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Disclaimer: I do not have the rights to this article. The magazine is long out of print. I recently discovered the original magazine is still in the archives at Christchurch City Libraries, and I took a scan of it (I previously had a photocopy). I am posting it online because I feel it is very interesting and rare information, typed out to make it searchable. If this is not acceptable, feel free to contact me and I will take it down.

Designscape #86 1976

Spaceage Housing

Not home grown, but still an innovative addition to the factory built house scene in New Zealand, is Futuro Enterprises' fibreglass modules, currently being manufactured in Christchurch. Julie Dalzell reports.

The concept of factory built housing is still pretty strange to most, especially in a country whose pioneering notions of building or at least designing one's own home, adding on, or 'doing up' are strong elements in the national character. On top of the apparently rigid systemisation of a factory built house is another new idea to cope with from the Christchurch based firm Futuro Enterprises (Christchurch) Ltd. Futuro houses are not only based on a factory built system, they are made from fibreglass, an alien material to shelter building and a material, like the system itself, which smacks of time warping at least to the year 2000 and which surely has little suitability to most New Zealand green and verdant sites.

Happily for the manufacturers of Futuro houses, though, a lot of New Zealanders have not reacted this way, and are providing enough business for the company, in its second year of production, to enjoy a comfortable existence and to be looking optimistically to the future.

The two designs available from Futuro Enterprises are not New Zealand born, but imported from Finnish architect Matti Suuronen. Futuro Homes (NZ) Ltd, the parent company, has gained the rights to the construction of the shell of both the Futuro (the flying saucer - a port-holed, self-supporting structure which rests on concrete-mounted steel legs) and the Venturo (rectangular, modular, somewhat reminiscent of a series of television screens, also self-supporting but on standard foundations). The original developer in Finland is a firm called Oy Polykem Ab. It is not surprising that it was the Finns, with their proven prowess and technological achievement in fibreglass forms, who pioneered what amounts to a minor revolution in housing structure.

Since the first Venturos and Futuros began to roll out of the Polykem factories about seven years ago, at least twenty countries have bought the rights to their construction. The Christchurch firm's licence covers New Zealand and the Pacific area. In New Zealand, Futuro Enterprises have fulfilled the kiwi legacy of innovation and experimentation and have made several adaptations and developments in both design and construction techniques, which in turn have been resold to the Finnish developers. They have recently been given a BRANZ appraisal certificate for the Venturo's system of building.

The local pioneers of factory built fibreglass housing started out only in 1974 and the first Futuro design was completed for the Commonwealth Games in Christchurch that year where it was used by the Bank of New Zealand as a branch office. It has subsequently been bought by a Wellington car dealer for use as an office in the car yard. The Venturo design was originally planned as the first production but due to a mishap to the moulds en route from Finland, its launching had to be postponed until October 1975. Since then, the company has produced eleven Venturos. Present production is at a rate of two Venturos and one Futuro coming out of the small factory in Wainoni Road, Christchurch, each month.

General manager, David Hamilton, reckons the main draw-card of their product is the instant housing offered by such a system. Unlike prefabricated housing systems which require as much on-site construction as off, Futuro houses are virtually instant houses, ready for occupation within two weeks of ordering. This, combined with the attractions of portability for relocation, permanent materials, no maintenance and a highly competitive price, help to allay first impressions of spacy, gimmicky structures not really intended for the real world. In terms of price, Futuro houses have parity with other low cost housing like Keith Hay Homes, for example, and definite cost advantages over any other permanent materials house. Futuro houses (both designs) cost out around $18 per sq ft (to use the more familiar yardstick) compared with $20 for something, say, in summerhill stone.

The 51 sq m (560 sq ft) Futuro (flying sauver shape) which is sold mainly for use as a holiday house for the mountains, lake or beach costs around $14,000 flat, a price which includes standard furniture and fittings and servicing for a one-bedroomed house, but which doesn't include cartage or erection costs. For normal site conditions, erection costs would be based on around 120 man hours, or, three men, five days. The design can be adapted to a two bedroom unit for an additional cost of $560.

The Venturo design provides considerably more flexibility with its modular system comprising a 51 sq metre basic unit and extra elongating centre sections of 17 sq m (178 sq ft) to produce whatever size or shape is required. The price range is between $11,400 and $22,800. Erection costs are based on 240 man hours (six men, five days).

Even at these prices though, Futuro Homes find themselves somewhat betwixt and between two markets. Not many New Zealanders can afford $14-20,000 for a holiday house and the company doesn't see itself making great inroads into the housing market with their flying saucer model at least. The Venturo, on the other hand, is seen as having significant potential in the ordinary housing market because of its size adaptability and flexibility in internal layout, and it is this design that the company is concentrating its energies on promoting. Not yet though. Right now it is pursuing a policy of slow growth (from necessity due to a rather stuttering financial start), doing virtually no marketing but keeping themselves busy with a steady demand.

Total staff of Futuro Enterprises is around 20 people: general manager David Hamilton, who has been with the company for just under a year and whose background is in plastics; project manager, Brian Moseley, production manager, Brynn Beechey, a secretary, two in the erection team and fourteen in the factory. On the development side (employed by Futuro Homes NZ Ltd, the development company) there is Des Walker, responsible for new design development and the starting up of additional factories. (A North Island factory is to be opened in 1977 to offset the staggering $2000 or so freight costs from the South to the North Island).

Venturo house in final stages of shell erection

1 Venturo house in final stages of shell erection. Estimated time from ordering to habitable stage is only twenty days.

Factory build components of venturo house Factory build components of venturo house

2 factory-built components are delivered to the site, by truck, in two major sections (a and b). The basic unit, with a floor area of 45 sq metres, can be enlarged by adding extra centre sections.

3 major sections are hoisted by helicopter to difficult sites.

4 modularity exploited for larger floor area.

Promotion photographs of venturo house

5 promotion photographs in the Finnish brochure show consistency of design in fibreglass furnishings, while the New Zealand promoters tend to push versatility and flexibility for interiors, leading to anomalies.

Production and construction
The sixteen men - two in the erection team and 14 in the factory - are currently building a 100 sq m (1100 sq ft) house in 20 days. The low weight factor of the reinforced fibreglass means that the preassembled unit is easily transportable by truck or by helicopter. The Venturo shell comprises the factory made roof, wall and D-shaped end sections which are assembled and bolted to concrete foundations through a prelaid particle board floor. Each section is made of gel-coated, fire retardant, glass reinforced polyester resin bonded to and supported by timber frame, plywood webs and steel beams.

futuro floor plan 6 typical plan for one bedroom Futuro unit showing
1, entrance foyer;
2, bedroom;
3, fibreglass shelving;
4, seating;
5, kitchen;
6,bathroom;
7,opening windows;
8, service cupboards;
9, cupboard over range.

Assembly of the sections begins with the central floor areas being laid and fixed. One of the D-end sections is then moved and bolted into place. Wall panels adjacent to the D-end are then erected and bolted, the roof panel lowered on to the wall panels and bolted. Subsequent wall and roof panels are bolted in place, and lastly, the other D-end section is brought up to the central section or sections and secured, fibreglass flashings are put on all the wall panel joints to ensure waterproofing. Window and door frames are all anodised aluminium and can be either single or double glazed.

It is where the fibreglass shell meets the internal partitioning that care has to be taken to maintain a consistency of style, an honesty to an acceptance of the moulded fibreglass shapes of the external walls. While the company is keen to stress the positive attributes of Futuro's fibreglass shell - its low maintenance properties, its excellent urethane foam insulation which doubles (and with double glazed windows, trebles) heat retention, its colour fast properties, durability, weatherability and reliability, it is also keen to stress that there's no real need to go the whole hog, that it can be made to look like an ordinary house.

The demonstration Venturo built and installed for Futuro Homes' office space in 1975 has, in one partitioned room, pink painted wooden beading and pink flowered wallpaper to suggest to the customer how it might look as a cosy, feminine bedroom and to convince the ordinary kiwi that he can move his life style into fibreglass. The Finnish brochure for the Venturo shows much more honesty and consistency to the structure and materials of the building in the interior: probably because as a country it has been exposed to and accepted fibreglass as a legitimate furnishing material for a lot longer.

The Venturo model can be bought as a shell as described (basic unit $7,106) or with servicing (basic unit $11,400), but being modular it is more adaptable than the Futuro to customer requirements. Construction of room partitioning takes place on site with traditional building materials used internally.

The demonstration Futuro, also on site at the factory in Wainoni Road, has recently been revamped internally to be representative of the current outlook of the company. David Hamilton explains that this is so they can suggest carious decorating possibilities to the customer, to show that the interior can be designed to meet individual tastes. Hence the rather confused identity: the shag pile carpet, the heavily patterned wall paper on specially built curving wood internal wall panels to replace fibreglass wall panels; hence the addition of several other schizophrenic additions to de-plasticise the interior.

demonstration futuro outside

7 demonstration Futuro house on site at factory in Christchurch.

futuro lowered by crane

8 Futuro is delivered pre-assembled to the site and lowered by crane or helicopter.

futuro furnishings

9 while the construction material is fibreglass, some owners prefer not to reflect this in their choice of furnishings.

Unless bought as shell only ($10,555 instead of $14,600) the Futuro model comes with standard furniture, fittings and servicing, where applicable, to customers' own colour choices. 'Standard' means entrance foyer with control for the automatic extension stairs to get down to ground level, bedroom with built in double bed, cupboard and wardrobe, kitchen which is not partitioned off from the main living area, bathroom with fibreglass shower floor, lavatory, wash basin, and living area with generous fibreglass shelving around the perimeter, except where standard upholstered seating is mounted.

David Hamilton has a sincere commitment to fibreglass as a housing material and he believes deeply in what the company has to offer. He stresses the qualities of the material he is selling as maintenance free, weather resistant, long lasting and durable and is personally willing to guarantee that a Futuro home will be standing in almost mint condition in 30 years, will be still around in 100 years and may last as long as 150 years. With this long life expectancy of his product, he has no need to wrestle with a conscience asking questions about the use of valuable and non-renewable fossil fuels in the manufacture of fibreglass.

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