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Encore Performances: Filling in another blank: Xanadu.

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From my old blog, March 2008. I think my idea worked — I haven’t thought of the Xanadu Houses since I wrote this.

It remains my belief that, if I can use the Internet to fill in hazy memories from my youth, I can finally forget them entirely and use the mind-space for something else.

The other day I was remembering an article I read in a kids’ magazine, circa 1980-81, about a “house of the future” in the woods of Wisconsin.
It was made of domes of white polyurethane foam, with TV screens embedded in the inside walls and lots of futuristic curvy surfaces.
Supposedly it was mad crazy energy-efficient and easy to build.

It didn’t take me more than five minutes to find it on Google:
It was the Xanadu house in Wisconsin Dells, Wis., one of three “Xanadu houses” built in America circa 1979-1981.
The pictures on that page, while taken in Florida, capture some of the embedded-TV vibe I remember so vividly from the article.

Another major “selling point” of the Xanadu homes — which I hadn’t remembered — was their extensive use of computers in the various rooms.
This QuickTime video gives you a taste of that, with lines like, “Once the meal plan is selected, the Auto-Chef takes over!”
(My favourite part: The shot of the foam-embedded TV screen with the tiny, pathetic-looking fireplace. It even makes the WPIX Yule Log look like Grandma’s hearth. The future is a cold, lonely, distant place, and don’t you forget it.)

Obviously, these things aren’t getting built in every subdivision in America.
As it turns out, the concept people were hyping when I was in second grade was a laughingstock by the time I graduated high school.
Part of the problem was the rapid development of technology: By the late ’80s, people were already doing things with computers that they had never imagined.
The Xanadu Houses’ 1980-vintage equipment looked like yesterday’s news just a few years after they were built.

By all accounts, the houses had low ceilings and cramped rooms, and thus never caught on as human living spaces.
Their environmental benefits, such as they were, never really captured the mass imagination.
And of course they were wicked expensive to build, given all the computer gear.

According to Wiki, the Xanadu Houses in Wisconsin and Tennessee were gone by the mid-’90s.
The one in Florida hung on until a couple of years ago, when — run-down and plagued with mold — it was razed.
Supposedly, a condo development is planned to replace it.


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