The Homes of 2020 Imagined in 1989: Wireless Audio Systems, Smart Heating, Windows That Turn Into TVs & More

Many trends in architecture and home design have come and gone over the past thirty years, and some have not spread as far as they might have. The green architectural movement in much of Asia, for example, in which skyscrapers practically drip with growing things, hasn’t caught on in congested cities in the West, and perhaps it never will. Granted, few urban areas have such concerns about air quality as cities in China where green buildings have taken hold recently — where 2/3rds of the population is slated to live in cities by 2050; and where a massive population boom in the last twenty years has required four to five million new buildings. But even if we don’t live in a burgeoning city with an urgent mandate to reduce carbon emissions for basic public health, it’s time for brand-new building standards everywhere.

The creators of the 1989 BBC episode of Tomorrow’s World had a sense of environmental urgency, though it wasn’t first on their list of home improvements for the buildings of 2020. After casually wondering whether the homes of the future will “protect the environment,” presenter Judith Hann turns things over to Christine McNulty of the Applied Futures project, who surveyed people to learn “what people would want from their homes.” What will they want? “All the benefits of modern technology” with few of the drawbacks, such as the unwieldy boxes and tangled wires that constituted audio systems of yore (archaic-looking here even by 1989 standards).

We got what we wanted: audio/visual systems can integrate seamlessly into our homes, with bluetooth and wireless and unobtrusive components. We are living in a golden age of consumer entertainment. We are also living in a glorious time of home automation, which co-host Howard Stableford introduces in the next segment. Stableford shows how we will be able to walk from room to room and have lights turn off and on as we go, technology currently available at your local big box store. Later, David Button of Pilkington Glass introduces futuristic tech that could change windows or walls into a TV, something we do not see in homes today and for which few consumers seem to clamor.

Finally, in the last two segments, we get to projections about energy management and smart heating. “Homes are going to have to change,” says Stableford, to meet what McNulty calls “enormous pressure to cut down on our burning of fossil fuels.” Hann introduces building materials that could “bring heating bills down to zero.” Stableford returns to the idea of automation for energy efficient “smart heating.” There is no mention of the need for cooling homes in a rapidly warming world, especially in parts reaching average temperatures inhospitable to human life. 1989 had a pretty good read on what we would want in our individual homes, but it could not foresee how those desires would overrun care for the one home we share.

Related Content:

Buckminster Fuller, Isaac Asimov & Other Futurists Make Predictions About the 21st Century in 1967: What They Got Right & Wrong

How Previous Decades Predicted the Future: The 21st Century as Imagined in the 1900s, 1950s, 1980s, and Other Eras

In 1922, a Novelist Predicts What the World Will Look Like in 2022: Wireless Telephones, 8-Hour Flights to Europe & More

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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