Homes and Future

What Our Houses Will Look Like in 50 Years?

In the early 1960s, the technicolored animated series, The Jetsons, was first broadcast on American TV. The futuristic family and their space age home were a huge success and formed part of a generational shift based on a growing curiosity for labor-saving possibilities that brought ease to the domestic domain. Just after the Soviets had launched Sputnik and Yuri Gagarin into space, and while the USA began the Apollo Space Program, The Jetsons, equipped with hover-vehicles, robotic assistants and ultramodern homes, captured the imagination of the generation, and helped fuel the era’s growing curiosity in the future. The optimism and affluence of the ‘60s was coupled by the advent of the modern teenager; as the baby boomer generation grew up, they wanted change, individualism and more leisure time, providing a market for further domestic innovation inspired through curiosity. Today, although the ‘60s vision hasn’t yet materialized, household developments during the past few decades, driven by a fervent curiosity for making the future a better place, have revolutionized our homes, allowing us more time for work, leisure and entertainment. Yet can our curiosity for home improvement get the better of us – what is the cost of our increased reliance on technology and will we lose many of the skills we use in day-to-day life? Will we spend less time with other people, including our own family, due to our home- and technology orientated lives, leading to social and psychological problems? Will our curiosity in domestic ease and convenience ultimately impair our social skills, which have defined us as a species? To alleviate these concerns, architects and designers have intertwined their curiosity for time-saving devices and home improvement with their creative and innovative ideas to ensure future living is both practical and comfortable, and also integrated with the wider community and beyond. 

   An illustration of someone using a tablet to monitor how much energy the household uses    An illustration of someone using a tablet to monitor how much energy the household uses

Changing Trends

Our curiosity for home improvement has brought us and our domestic lifestyles a long way. Until the 1950s, the home was typically a place for sleeping and eating. Housework and raising the family was the woman’s role, while men were the breadwinners. Women, for example, worked long hours washing and ironing clothes, preparing meals, and ensuring the household was shipshape. Yet by the mid-‘50s, timesaving appliances were developed from new innovations, all fueled by a growing curiosity for ease and convenience; changes that ultimately freed up time for women. Automatic washing machines, for instance, washed a load of laundry in an hour or two, replacing washboards and mangles that demanded many hours of backbreaking work. During the 1960s and ‘70s, the focus of society started to shift from the community to the home, due to the burgeoning curiosity for time-saving and domestic convenience, leading to the development of novel kitchen appliances and entertainment systems that redefined the home. Today, the drivers for home comfort are greater than ever, allowing our curiosity in domestic innovation to enter the realm of artificial intelligence – the next step in modernizing our homes. Yet could these new developments be at the detriment to our social lives, our individuality, and even to our general curiosity in innovation and the world around us?

We could be mistaken for thinking contemporary home designers strive to create customized homes built around central computer systems and sensor networks, cameras and motion detectors, all controlled by the home owner to draw curtains, water plants and regulate room temperatures. However, for artificial intelligence systems and robots to function within our homes, we need pre-designed buildings and interiors so that the artificial intelligence can be programmed to do set tasks. In other words, kitchen ingredients will have to be stored in containers of specific shape, size and color and located in certain positions so that robots can locate them to complete programmed functions. In the same way that mass-produced, factory-made furnishings and appliances can make the interiors of our modern homes look similar, the designs of our future homes could also become mass produced configurations, catering for the needs of robots rather than the aesthetic needs of humans, despite the personal wishes for individuality.

Views of the Future

Concerned that future designers will lose their curiosity in designing individual homes that are aesthetically pleasing, labor-saving and compatible with the demands of artificial intelligence, architects are starting to design homes that reconnect humanity with the outside world. There are also concerns that technology will dismantle the basic structure of society and the family unit; future populations of individuals that rely on social media and the internet rather than in the real world. Such concerns prompted a team of Japanese architects to reconnect our homes with the wider world, by blending rural and urban environments, recycled materials, self-sufficiency, cohabitation and green spaces with the mod cons contemporary living, the family, and the wider community. Known as Co-Dividual, the Japanese vision considers the home to be an intersection between the city and the countryside. In addition, the Japanese team have also allowed their curiosity in sustainability to ensure Co-Dividual provides solutions for a range of contemporary issues, including energy usage, aging societies and environmental awareness. 

As demonstrated by the psychologist Todd Kashdan, scientific evidence reveals that having regular social interactions with other people – and retaining a curiosity in the wider world – is a key factor for maintaining happiness, health and even human longevity. Social media and other forms of telecommunication do bring people together, although often at the cost to conventional face-to-face interactions. To ensure that future generations incorporate technology into the modern home in a manner that doesn’t curb human interactions, it is widely accepted that integrating the major elements of urban living, rural living and emerging technologies is necessary. Unlike the concrete tower blocks of the 1960s, which aimed to bring the community together by forcing people to live within close proximity to one another – a concept that failed – modern designs, such as the Japanese Co-Dividual, aim to bring people together with green spaces, while integrating the home environment with artificial intelligence. Today’s homes of the future might not recreate the space age world of The Jetsons and the ‘60s dream, yet they could adopt a realistic and holistic approach to ensure our curiosity with time-saving technology, the family, the community, and natural world are maintained for the next generation. 

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