A look back at the Alcoa Care-free homes, on their 60th anniversary
“Here is your Dream House Made Real” began the promotional brochure for the Alcoa Care-free Home, an aluminum prototype home designed by Charles Goodman and launched 60 years ago, in 1957.
Ductile metals are not usually the stuff of dreams—unless you’re an aerospace engineer—but Alcoa, a Pittsburgh-based aluminum company, hoped that homes made of their flagship product might find a place in your local cul-de-sac.
They largely did not. That largely seems due to their price tag of $60,000 (just shy of of $438,000 in today’s dollars, and more than twice what was advertised), rather than due to any defects in the design. But the program—and the two dozen homes actually built—are a powerful argument for Charles Goodman’s clever midcentury design.
“Tomorrow Town” at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City—featuring homes sponsored by the National Lumber Manufacturer’s Association, General Electric, and the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company—was an early foray by large U.S. companies into home design, one followed subsequently by Beech Aircraft’s aluminum Dymaxion house, Consolidated Vultee’s Fleet house, and, later, the Alcoa Care-Free Home.
If an America housed in dwellings built by corporations, or even bearing their names, sounds like a dystopia, the houses themselves are strong arguments to the contrary: Care-Free Homes are bracing departures from the styles found in otherwise anonymous American suburbs across 16 states, like the average Ranch or the Cape Cod home.
To put it in suburban terms, the Care-Free Home wasn’t an ascetic metal-and-glass neighbor turning up its nose at vulgar vinyl surroundings; it was a barbecue host wearing a loud shirt—the facades featured prominent purple aluminum panels, gold doors, and swirling teal-aluminum window screens—and somehow pulling it off. Grilles of brick surrounding half of the house offer some balance against chromatic excess.
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