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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