than ever more, and we have to ask if we have labour-saving devices so we can spend more time at work.’
Of course, as our ‘My Modern House’ series is evidence of, we all have different relationships with our home, so it is impossible to define one universal domestic experience. ‘It’s very subjective,’ says Steierhoffer, ‘it’s different for everyone but I think it’s important for people to be able to define what home means to them because the home represents our dreams.’