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Welcome to the world of tomorrow

Prophecies made in the 1950s about today’s housing were mostly wide of the mark although they got some things right, including microwaves and remote controls, says Simon White

While clearing out some old books recently I found a magazine article from 1956 predicting how houses would look by the year 2000.

The article was originally written for the Daily Mail Ideal Home Show, which this year celebrates its centenary. As you’d expect it got some things right but most things wrong.

It predicted dining tables that would rise out of the floor and showers that would blast people with hot air, saving them the inconvenience of using towels. Both seem like good ideas to me.

Less successfully, experts also predicted kitchens without fridges because food would be bombarded with gamma radiation, killing all known germs dead.

But they got some things right, including microwave ovens, remote controls and entry phone systems.

Each age comes up with new ideas that must have seemed revolutionary at the time.

For example, many Victorian mansion blocks still have a complicated system of pipes that enabled servants in the lower levels to speak directly with their masters on higher floors without having to shout. Who needs mobile phones?

The Victorians were also the first to invent the power shower, although you had to have someone manually pumping the water. They also understood the importance of sound insulation and used crushed seashells for this purpose. In fact, Victorian-build flats have better sound insulation than many modern buildings. The seashells were packed in between the floor joists and still work perfectly.

But the most innovative people were the Romans who, with respect to Life of Brian, did a lot for us.

For example, they invented central heating by the ingenious method of building their villas on pillars of bricks.

Warm air from external bonfires would waft beneath the floor and rise through the house thanks to convection. Remember, this was over 2,000 years ago.

And if you think that’s clever, they also had vending machines into which you placed your one drachma coin and received a cup of water as a result.

The Romans were also the first people to invent concrete and even more impressively discovered a way to set it underwater. This is how they were able to construct permanent ports and harbours across Europe. What a clever bunch – and they weren’t bad at warfare either.


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