Barbie Dreamhouse Across The Decades
When extra-terrestrial visitors come knocking in a few thousand years the only surviving record of our architecture may be Barbie Dreamhouse. Thanks to eternal plastic.
Sometimes a fluffy bit of pop-culture falls under the gaze of critical thinkers looking for deeper meaning. Like when The Residents covered Elvis’ Teddy Bear. You can’t get more pop than Barbie or more analytical than architects. In fact one critic concludes that “Barbie’s house is infinitely more exciting than Barbie herself.” Our favorite doll’s ambitions, hopes and dreams, and personality, all derive from the stuff she surrounds herself with: the clothes of course, but also her car, her furniture, even her pets
A new book, conceptualized by PIN-UP Magazine’s Felix Burrichter, Whitney Mallett, and Ben Ganz, presents six decades of the ever-evolving Barbie Dreamhouse as an impression of its era’s engineering and social sensibilities. “Yes, Barbie’s houses do reflect the transition in architecture from Modernist to Postmodernism to, well, whatever we’re calling contemporary architecture these days,” Ian Volner comments in the book. The architecture critic continues “Their stylistic evolution is embedded deeply within other trends exogenous to design as such: television, film, fashion, and the unique way these and other media filter down to the junior set who have fueled Barbiemania through the years.”
From Venturi-ish flattened princess-palaces to rambling Post-Modernist beach houses: it is in the breadth of that spectrum that my Barbie has finally found her home.”
-Rafael de Cárdenas Architect and Creative Director
Barbie Dreamhouse: An Architectural Survey profiles six instances of the doll’s habitation beginning in the mid 1960s. That’s when Mattel senior VP Kim Culmone pointed out that most women didn’t have bank accounts or own homes. “But here’s Barbie: a single gal owning her own place. She’s got her hi-fi, she has a closet, she’s got books, a picture of her boyfriend, she’s got multiple careers,” she says. “That to me is what the Barbie Dreamhouse is about: a young woman running her own life, with her own job, doing her own thing.”
The original 1962 Barbie Dreamhouse
The first Dreamhouse in 1962 was a cardboard pop up number with loosely interpreted modernist ideals. It anticipated the women’s lib movement with symbolism of higher education and independence for women.
Barbie’s mid ’60s digs mirrored the time’s ground breaking Innovations, complete with clean-lined furnishings and other Modernist touches. It includes recognition of the developing impact of TV. The historian Beatriz Colomina contends that planners were focused on play at first, but “One thing the Eames house, Playboy apartments, and the Barbie Dreamhouse have in common: modern subjectivity is produced through décor. They’re built like sets for television programs. It’s a performance of domestic life for a public audience.”
In the next decade, the ’70s, a three-story bohemian condo decorated with psychedelic pinks, oranges, and greens seems straight out of San Francisco. With her Breuer and Panton inspired furniture, this single girl’s gonna make it after all.
Fast-forward a few years and that boisterous flair recedes to a rural abode with earth tones apropos of Barbie’s maturing preferences and environmentalism. With nods to Rudolph Schindler and John Campbell, as well as Charles Moore’s Sea Ranch, the surroundings are lively and straightforward. Avocado, Harvest Gold, and diagonal panelling perfectly capture the era.
The Dreamhouse transitioned from common sense during the ’80s, toward the 1990’s Laura Ashely filled McMansions. The 2000 Victorian inspired dreamhouse toned things down, and shunned the Y2K space-age styles. However, its palace like form mirrored the period’s palatial pastiche being championed on MTV.
The latest version, 2021, appears ready to go viral: this “TikTok-ready tower” whose disco balls, moveable slide, and swinging parlor seat give Barbie plenty of backgrounds to shoot video content.
Sure dollhouses are for kids, and playing is the way they learn about building a domestic life from their own point of view. The trends and styles of pop culture are fluid and rarely appreciated in their own time. Later, as grown ups, we can look back and see the elements we may have carried forward from our formative years.
“Each one is a true model of how we inherently relate to space and the magical intersection of dreams and reality manifested through the principles of design.”
-Kelly Wearstler, Designer
While the dreamhouses mirror their eras, Barbie herself has gotten a decent amount of flack for not advancing a sensible self-image among young ladies, and Culmone has been working tenaciously to transform that narrative. The line currently contains 35 complexions, 94 haircuts, and 9 body types, The 2021 dreamhouse even highlights an ADA wheelchair lift. “We feel an enormous responsibility to make sure that all kids see themselves reflected in the brand.” Barbie can be anything… perhaps the next iteration should be a Barbie DreamSpaceStation.
The upcoming Barbie film teasers are flooding the web ahead of the July release. Barbiecore is happening on TikTok. The paint brand Backdrop developed a line of Dreamhouse inspired colors. Even Maserati is getting in on the act with a Barbie flavored SUV. So I guess you could say the girl is having a banner year. Can we look forward to a pink Airstream next?