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2003.07.13

Random Thoughts on Xanadu, Home of the Future

PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS ARTICLE HAS MOVED! CLICK HERE TO READ MORE AND DISCUSS XANADU!


by Holly Tavel, Neuroscape Editor
Photographs by Matt Ames


Driving down traffic-clogged U.S. 192 in Kissimmee, Florida, hermetically sealed in your air-conditioned car, past t-shirt emporiums, cheap motels, discount stores, gas stations and scraggly palm trees, bludgeoned by an unending vista of frantic advertising (Sunglasses! T-Shirts! Designer Discounts! All Park Tickets Half-Price!), the phrase "so bad it's good" comes to mind. Except that U.S 192 is so bad it's...well, bad. True kitsch isn't funny or delightfully tacky or lovably strange. It's numbing. The reason U.S. 192 feels so desolate is because it has nothing to say, and there is nothing to say about it. Its facade is impenetrable, deflecting any attempt at narrative. The true goal of kitsch is, of course, the elimination of history, an aesthetic which finds its purest expression in Disney World's Magic Kingdom, a mere five miles up the road (when you start seeing the shiny purple signs, you've crossed over).

But wait...what is that thing? What thing? That. That...building. Is that a building? What the hell is that? Universally reviled by the locals, Xanadu: Home of the Future (the weird, ugly kid no onein the neighborhood wants to play with) sits just off the main highway in a moldering grayish heap, looking like a cluster of giant white toadstools or like the bleached husk of a washed-up sea monster. In fact, the metaphors keep coming. A spaceship crash-landed in a mucky swamp. The latest in igloo design for forward-thinking Eskimos. A set piece for a low-budget remake of Logan's Run.

Designed by architect Roy Mason in the early Eighties, this showhome-cum-tourist attraction might as well have been built in the Fifties. Mason's talk of "intelligent houses" and "organic architecture" notwithstanding, the future as envisioned by Xanadu was clearly six parts Jetsons, three parts Buckminster Fuller, and one part Goofy Golf. Crammed with high-tech gadgets even then racing towards obsolescence, Xanadu got it painfully, ridiculously wrong. Imagining itself the bold new shape of things to come, it was in fact firmly rooted in the past, a last stab at the "futuristic" future of the 1939 World's Fair, a future built of undulating domes and painted a uniformly reflective white.

At once truly poignant and unintentionally hilarious, Xanadu is that particular brand of cheese available only in middle America. Despite - or maybe because of - its fervent wish to be something more than it is, it evokes exactly the same prefab banality as the chain hotels and strip malls that surround it. So maybe Xanadu, in its glory days, never was anything more than an ill-conceived pile of cheap plastic, pseudo-tech and bad lighting fixtures. But deserted, empty inside except for boxes and cabinets stacked here and there, scorched by sun and heat, it exudes a peculiar ghostliness, haunting the landscape.

Xanadu was conceived as the ultimate controlled environment, a fortress against which the outside world, with its chaotic, natural messiness, stood nary a chance. Naturally, eliminating mundane chores was the first order of business. Instead of robot servants, though, Xanadu offered us a microcomputer "heart" controlling everything from video-projected art to climate control to care of plants in the attached greenhouse and calculating the nutritional value of meals. But through all this runs a telling streak of wistful nostalgia. "The home of the future will be more like the home of the past than the home of the present," said Mason in 1982. "It used to be that the whole family gathered around the hearth for entertainment activities, meals, and so on. The home of the future will feature what I call an 'electronic hearth,' a home computer that is the center of the family's activities - entertainment, bookkeeping, meal-planning." Like many would-be visionaries, though, Mason vastly overestimated the willingness of the average suburban family to embrace the new and unusual. People were loathe to forego the comforting familiarity of their boxlike dwellings for a bubbling plastic dream, even one that could be assembled in three days.

Ultimately, though, Xanadu is far more interesting, and infinitely weirder, in its current state of ruin than it ever was when its doors (or portals, I'm almost tempted to say) were open to the public. It looks and feels like something excavated from the depths, like it should be underwater. You want to throw it back into the ocean before it dies. You can imagine it as some third-rate Atlantis built by guys with cigarette packs rolled up in their sleeves, a watery dream now inhabited by electric eels and bottom feeders. Decay is, after all, a state of transformation.

The castoffs and throwaways of suburbia - dead malls, empty office buildings, abandoned attractions - even cheap sprayed-polyurethane ones - reveal themselves in new ways. Left to their own devices, they turn savage. These places that once communicated carefully crafted, one-sided messages, places that once talked at you, become conversational, saying things that no one could ever have imagined. They tell the truth.

In death, Xanadu has thrown off the shackles of technotopic optimism and achieved self-actualization, revealing itself as the cranky piece of sculptural outsider art it always secretly longed to be. Transformed into a memento mori for a future that never was, Xanadu goes the usual way of modern ruins, making a brief stopover as poetry on its way to oblivion. The future, once so bright we had to wear shades, hightails it into the shadowy past.

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» Home Sweet Home, 2024 from Snarkmarket
Rob Pegoraro's tour through Microsoft's home of the future reminded me of my own tour through a conceptual future home, lo these many years ago. It's circa 1990. My sister's in town for the weekend, and my parents tell me... [Read More]

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» Home Sweet Home, 2024 from Snarkmarket
Rob Pegoraro's tour through Microsoft's home of the future reminded me of my own tour through a conceptual future home, lo these many years ago. It's circa 1990. My sister's in town for the weekend, and my parents tell me... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 6, 2004 10:54:25 PM

Comments

To: Holly Tavel

You had written about Roy Mason's Xanadu. I have been searching for any recent info on Roy Mason. He was the architect who originally designed my home in the early 80's, and I was trying to contact him. I need copies of my architectural plans. Any ideas of his whereabouts? I heard he may have passed away. If so, I'd like to find out if he has any remaining family members that may have kept his works.

Thanks

Posted by: Themis Johnson | Sep 30, 2003 10:51:39 PM

Hi, Thanx for putting this info here about xanadu. I've been interested in this house for over alittle of 4 years and never got the chance to visit it. Even thought everyday i drove around it to see it up close i never had a chance to go in because it was closed. until i worked up my nerves and decided to see if any door will open even though there was a sign saying do not traspass i was willing to do what ever it took to go in and check it out for my self. and i did go in like 4 days ago. The house was completly ruined and even thouh it's bad conditions Xanadu remained completly beutiful. I was wondering if we can protest to save this dome and to put it up to date, i mean it is in florida where tourist search for the coolest place to visit.and XANADU it's the place!!!!!!! Please consider Xanadu and help to save it, i know i will. We all make a difference!!!!!!!!!!!!! Bye!!!

Posted by: Yari | Nov 4, 2003 8:02:33 PM

Hello..i was just wondering if the home was still for sale? i recently noticed the for sale sign has dissapeared. I am really interested in the home.

Posted by: jon nichols | Nov 11, 2003 6:36:00 PM

Holly, Yari, Themis, Jon, and Others:

Just like many of you, I have been researching this "home of the future", its history, and its creator for some time now. I strongly believe that Xanadu is one of the last, and quite possibly the greatest "living" example of an age (especially the 20th century) when we increasingly tried to "simulate a fanciful future" in order to explore and learn, by demonstrating predictions of the technological advances that would be in store for us as we entered the new millennium. It was an extraordinary attempt at creating a three-dimensional model of a future age that we as humans had tried to predict for centuries, through vehicles that include science fiction books, film, and television. Further, I believe this attempt was ultimately made because of our inherent and collective fear of an unknown future. Therefore, I think that Xanadu is important, not just for scientific purposes, but also as a study of the human condition. I also believe that the reason we have only now begun to fathom these concepts in the last few years is because we have finally entered the "unknown" new millennium and we can now look back on Mr. Mason's still-standing attempt in a different light - as both a remnant of American history (artifact of the 20th Century) and a scientific and psychological study of humankind and technology. So, it should come as no surprise that I think Xanadu has been wrongfully neglected and that it should be preserved. I'm wondering if it is even possible to re-create what was once the Xanadu that was. I visit the property each time I am in Orlando (I live about 3 1/2 hours away), but I have not actually gone inside. Yari, you say the interior is destroyed now? I would dedicate quite a bit of time and energy if we could possible join together to figure out how to renovate Xanadu, make it a historic landmark, and get it registered in the historic places registry. I would also like to collect as much information as possible regarding the talented Roy Mason and his entire body of architectural work, especially Xanadu, so it can be readily available to the public. Please e-mail me at [email protected] if any of you are interested in combining our efforts in a wholehearted attempt to "save Xanadu" and celebrate the lifetime achievements of Mr. Roy Mason. Sincerely, Laura Whalen

Posted by: Laura Whalen | Nov 20, 2003 3:24:02 PM

Hi,
I found this material with a google search. I built the Xanadu in Orlando along with 6 others. I live in one as well. I have a large collection of plans for still others that are yet to be built. Some were designed by Mason but some of the best designs were not. All are unique.

Norm

Posted by: Norm Ritland | Dec 4, 2003 10:55:00 PM

Hi,
I found this material with a google search. I built the Xanadu in Orlando along with 6 others. I live in one as well. I have a large collection of plans for still others that are yet to be built. Some were designed by Mason but some of the best designs were not. All are unique.

Norm

Posted by: Norm Ritland | Dec 4, 2003 10:55:03 PM

I am interested in seeing the inside of the Xanadu building in Orlando. I understand that it is closed, but if anyone has any information on who to get in contact with to view the inside, please email me......

Posted by: Lisa Pinelli | Dec 22, 2003 3:09:01 PM

I visited the famous Xanadu just today. You will be interested to know that it is now a shelter for squatters. A band of homeless people have moved in. Broke a sliding glass door in the back to gain access.

I visited the Xanadu in the Dells as a kid and always loved the artistic, free-flowing structure. I think it is a shame that this structure is as delapitated as it is. Many of the windows have been smashed out. The furniture that was once used in the office is now throughout the house. The cubicle walls are securing the broken windows. If any of you are interested in saving this blast from the past, act now! From the looks of it, there isn't much of a future for it.

Posted by: Ron | Feb 12, 2004 12:22:51 AM

Yari, If you thought Xanadu is beautiful in it's current state, check out the pics on this page... http://www.iot.ac.jp/building/itcentre/mirai98/xana/xana.htm.

I'm not sure what language the page is in, but the pics are of Xanadu way back when.

Enjoy!

Posted by: Ron | Feb 14, 2004 2:23:44 AM

It's great to see so many posts since I last checked! My name is Laura Whalen and my e-mail address, again, is [email protected] Please see my previous post for my thoughts about Xanadu.

Norm, You say that you were one of the original developers?? I would love to hear more about your experiences with these incredible structures and what your plans are for future projects. Please e-mail me if you have the time. I would really like to talk about your vision and amazing achievements!

Holly, I regret that I received your e-mail message and accidently deleted it. Therefore, I no longer have your e-mail address and have not been able to reply. If you are still interested, please write to me again. I apologize for the inconvenience and would really like to hear from you!

Ron, Thank you very much for the information and the link..

Sincerely, Laura Whalen

Posted by: Laura Whalen | Feb 14, 2004 11:38:41 PM

I just pasted by the Xanadu and noticed the for sale sign is no longer up and there seems to be work going on right in front of it whre there once was a pond of some sort. Does anyone know if the land was purchased and what is going to happen to Xanadu - I too am very interested in it.
Thank you,
Vanessa

Posted by: Vanessa | Feb 19, 2004 3:19:09 PM

The for sale sign is on the property, it's just been knocked down. You cannot see it from the road. I've called the number on the fallen sign, and the number has been disconnected. I have tried to locate the company offering the property for sale, but have not been able to find a listing in the greater Orlando/Kissimmee area.

Hopefully, within the next month I will find time to go to the department of public records to see if I can track the property owner. Wish me luck ;)

Another thing of interest. The creator (Bob Masters)and architect (Roy Mason) published a book in 1983 called "Xanadu: The computerized house of Tomorrow and How It Can Be Yours TODAY!" I found the book used on Amazon(around $10), in great condition. Parts of the book text are a bit cheezy, but it gives a wonderful insite on how Xanadu came about and the theories behind it. There are also a few beautiful color pictures of the Xanadu that was built in the Wisconsin Dells, which has since been demolished.

Enjoy,
Ron

Posted by: Ron | Feb 23, 2004 11:26:25 AM

Hello there -

I am so delighted to have found the Xanadu page! I'm originally from Western North Carolina, and one of the experiences I had as a child that had a tremendous impact on me was going to Gatlinburg, TN to see Xanadu with my parents.

Now, it's years later and I'm in graduate school studying material culture ... and I'm still fascinated by Xanadu. I'm particularly interested in the idea of the "home of the future" becoming a home of the past - I'm wondering what the final days of Xanadu in Gatlinburg were like, and what sort of place replaced it on the landscape. I'm also curious about local people's responses to and memories of Xanadu. Please feel free to email any information to me -- and thanks again for such a great resource.

Posted by: Erika | Mar 4, 2004 5:20:31 PM

Greetings All,
I just visited Xanadu yesterday, March 6 2004, and found that all the possible entrances, sliding glass doors, etc. , had been covered/boarded up with what looked like old cubicle walls. So, it looks like someone is taking pains to keep out others.

When I was there over last summer I got a few peeps into the structure and could not see that much damage(http://faculty.valenciacc.edu/ames/xanadu.htm).

Matt

Posted by: Matt Ames | Mar 7, 2004 4:59:27 PM

Hello,
I remember visiting the Xanadu House in the Wisconsin dells when I was a teenager. Since then I have been interested in the idea of building a normal sized house with the construction techniques used in the Xanadu. Unfirtunately it seems these things never went beyond the few models they had, so there is no real information about the econimics of building and owning one of these houses.

The Construction was advertised as less expensive than traditional methods, etc. If a few houses had been built with more traditional layouts and decor maybe they could have become popular. I hope the last remaining Xanadu is purchased by someone willing to restore it and live in it, even if they need to alter it a bit. It would be a shame to lose such a monument to the past's vision of the future.

-Chris

Posted by: Chris | Mar 15, 2004 10:09:17 AM

Hello all, I visited Florida and discovered Xanadu in early March 2004. The 3rd or 4th I think. I gained access to this unique structure by a back sliding door. As I started taking pictures and winding my way to the main living area, I saw a T.V. that was on, and some fast food containers. Obviously a squatter had moved in, and not knowing his mental condition, I left quietly and quickly. I would have loved to explore! Anyone have the plans or know how to contact Roy Mason or Bob Masters? The phone# on the sign there is no good, but just up the road is another property for sale by the same company with the correct #. Sorry, I don't recall it, but it's for sale. Got $1.7 million?
I would like to know the construction company. I really like underground housing and thought Xanadu covered with a little hill would fit the bill. Any info would be apreaciated. Thanks, Bill Webster [email protected]

Posted by: Bill Webster | Mar 24, 2004 11:27:34 AM

Hello all, I visited Florida and discovered Xanadu in early March 2004. The 3rd or 4th I think. I gained access to this unique structure by a back sliding door. As I started taking pictures and winding my way to the main living area, I saw a T.V. that was on, and some fast food containers. Obviously a squatter had moved in, and not knowing his mental condition, I left quietly and quickly. I would have loved to explore! Anyone have the plans or know how to contact Roy Mason or Bob Masters? The phone# on the sign there is no good, but just up the road is another property for sale by the same company with the correct #. Sorry, I don't recall it, but it's for sale. Got $1.7 million?
I would like to know the construction company. I really like underground housing and thought Xanadu covered with a little hill would fit the bill. Any info would be apreaciated. Thanks, Bill Webster [email protected]

Posted by: Bill Webster | Mar 24, 2004 11:40:59 AM

I love Xanadu and want to one day live in one, or at least as part of my home. Is there a site telling how to contact someone to make one?

Posted by: Infinity | Apr 2, 2004 1:30:47 AM

I would just like to say that Xanadu is a wonderful place and if anyone has the chance to take a stand against developers, I believe Xanadu Home of the Future is worth saving

Posted by: David Crowley | Apr 7, 2004 8:38:59 PM

I would just like to say that Xanadu is a wonderful place and if anyone has the chance to take a stand against developers, I believe Xanadu Home of the Future is worth saving

Posted by: David Crowley | Apr 7, 2004 8:39:12 PM

I would just like to say that Xanadu is a wonderful place and if anyone has the chance to take a stand against developers, I believe Xanadu Home of the Future is worth saving

Posted by: David Crowley | Apr 7, 2004 8:41:49 PM

I would just like to say that Xanadu is a wonderful place and if anyone has the chance to take a stand against developers, I believe Xanadu Home of the Future is worth saving.

Posted by: David Crowley | Apr 7, 2004 8:42:08 PM

I just recently found a website that has 80 pictures of the inside of the Xanadu house. They were taken by urban explorers. The pictures are fairly recent(I think they are from February 2004). Homeless people seem to be living in there now. I say a few leaving the building when I was in Kissimmee at the end of March 2004. I too think it would be very cool if someone could restore this past look at the future. I will post a link to the website when I find it again.

Posted by: Julie | Apr 15, 2004 7:36:41 PM

Here is the website with all the pictures I was just writing about:
spork.no-ip.com/~uef/gallery/xanadu?page=1

Posted by: Julie | Apr 15, 2004 7:43:33 PM

Roy Mason has indeed passed away, according to two posts I found on Usenet from 1996:

-----

Roy Mason an true pioneer of the integrated home controls industry was killed, murdered actually in Washington. Roy was the principal architect of one of the first integrated homes Xanadu. It was featured tourist stop near Orlando in the early 1980's.

Roy was the first Executive Director of the Home Autmation Association. He will be missed.

Best Regards and if anyone needs funeral information please send me an e-mail.

[email protected]

-----

The life and work of Washington Architect and Designer Roy Mason will be honored at a Memorial Service on Wednesday, 17 July at 6pm at the Washington Hilton (Georgetown Room) in Washington DC.

The service is planned in conjunction with the annual "Future Vision" conference of the World Future Society, which Mason served as architecture editor for many years.

Mason was known for his innovative freeform foam buildings such as "Xanadu - House of the Future" in Orland FL, and the "Mushroom House" in Bethesda, MD. He pioneered the concept of the "smart house" that adjusts itself to its occupants needs.

Examples of Mason's work, including blueprints, sketches, and photos will be on display in the Exhibit hall throughout the conference, which
runs from 15-18 July. For more information call the World Future Society at 301-656-8274.

Anyone wishing to speak at the service or loan materials for the exhibit may call M.J. Vilardi at 202-337-3340.

-----

I also found one site claiming that the Gatlinburg Xanadu has not been torn down, and still exists:

http://www.uer.ca/locations/viewgal.asp?locid=20299&galid=10990

Does anybody have an address for where it was/is located? I live within 45 minutes of Gatlinburg, could easily drive up there to confirm whether it still exists, and get some photos...

Email me at [email protected] with info.

Posted by: Michael Tomkins | Apr 16, 2004 2:13:45 PM

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