How the World Trade Center Was Rebuilt: A Visual Exploration of a 20-Year Project

The World Trade Center was not at first a beloved work of architecture, but over time it settled into its place on the New York skyline, gaining wide acceptance as an icon of the city. Its destruction on September 11, 2001 greatly intensified that symbolic power, especially as expressed by the image of Minoru Yamasaki’s Twin Towers. But as longtime New Yorkers (or at least longtime Lower Manhattanites) remember, the WTC consisted of more than a pair of skyscrapers. Dating from America’s era of “urban renewal,” with its ambitions of building cities within cities, it also incorporated several shorter office buildings, a hotel, and an underground shopping mall.

In other words, the WTC was a complex — which also happens to be just the adjective to describe the property-rights situation in the wake of its devastation. Talk of the imperative to rebuild began very soon indeed after September 11, but organizing a rise from the ashes was, predictably, easier said than done. As explained in “How the World Trade Center Was Rebuilt,” the video essay above from Youtube channel Neo, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey first had to re-acquire the leases from all the different major tenants involved. And then there was the task of negotiating with Larry Silverstein.

Having developed the original 7 World Trade Center building in 1980, Silverstein long had his eye on the whole shebang. He finally managed to sign a 99-year lease-purchase agreement on the complex on July 24, 2001 — surely one of this century’s signal cases of bad timing. But he did jump into the task of rebuilding as soon as possible, completing the new 7 World Trade Center just five years later. According to the story told in the video, it would hardly be an exaggeration to characterize the project of redeveloping the WTC site as a grudge match between Silverstein and the Port Authority, with their dueling visions of the proper way to fill that highly-charged space.

That project continues still today, just over two decades after the terrorist attacks that brought the Twin Towers down. David Childs’ 1776-foot-tall “twisting glass monolith” One World Trade Center opened in 2014, but the much-delayed Ronald O. Perelman Performing Arts Center at the World Trade Center is still under construction, as is the new 2 World Trade Center. With its recent completion, Santiago Calatrava’s St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church joins his existing World Trade Center Transportation Hub. Topped by a structure called the Oculus, designed (if not flawlessly) to open to the sky once a year on September 11, that striking transit complex also includes an expansive Westfield shopping mall: a juxtaposition of memory and commerce with power of its own as a symbol of twenty-first century America.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Goodbye to the Nakagin Capsule Tower, Tokyo’s Strangest and Most Utopian Apartment Building

On many of my trips to Japan I’ve stayed at the Capsule Inn Osaka, which is exactly where and what it sounds like. To any foreigner the place would be an intriguing novelty, but to those interested in Japanese architecture it also has great historical value. Designed by architect Kurokawa Kisho, the Capsule Inn Osaka opened in 1979 as the world’s first capsule hotel, a form of lodging now widely regarded as no less quintessentially Japanese than the ryokan. At that point Kurokawa had already been advancing capsule as an architectural unit for years, contributing a “capsule house” and capsule-based corporate pavilions to the Osaka World Expo 1970, and even building a curious masterwork of the genre in Tokyo’s Nakagin Capsule Tower.

The other architects involved in Expo ’70 included Tange Kenzo, Kawazoe Noboru, Maki Fumihiko, Kikutake Kiyonori, and Isozaki Arata — all associated to one degree or another with Metabolism, an architectural movement inspired by the rapid economic growth, enormous urban expansion, and unprecedented technological change then transforming postwar Japan. The Metabolists “approached the city as a living organism consisting of elements with different metabolic cycles,” writes Lin Zhongjie in Kenzo Tange and the Metabolist Movement: Urban Utopias of Modern Japan. “To accommodate a city’s growth and regeneration, Metabolists advanced transformable technologies based on prefabricated components and the replacement of obsolete parts according to varying life cycles.”

When it opened in 1972, the Nakagin Capsule Tower did so as the first fully realized Metabolist project. Abroad in Japan host Chris Broad introduces it as “not only my favorite building in all of Tokyo, but in all of Japan.” He also contextualizes it within a brief history of Metabolism, as well as of the postwar Japanese society that fired up its practitioners’ aesthetically brazen, techno-Utopian ideals. Geared to the work-dominated, peripatetic lifestyle of what Kurokawa called “homo movens,” the Nakagin Capsule Tower actually consisted of two concrete cores onto which were bolted 140 capsules (architectural theorist Charles Jencks likened their aspect to “superimposed washing machines”), each a self-contained living space replete with cutting-edge amenities up to and including a bathtub ashtray Sony reel-to-reel tape player.

Kurokawa envisioned the capsules being replaced every 25 years over a lifetime of centuries. Alas, the difficulty of such an operation meant that the originals were simply left in, and by the end of the twentieth century many had badly deteriorated. “Ironically,” writes Lin, “Tokyo is growing and transforming itself so rapidly that it even outpaces the ‘metabolism’ that the Metabolists envisioned, and requires renewals on the scale of entire buildings instead of individual capsules.” First announced in 2007, the year of Kurokawa’s death, the building’s demolition began this past April, and it has occasioned such tributes as Studio Ito’s elegiac animation just above. The Nakagin Capsule Tower stood for half a century, long outliving Metabolism itself, but its capsules will now scatter across the world, suggesting that there was something to the biological metaphor all along.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Never Too Small: Architects Give Tours of Tiny Homes in Paris, Melbourne, Milan, Hong Kong & Beyond

There was a time when few had a taste for tiny homes — indeed, a time when millions of us tuned in to television shows like Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous expressly to revel in residential expanse and opulence. This is not to say that such straightforward “real estate porn” has vanished: like all twenty-first-century media, it’s just taken a variety of new forms. In its more than twenty-year run, HGTV’s House Hunters and its many spin-offs have catered to viewers who slaver over mansions, but also to those whose tastes run from houseboats and tropical islands to recreational vehicles and off-the-grid compounds. The inevitable debut of Tiny House Hunters came in 2014.

For a variety of reasons, many members of the last couple of generations have come of age without the desire — and often, not coincidentally, without the means — for a large living space. Over the past fifteen years or so, popular culture has metabolized this condition into an enthusiasm, and for some an obsession.

The die-hard tiny-home enthusiast watches Youtube channels like Never Too Small: since its launch five years ago, it has uploaded more than a hundred videos so far, each of which offers a brief guided tour of a different tiny home led by the architect who designed it. These include diminutive residences in cities the world over, from Paris and Amsterdam to Hong Kong and Tokyo to Melbourne and Sydney.

Based in Australia, Never Too Small has produced a great many episodes in that country — a country known, ironically, for its vast tracts of undeveloped land. But there, as everywhere else, space in major cities comes at a premium, and it falls to the tiny-house architect to employ and articulate that space with an absolute maximum of efficiency. (They also face the same basic challenge in the occasional rural setting, building “tiny cabins” and repurposing shipping containers.) The details may vary, but watch enough episodes in a row and you tend to notice that, located though they may be in New York, Buenos Aires, Antwerp, or Milan, these apartments have much in common aesthetically.

No matter their own cultural origins, most of these architects have evidently looked for inspiration to Japan, whose traditions of residential architecture have long developed within small plots of land. They also tend to make liberal use of light wood and white paint, which make these spaces look more expansive than they are, as well as at once modern and organic. (These choices carry a degree of retro appeal as well, harking back as they do to the design trends of the mid-sixties.) The best of Never Too Small’s videos provide a clear view of its subject’s context, whether it be a hip old urban neighborhood or a hillside in the wilderness. There are many reasons to want a tiny home, none based on wanting to stay inside it all the time.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Architect Breaks Down Five of the Most Iconic New York City Apartments

Real estate is a perennially hot topic in New York City, as is gentrification.

Above, architect Michael Wyetzner, breaks down the defining features of several typical NYC apartments.

You’re on your own to truffle up the sort of rent a 340 square feet studio commands in an East Village tenement these days.

The ancestors would be shocked, for sure. My late mother-in-law never tired of causing young jaws to drop by revealing how she once paid $27/month for a 1 bedroom on Sheridan Square…and her mother, who immigrated at the turn of the century, couldn’t wait to put the Lower East Side behind her.

He may not truck in final sales figures, but Wyetzner drops in a wealth of interesting factual tidbits as he sketches layouts with a black Pentel Sign Pen. His tone is more Lower East Side Tenement Museum tour guide than the comments section of a real estate blog where salty New Yorkers flaunt their street cred.

For instance, those enfilade tenement apartments–to employ the grand architectural term Wyetzner just taught us–were not only dark, but dangerously under-ventilated until 1901, when reforms stipulated that air shafts must be opened up between side by side buildings.

This public health initiative changed the shape of tenement buildings, but did little to stop the poverty and overcrowding that activist/photographer Jacob Riis famously documented in How the Other Half Lives.

(Another measure decreed that building owners must supply one indoor toilet …per 20 people!)

While we’re on the topic of toilets, did you know that there was a time when every brownstone backyard boasted its own privy?

Homeowners who’ve spent millions on what many conceive of as the most romantic of New York City buildings (then millions more on gut renovations) proudly display old bottles and other refuse excavated from the site where privys once stood. The former residents turn their outhouses into garbage chutes upon achieving indoor plumbing.

Laying aside its distinctive color, a brownstone’s most iconic feature is surely its stoop.

Stoops grabbed hold of the American public’s imagination thanks to Sesame Street, the Harlem photographs of Gordon Parks and the films of Spike Lee, who learned of Martin Luther King’s assassination as an 11-year-old, sitting on his.

“Not porch!,” he emphasized during a Tonight Show appearance. ”In Brooklyn, it’s stoops. Stoops!”

(Forgive me if I delve into NYC real estate prices for a sec: the Bed-Stuy brownstone from Lee‘s semi-autobiographical Crooklyn, above, just went on the market for $4.5 million.)

There’s no question that brownstone stoops make excellent hang out spots, but that’s not the reason they rose to prominence.

As Esther Crain writes in Ephemeral New York, the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811 which led to the city’s gridlike layout negated the possibility of alleys:

Without a back door to a rowhouse accessed through an alley, servants and workers would enter and exit a residence using the same front stoop the owners used—which wasn’t too popular, at least with the owners. 

But a tall stoop set back from the sidewalk allowed for a side door that led to the lower level of the house. While the owners continued to go up and down the stoop to get to the parlor floor (and see and be seen by their neighbors), everyone else was relegated to the side…And of course, as New York entered the Gilded Age of busy streets filled with dust, ash, refuse, and enormous piles of horse manure, a very high stoop helped keep all the filth from getting into the house. 

Flash forward a hundred and fifty some years, and, as Wyetzner notes, a stoop’s top step offers a highly scenic view of the Hefty bags the neighbors haul to the curb the night before New York’s Strongest roll through.

Wyetzner also provides the historical context behind such architecturally distinctive digs as SoHo’s astronomically priced light-filled lofts, the always desirable Classic Six residences on the Upper East and Upper West Sides, one-room studios both modern and original flavor, and our blighted public housing projects.

If you’re itching to play along from home, check out the New York Times’ regular feature The Hunt, which invites readers to trail a single, family, or couple deliberating between three properties in New York City.

A sample: “After a mouse infestation at her West Village rental, a single mother needed a better spot for her family, including a son with autism.”

Review the layouts and click here to see whether she chose a brand-new 127-unit building with a rooftop pool, a Harlem brownstone duplex with a backyard rights, or an updated one bedroom in a downtown co-op from 1910.

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Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto. She has lived in all manner of New York City apartments, but hopes to never move again. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Beauty & Ingenuity of the Pantheon, Ancient Rome’s Best-Preserved Monument: An Introduction

Asked to name our favorite concrete building, many of us would struggle to hold back a sneer. Though the copious use of that material by mid-twentieth-century style known as Brutalism has lately gained new generations of enthusiasts, we still more commonly hear it lamented as a source of architectural “monstrosities.” But as a building material, concrete goes back much further in history than the decades following World War II. To find a universally beloved example, we need merely look back to second-century Rome. There we find the Pantheon, looking much the same as it does in twenty-first century Rome today.

The best-preserved monument of ancient Rome, the Pantheon (not to be confused with the Greek Parthenon) has remained in continuous use, first as “a temple to the gods, then sanctified and made into a church. Now, of course, it’s a major tourist attraction.” So says scholar Steven Zucker in the Khan Academy video above, a brief photographic tour he leads alongside his colleague Beth Harris.

“As soon as you walk in, you notice that there’s a kind of obsession with circles, with rectangles, with squares, with those kinds of perfect geometrical shapes,” says Harris. “Because of the Roman use of concrete, the idea [obtained] that architecture could be something that shaped space and that could have a different kind of relationship to the viewer.”

You can go deeper into the Pantheon (built circa 125 AD) through the tour video by Youtuber Garrett Ryan, creator of the ancient-history channel Told in Stone. Calling the Pantheon “arguably the most influential building of all time,” he goes on to support that bold claim by examining a host of structural and aesthetic elements (not least its sublimely spherical rotunda) that would inspire architects in the Renaissance, a time dedicated to making use of ancient Greek and Roman knowledge, and in some sense ever after. This may come as a surprise to viewers with only a casual interest in architecture — more than it would to the Emperor Hadrian, commissioner of the Pantheon, who seems not to have been given to great doubts about the durability of his legacy.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

What Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unusual Windows Tell Us About His Architectural Genius

There could be few more American styles of dwelling than the tract house, and few more American architects than Frank Lloyd Wright. But Wright, of course, never designed a tract house. Each of his dwellings, to say nothing of his public buildings, was in every sense a one-off, not just in its layout and its details but in its relationship to its context. Wright believed, as he declared in his book The Natural House, that a building should be “as dignified as a tree in the midst of nature.” This he held true even for relatively modest residences, as evidenced by the series of “Usonian houses” he began in the late nineteen-thirties.

The Vox video above features the “cypress-and-brick masterpiece” that is Pope-Leighey House in Alexandria, Virginia, which Wright completed in 1941. “Bounded by the humble budget of the Pope family” — Loren Pope, its head was working as a newspaper copy editor at the time — “this structure nonetheless exhibits the distinct features characteristic of his formidable vision and style.”

So says the house’s page at the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, which adds that “the architectural element of compression and release, the cantilevered roofs, and the windows that open to the outside create an immediate interaction with the surrounding landscape.”

Video producer Phil Edwards pays special attention to those windows. He cites Wright’s conviction that “the best way to light a house is God’s way — the natural way, as nearly as possible in the daytime and at night as nearly like the day as may be, or better.” In the case of the Pope-Leighey house, achieving this ideal involved the use of not just nearly floor-to-ceiling windows, but also clerestory windows perforated in a distinctive geometric pattern and positioned so as to cast “light hung like pictures on the wall.” The effect is so strong that the house’s two relocations appear not to have diminished it — and so singular that, despite the enthusiasm of post-war tract-house developers for Wright’s innovations in housing, it never did make it into Levittown.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

A Virtual Tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Lost Japanese Masterpiece, the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo

Tokyo once had a hotel by Frank Lloyd Wright. Such an architectural asset, one might assume, would be preserved at all costs, yet this one was demolished in 1967. But the fact that Wright’s Imperial Hotel stood for only 45 years won’t surprise anyone familiar with Japanese building culture, nor will the fact that it was only one of a series of Imperial Hotels that have occupied the same site. As evidenced by the Ise Grand Shrine, which has been demolished and rebuilt every twenty years since the eighth century, a structure’s value in Japan has nothing to do with its longevity. Still, this explanation may not satisfy Wright enthusiasts, the great majority of whom have only been able to see the master’s most famous Japanese building in photographs, diagrams, and postcards.

Just this year, the Frank Lloyd Trust has given us a way to experience it as nobody could in its heyday: a virtual tour video “shot” from the perspective of a flying drone. (Watch above.) It comes as an entry in Frank Lloyd Wright: The Lost Works, which “brings Wright’s demolished and unrealized structures to life through immersive digital animations reconstructed from Wright’s original plans and drawings, along with archival photographs.”

Here we have Wright’s East-meets-West masterpiece reconstructed just as it must have looked when it opened on September 1st, 1923 — the same day, coincidentally, as the Great Kantō earthquake that devastated Tokyo. The Imperial Hotel took some damage, but came through intact.

A lesser earthquake had already struck the previous year, but it left the hotel unharmed despite its still being under construction. (The same can’t be said of the fragile remains of the original Imperial Hotel, built in 1890 and gutted by fire in 1922, that Wright had been commissioned to replace.) But over subsequent decades, time took its toll in other ways: “the Wright-designed Imperial would eventually be considered by the post-war traveler to be dark and musty,” writes Steve Sundberg at Old Tokyo, “and its un-air-conditioned rooms too small. The hotel’s foundation, too, had by then settled unevenly into the soft subsoil; its long hallways and corridors came to have a wavy, rubbery appearance about them.”

Even when new, the Imperial Hotel had its discomforts: Sundberg quotes a 1925 Far Eastern Review article calling it “a hundred years ahead of the age in its architectural features and fifty years behind in many things which make for the comfort of its patrons.” Wright “sacrificed everything to his art, raising a monument to his genius and bequeathing to the Japanese the difficult task of making it a financial success.” It was financial exigencies, in part, that motivated its demolition and replacement with a third, high-rise Imperial Hotel in 1967 — whose own impending demolition and replacement was announced just last year. France-based Japanese architect Tsuyoshi Tane has produced a design for the fourth Imperial Hotel; what tribute, if any, it pays Wright’s legacy we’ll only find out when it opens in 2036.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

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.

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

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