The future is 1962

This Matt Yglesias tweet caught my eye:

That picture reminded me of a TV show called The Jetsons, which premiered in 1962. So where did the producers of The Jetsons get their ideas for the look of a futuristic city? Perhaps from this building at LAX, completed in 1961:

Or how about this building, completed in 1962:

Or this 1962 building:

Or this 1962 building:

What’s my point? When people envision the future, they look around at current things that seem futuristic. That’s no surprise. The futuristic buildings of 1962 looked nothing like the futuristic buildings of 1912 or 1862. That’s no surprise.

What is surprising is that a 2023 picture of a futuristic city still looks like a 1962 TV show. And like a bunch of cutting edge 1962 buildings

So what’s going on here? I suspect that progress has basically stopped at the macro level, and micro progress in areas like like biotech and computer chips doesn’t affect the way things look at the macro level. And I haven’t cherry picked the building industry; I could have shown you an airliner from 1962 and today and you’d be hard pressed to tell them apart.

I have no idea what cities will look like in 2123. Perhaps they will look futuristic. Maybe they will look much like current cities. But I can predict the look of sci-fi movies in 2123. Their futuristic cities will look like the Jetsons. Like 1962. The eternal modern.

PS. When I was young, we drove through Chicago once or twice a year, on the way to visit grandparents. I’ll never forget the look of the Marina Towers (above) which blew my mind. I had a plastic model of the Space Needle in my bedroom. The future seemed really bright.

Little did I know . . .



28 Responses to “The future is 1962”

  1. Gravatar of Adam Adam
    30. July 2023 at 16:41

    I wouldn’t read too much into it. It’s just a meme, and the 60s futurism aesthetic is part of the joke

  2. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    30. July 2023 at 16:47

    Adam, OK, but where are the non-ironic views of the future, circa 2023? Do they look different? If so, how?

    Check my link to “The eternal modern” for a stronger argument.

  3. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    30. July 2023 at 17:35


    on a tangent, in the intellectual sphere modernity to me is rationality. Rationality as opposed to emotion but also, obscurantism. So I do think there is an “endpoint” to modernity, which yes was reached ca. 1920 – 1945. You could place the end of WWII as the (temporary as we now know) triumph of modernity vs. emotionality in all its forms, such as the tribalism of nationalism but also, much of religion. It is not a clean break because religion was still strong even in the WWII winners’ countries and because say, communism was also a rational and timelessly modern concept. The idea of optimizing society is rationalist,therefore “modern”.

    When I was younger I did not actually like modern buildings, artefacts etc because they seemed emotionally cold to me. My worldview was generally more warm and feeling-oriented. Come to think of it I also never imagined the future. At all. As I grow older, all or modernity now appeals to me very much. I still think capital-R rationalism is missing much of the point, values can’t be found through rationality (no “ought” from an “is”). But I start despising all its alternatives.

  4. Gravatar of msgkings msgkings
    30. July 2023 at 18:17

    Good post. But what’s wrong with the future/present? The world is much wealthier than in 1962, and healthier, with lots more interesting things for us to do and watch and eat and experience.

    You’ve probably read this but if not check out The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley.

  5. Gravatar of Sara Sara
    30. July 2023 at 18:20

    Roger Scruton spoke about this already.

    We live in an age where MNC’s build to maximize space. And as Ayn Rand pointed out too, great Architecture requires individuality, creativity, the power to improvise, and to envision something extraordinary, and then have the will and the means to create it.

    The disgusting blocks the corporate, Borg like collective produce will never be seen as a seven wonder, during any epoch, no matter how long they survive, because they are designed for utility and profit, not for beauty. To build something transcendent requires a vision that goes beyond balance sheets.

    In short, it requires free speech, zoning laws that don’t prohibit self expression, and a people that love liberty and life.

    “iVerify”, the UN’s new tool to destroy dissent is the darkness that will continue to stall progress. CRT, and the neo-lib, neo-con party (really globalist party), is the enemy of transcendence, not its catalyst.

  6. Gravatar of Solon Solon
    30. July 2023 at 18:36

    The optimism of the early 1960s has never been matched (US).

    Aerodynamic was futurist. Tbat remains true but some scifi has retrofuture look.

  7. Gravatar of Kangaroo Kangaroo
    30. July 2023 at 20:36


    Standing tough under stars and stripes
    We can tell
    This dream’s in sight
    You’ve got to admit it
    At this point in time that it’s clear
    The future looks bright
    On that train all graphite and glitter
    Undersea by rail
    Ninety minutes from New York to Paris
    Well by seventy-six we’ll be A-OK

    Here at home we’ll play in the city
    Powered by the sun
    Perfect weather for a streamlined world
    There’ll be spandex jackets one for everyone

    A just machine to make big decisions
    Programmed by fellows with compassion and vision
    We’ll be clean when their work is done
    We’ll be eternally free yes and eternally young

  8. Gravatar of BC BC
    30. July 2023 at 21:28

    One exception is the aesthetics of electronics. For example, when one looks at the bridge of the Enterprise in the original Star Trek or the space ships in the original Star Wars, they look ancient rather than futuristic: tape drives and indicator lights rather than high-res touchscreens or even VR/AR.

  9. Gravatar of BC BC
    30. July 2023 at 21:55

    The Jetson’s dining room also looks decidedly like what someone in 1960 rather than 2020 would envision:

    (Although I think this picture may have been created in 2015 rather than taken from the original.) Compare the text based choices and punch card slot to even current aesthetics:

    Someone imagining a future kitchen today would probably have all the kids ordering meals on a tablet or even just orally describing their desired meal to an Alexa-like assistant.

  10. Gravatar of Matthias Matthias
    30. July 2023 at 22:28

    Scott, have a look at Singapore for how the future might look like, perhaps. And, I guess, you have enough connections to China to get some impressions from there as well.

  11. Gravatar of Andrew Andrew
    30. July 2023 at 22:59

    Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

  12. Gravatar of David S David S
    31. July 2023 at 01:43

    You could have included some sketches by Erich Mendelsohn to demonstrate that everything cool from the 60’s was copying the cool stuff from the 1920’s. In general, curved architecture looks impressive, but it’s a pain to build, and usually an even bigger pain to occupy. The TWA terminal is now a hotel lobby.

    The last great buddy movie was Midnight Run from 1988—which feels like a long time ago. Maybe the buddy movie has gone out of style (not to throw shade on Thelma & Louise).

  13. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    31. July 2023 at 09:13

    mbka, I also like modern buildings more than I did when I was young. As far as “rationality”, I’m not quite sure how to define the term.

    msgkings, Yes, the world is better off. But am I?

    Kangaroo, Good lyrics.

    BC, Agree. But midcentury modern living rooms still look pretty modern. I.e. a room with Barcelona chairs and big glass windows.

    Matthias, I’ve been to Singapore a couple times. It reminds me of Dallas.

    Andrew, Good cover.

    David, Yes, and the glass skyscrapers of the 50s were based on early designs from the 1920s.

  14. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    31. July 2023 at 10:23

    Some of the futuristic eco-architecture stuff looks cool.

  15. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    31. July 2023 at 11:25

    There’s a convergence in the examples you provide between aerodynamics and anesthetics. We often nautrally like the sorts of curves in buildings, aircraft, and cars that make them aerodynamic.

  16. Gravatar of msgkings msgkings
    31. July 2023 at 12:35


    I wouldn’t know but you are older now of course, you’ve written some good bits about that, how we think of the good old days as good because we were young and beautiful and carefree then.

    I hope you’re happier than you imply here…sounds like your pessimism is more personal than general.

  17. Gravatar of msgkings msgkings
    31. July 2023 at 12:37


    Great song, great album. Have you ever heard another of his solo songs called “Century’s End”?

  18. Gravatar of Capt. J Parker Capt. J Parker
    31. July 2023 at 13:19

    The curious thing is: Modernism was fading as the latest and greatest thing in Architecture right around the time of the Jetsons, slowly being replaced by Post Modernism. And stagnation in building technology can’t be too big a reason for us having locked in Modernism as everyone’s vision of the future because steel and glass building technology was old hat (first building in 1860) before Modernism ever got off the ground starting in the 1920’s. Maybe it’s just that what replaced Modernism was less about the future but more about recasting more traditional styles.

  19. Gravatar of Jim Beaver Jim Beaver
    31. July 2023 at 16:48

    The future usually looks like an exaggerated present seen through the tint of the prevailing mood. The mood in the US has been pessimistic for awhile so most movies or shows set in the future feature dystopian cities that look like our current cities but with more tall buildings(the exaggerated part; should be a lot more suburbs) and a run down look. Usually more Frank Gehry than Jetsons I think but I was born in 86, so I’m biased.

    Maybe a new period of optimism will encourage people to stop going back to the 60s for visions of an optimistic future.

    What does the future look like in China? What did the future look like in post war Britain?

  20. Gravatar of msgkings msgkings
    1. August 2023 at 07:16

    @Jim B:

    The future in postwar Britain looked pretty bleak to Orwell (1984 was written in 1948)

  21. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    1. August 2023 at 09:45

    Parker, I recall postmodernism coming a bit later—1962 was still a very modernist period.

    msgkings, My pessimism mostly relates to the worsening political situation throughout most of the world. I see it as likely that technology will continue improving, boosting living standards. But will that make us happier? I doubt it.

    My personal outlook has nothing to do with the broader world, and revolves around things like health. Not that I have any serious health problems, but old age certainly takes a toll.

  22. Gravatar of Capt. J Parker Capt. J Parker
    1. August 2023 at 12:10

    1962 was just about the time when some architects were tiring of modernism. Yes, of course, modernism was still dominant in 1962 but it was old hat, at least for some.

  23. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    2. August 2023 at 08:00

    Parker, Actually, your article contradicts you. They say modernism peaked in the 1970s and the first postmodern building didn’t occur until 1964. So no, 1962 was still the golden age of modernism. It was still gaining strength.

  24. Gravatar of Jerry Melsky Jerry Melsky
    2. August 2023 at 10:18

    The Post Modernism article didn’t have a picture of the Moore house so here’s one: I swear on a stack of hardcover copies of The Fountainhead that I’m not trying to belabor an argument. I know when I’m beat. Thanks for all the feedback you give your readers Dr. Sumner.

  25. Gravatar of martin jenkins martin jenkins
    6. August 2023 at 23:45

    Modern architecture is not designed to lift our spirits. Rather the contrary: it belittles us and makes us know our place in society. There are very few great modern buildings. But who can dispute the beauty of cities of Vienna, Prague etc?

  26. Gravatar of dtoh dtoh
    9. August 2023 at 05:54

    Your 3rd photo (Saarien TWA Terminal at Idlewild) is now the TWA hotel at JFK. I stayed there recently… 60’s retro… it still looks cool… rooms have dial telephone and of course they play great movies from the 60s. Only thing is people don’t dress as well as they did back then.

  27. Gravatar of dtoh dtoh
    9. August 2023 at 05:55

    I should say great music (not movies) from the 60s.

  28. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    9. August 2023 at 06:58

    dtoh, Another cultural milestone of 1960 was Klein’s wonderful TWA poster:

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