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Submissions sought on heritage listing for Area 51 Futuro House – Heritage New Zealand

An immaculately renovated example of a rare futuristic tiny home is in the running to receive heritage recognition.

Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga is seeking submissions on a proposal to list the Area 51 Futuro House in Ohoka as a Category 1 historic place – a classification that would identify it as being of outstanding heritage significance. One of 12 such structures built in New Zealand in the mid 1970s, it fits into an international picture.

“Area 51 Futuro House is an awesome example of the reinforced fibreglass plastic building that was developed by Finnish architect Matti Suuronen in early 1968 as an innovative solution for a prefabricated, easy-to-relocate after-ski hut,” says Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Senior Heritage Assessment Advisor for Canterbury and the West Coast, Robyn Burgess.

“The style of building is instantly recognisable, and Futuros have gained an international following by enthusiasts around the globe. There were around 100 made but now only about 68 are left in the world, however, which makes them incredibly rare.”

Constructed from 16 fibreglass-reinforced plastic segments bolted together, the buildings are assembled relatively easily forming an ellipsoid capsule – more suggestive of a spaceship that has just landed than ski accommodation.

The sense of interstellar travel is reinforced by the building sitting on an open steel support frame – almost as if suspended in mid air – with its entry door folding down to reveal an aircraft-like staircase. Ovoid porthole windows located in each bay complete the feeling that the whole structure could take off at any moment.

The Area 51 name references the name of the US Air Force base in Nevada that is often associated with conspiracy theories and stories about UFOs and aliens, though designer Matti Suuronen never intended his concept to resemble a spaceship. Instead his design was the result of meticulous mathematical calculations that provided optimum structural efficiency.

“Futuros began to be manufactured by a New Zealand company who secured the rights to produce them in 1972. By the beginning of 1974, two Futuro houses were showcased at the entrance to Queen Elizabeth Park for the British Commonwealth Games,” says Robyn.

“One was a fully furnished showhome sponsored by Seiko, while the other was operated by Games sponsor, the Bank of New Zealand, in what was probably the coolest ever BNZ branch in history. A third one was on display at the Addington Showgrounds in that same year.”

Because of their comparative ease of relocation, Futuros tend to have a nomadic past. The Area 51 Futuro, for example, had an early life at Lincoln College before it was relocated by the Ministry of Works for use as a high country research station and then purchased by a private owner who trucked it over the Haast Pass then flew it down the Paringa River in South Westland by helicopter where it was used as a whitebait and fishing hut.

In 2018 it was acquired by Futuro aficionado Nick McQuoid who set about the extraordinary task of retrieving the building and reassembling it at Ohoka. The process involved jetboating to the remote location on Paringa River, dismantling the building using battery powered tools charged on a solar panel, and then transporting it out by helicopter, boat, and finally trucked to its new location.

Nick and his friends spent a full year renovating the Futuro, which now operates as holiday accommodation, winning the category of New Zealand’s best unique listing on Airbnb in 2022.

“The Futuro is an absolute delight – but it is also a great example of how heritage isn’t always what we think it might be. This building is very much a product of its time, and speaks to us about the optimism and creativity of the era it represents,” says Robyn.

“People who would like to make a submission on the proposal to list this building as a Category 1 historic place can follow the link. We’d love to hear from them.”

 

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