The Futuro Houses of Wanli, Taiwan’s UFO Village

A pair of Futuro Houses in Wanli UFO Village

photography by: Omri Westmark

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For a brief period of time, modular prefabs were set to become the worldwide solution that would save us from the ever-increasing lack of housing affordability. Despite the big hopes, however, the concept never really took off, and due to multiple factors, rapidly descended into oblivion. This failed attempt to redesign our way of living is still memorialized by a series of vestiges of that era. Conspicuous by its large scale among them is Wanli UFO Village, a cluster of abandoned saucer-shaped houses which still dot the scenic coastline north of Taipei.

The Origins of these Architectural Oddities

Throughout the 20th century, architectural experiments became a thing of the norm, reflecting the technological progress and cultural revolution humanity has experienced at that time. It was this trend that engendered the unconventional design of the infamous Futuro and Venturo houses during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.


The brainchild of Finnish architect Matti Suuronen, these portable prefabricated units were originally conceived as an answer to the seemingly unsolvable problem of high real-estate prices. As these transportable homes could be mass-replicated in a relatively short span of time while not entailing exceedingly expensive infrastructure, they were thought of as the ultimate remedy for the growing housing crisis.


Somewhat reminiscent of an alien spacecraft, the Futuro Pod (or simply Futuro) was designed by Suuronen as a futuristic-style ski cabin. Made primarily of fiber-reinforced plastic, the oval structure could be transported by air, sea or land to nearly any location. Once there, the unit was propped up by four stilted legs tailored to fit various terrains.


Each house was 4 meter tall and had a diameter of 8 meters, while its 50 square meters of floor space were enough to squeeze a host of amenities, including a dining area, a kitchen, a living room, a washroom and a single private bedroom. Featuring an electric heating system as well as a thermal insulation, the Futuros could easily cope with the frigid conditions of their snowy whereabouts.


Much like its more famous sibling, the Venturo was a portable unit whose outer shell was constructed using layers of fiberglass with polyurethane as an insulator. In spite of their similarities, the two modules differed in shape and function. In contrast to Futuro’s elliptic structure, Venturos featured a square layout with rounded rectangular walls, comprised mostly of glass panels. The house was initially intended as a vacation home, yet most units were eventually repurposed as small shops.


While at first, the modules’ innovative architecture seemed promising, their prime days were short lived and after fewer than 100 Futuros and 20 Venturos were built, the Finnish manufacturer Oy Polykem Ab decided to suspend their assembly indefinitely. Many attribute their demise to the 1973 oil crisis which impaired the plastic industry, but others also laid the blame on the incongruous design and environmental issues.

Wanli UFO Village

Roughly a decade after the construction of Suuronen’s alien-looking edifices was officially terminated, tens of these houses suddenly popped up along the northern shores of Taiwan, about 20 kilometers northeast of downtown Taipei.


Akin to their original counterparts in various parts of the world, the futuristic cabins met a bleak fate, as most of which were abandoned in the span of only a few years, rapidly falling into a state of disrepair ever since. In recent years, the coastal site was reborn as a quirky tourist attraction, frequented by occasional intrepid visitors who marvel at its otherworldly sights.


Locally known as Wanli UFO Village (due to its location in Wanli District), this beachside community is steeped in mystery, not least because its muse, the Futuros and Venturos, miserably failed and scrapped long before this place even came into being. What little information that is out there, revolves entirely around a sole figure, Su Ming, a local civil servant who forged a new career path as a savvy entrepreneur and developer.


After making a fortune selling fizzy beverages and washing powder, Ming opted to enter the real-estate business. His initial idea was to create a beach resort for the many US soldiers stationed in the island, something which up until that moment couldn’t be promulgated due to the status of the Taiwanese coastline as a military exclusion zone.


In the early 1980’s, following years of experience, Ming managed to circumvent any regulation that might have impeded his pretentious plan, and shortly thereafter, peppered a narrow sliver of land along the scenic Emerald Bay with copious clones of Futuros and Venturos. However, when everything seemed to be right on track, the Taiwanese economy fell into a deep recession, something which led investors to withdraw their funds from the project one after another.


Since then, nearly all of the oddly-shaped buildings were left empty, becoming more derelict with every day that passes. While over the decades, some of the pods were demolished, others dodged this very fate, including a select few that are still inhabited to date. The degree of decay throughout the village varies greatly, with mildly dilapidated homes standing side by side with tattered structures whose content is haphazardly strewn across the street.


Quite ironically, the hamlet has gained far more popularity in its current form, becoming the poster child for urbex tourism and modular architecture alike.


Take note that Wanli UFO Village is often confused with another place of its kind, Sanzhi UFO houses. Built around the same place and time, this hotel complex featured clumps of Futuro-style units, stacked together around a concrete core. Unfortunately though, the Sanzhi houses were completely torn down between 2008 and 2010, leaving our protagonists as the only remnant of that architectural style anywhere in Taiwan, at least for the time being.