Social Mood Conference | Socionomics Foundation

The biggest mistake made by architects and economists alike is extrapolating recent trends into the future

What does a “bull-market house” look like? Here’s a clue: It looks like a bull-market car.

Socionomic research shows that during periods of rising social mood — i.e., during a bull market in stocks — automobile frames are boxier. Hoods, roofs, sides and trunks are more rectangular. Straight, parallel lines and sharp angles have a defined look that appeals to people when they are in the mood to solve problems and improve their lives. (“Social Mood and Automobile Styling,” The Elliott Wave Theorist, July 2006.)

Similarly, bull-market house design tends to have boxy shapes, hard angles, large windows and lots of room inside with a huge number of square feet per person.

Back in 2007, right as the housing mania was deflating and just before the financial meltdown erased 54% of the DJIA’s value in mere 18 months, The Wall Street Journal reported that lenders had to resort to auctions and accept discounts of 30-50% to move the rising backlog of historically expensive, high-maintenance bull-market homes. In other words, eight years ago, as social mood was rolling over to the downside, McMansions were on the way out. The question for architects — and anyone interested in home design — was this: What would replace the definitive design outlines, large windows, complicated roofs, sprawling floorplans and expansive square footage?

Architectural visionaries since the turn of the 20th century have tried to predict the home of the future, but have racked up a long list of failures. Another Wall Street Journal article from 2007 described the urban design mistakes of Le Corbusier (one of the pioneers of what is now called modern architecture), and the unpopular housing ideas of Buckminster Fuller (an American neo-futuristic architect). When you look through the socionomic lens at their mistakes, it becomes clear that they tried to predict the future design trends by extrapolating the recent past. (Which is similar to how economists “forecast” future economic trends: by looking at the past 2-3 years and projecting the same trends to continue. But that’s a whole other conversation.)

As social mood and global stock markets were rolling over from bull to bear eight years ago, researchers at the Socionomics Institute  postulated that the same social psychology that brought the “War on Terror” and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq would also affect housing design. Complacency was on the way out. For example, if you considered U.S. housing from a longer-term European or South-American perspective, you saw a complacent lack of security: large windows, fake shutters, and the fact that the best-selling exterior door lock in the U.S. was universally vulnerable to a simple “bump key” that you can buy over the Internet for a buck, or make yourself with a file.

Indeed, lately we have been seeing security-focused changes in home design. A recent Gizmodo article titled “How Disasters, Emergencies, and Survivalism Are Shaping Home Design” said:

You peer warily out of the single window in your zombie-proof steel box. The street seems deserted — except for a lone figure who is staring at you from a distance. Is it 2079, in the years after the Great Drought Plague!?

No, it’s 2015 in Royal Oak, Michigan, and that zombie is a curious local Fox reporter. Royal Oak is just the latest American town to get a house made from shipping containers, which offer something unique to consumers with a taste for apocalyptic adventures. Call it disaster chic.

Shipping containers are far from the only mode of emergency shelter that’s been co-opted for non-emergency use. Houses are smaller and more nimble, in some cases, even mobile.

Why is disaster chic so alluring? Is it the constant threat of imminent chaos — climate chaos, statehood chaos, economic chaos — rearing its ugly head? Is it that people enjoy seeing themselves as survivors, in one way or another? Or is it that this tech is a kind of status symbol in some future Elysium-style world where only the wealthy have access to savior technology?

Those are good questions, except they all fall short of identifying the real reason why “disaster chic” in home design is suddenly so appealing. To a socionomist, that reason is clear: a major shift in social mood we registered in 2007 — and prior to that, back in 2000, another major stock market top.

Back in 2007, near the top, a NYT article said,

“Not so long ago, architects were obsessed with the notion that globalism, the Internet and sophisticated new building technologies were opening the way for a more fluid, transparent landscape in which walls would simply begin to melt away.”

The architects were wrong again. Today, people are building survival bunkers in underground nuclear missile silos, and walls that dwarf the Berlin Wall are under construction around the world. This same social cyclicality is visible in Hadrian’s Wall (a defensive fortification in Roman Britain, begun in AD 122, which divides present day England from Scotland), and the Great Wall of China.

Going forward, investors and homebuilders could profit from a correct prediction of the future of housing, so how could a visionary architect do a better job of that? Socionomics offers two answers:

  • First, don’t extrapolate the recent past into the future.
  • Second, in light of the long-term Elliott wave count for the stock market (social mood’s best-known barometer) expect a long-term trend toward conservation and defensiveness.
  • And third, look for existing construction technologies that make sense in this light.

One such technology that solves the high-maintenance, low-security, and energy waste of bull-market houses (as well as windstorm, fire, and termite vulnerability) is the monolithic concrete dome. Its cost is competitive with conventional housing, the design is much simpler, far more durable and exponentially stronger.

One of the few problems with the dome design is that it’s not socially accepted right now. That may change. A shifting social penchant toward rounder shape, smaller windows, and more sensible economy may make the concrete dome a leading candidate for the “Bear-Market House” of the future.

Watch Alan Hall and the ten other excellent presentations from the 2015 Social Mood Conference right now from your PC or mobile device via an on-demand broadcast>>