The first wave of FRP building construction began during the “Space Age.” That period, which started with the launch of Sputnik in 1957, saw a global design trend towards curvalinear, pod-like structures of all sorts, from transistor radio to cars.
FRP was a natural choice to execute this design aesthetic, being easily moldable and lightweight. As it turns out, the material was also very durable, and examples of these early FRP buildings are still extant, some still in use, and many more surviving despite decades of neglect and abandonment, as we’ve recently noted in posts about Buckminster Fuller’s Fly’s Eye Dome and Juan José Díaz Infante’s Kalikosmia system, as well as the mysterious so-called “Candela” structures.
The most flying-saucerlike of all these creations, however, were the Futuro Houses. Designed by Finnish architect Matti Suuronen in 1965 as a commission to create a relocatable ski chalet, the Futuro House was an elliptical FRP pod that looked like it was boldly popped out of a Jetson’s cartoon. And, in case the basic shape was not sufficiently saucerlike, the access to the interior was through a hinged staircase that descended from the underside, a direct link to the sci-fi movie The Day The Earth Stood Still. It was designed to stand on steel legs with concrete foundations. Standing about 16 feet high, and measuring only 26 feet across, it was supposed to shelter 8 people, but that might be a bit overpopulated for ongoing living arrangements or space travel.
It had thermal insulation and was fairly energy efficient. Its built-in heater was able to warm up the space from -20F to room temperature within 30 minutes. (Interestingly, none of the write-ups mention anything about plumbing or electricity, although it had both.) It featured custom furniture to fit the contours of the space, including high-tech chairs that doubled as beds, and included remote control switches built into the armrests. There appears to have been a later model, Futuro II, with additional windows below the waist-band glazing of the original.
The Futuro House was first produced by the Finnish firm Oy Polykem ab in 1968. It was cast in 16 pieces utilizing reusable molds, and could be shipped and then bolted together onsite relatively easily. However, it appears they were often helicoptered into position, fully assembled. Reportedly, only 20 units were built in Finland, and according to a recent obituary for the architect, only five survive there. However, there were licensees in the US, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa, and an estimated 100 were probably made all together. There are quite a few of them still standing, some occupied, in the US. One in Florida is serving as the headquarters of the Pensacola Beach Preservation and Historical Society.
The photo of the Futuro on top of an SUV is probably the most eloquent possible statement about the strength-to-weight ratio of FRP construction.
Images from a variety of online sources, including the sites listed below. There is a good deal of info about the Futuro Houses on the web. To get started, visit thefuturohouse.com, the site of a Futuro collector who has amassed an impressive amount of documentation. Others include roadsideamerica.com, http://www.futurohouse.com, http://www.futurohouse.net, and http://www.futuro-house.net.