Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Ahwatukee House of the Future (1980-1984)

It was envisioned as a "shining home of dreams", an "experimental living laboratory and testing ground", a "magnificent prism of Man's dreams" where the ideas of tomorrow are experienced today.  

In practice, it ended up being a three dollar tourist attraction. 

Completed in 1979 for a cost of $1,200,000, the Ahwatukee House of the Future was the brainchild of real-estate developer and Ahwatukee village founder Randall Presley

Conceived as an attraction to generate interest in the relatively new Phoenix, Arizona suburb, Presley approached the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation with the vision of an idealized futuristic home that would wow visitors while also maximizing efficiency in a harsh desert climate.

Elevation sketches.

Floor plan.

Charles Robert Schiffner, of Taliesin Associated Architects, served as project architect for the striking pyramidal edifice, which looks something like the star-child offspring of a mid-century modern church and an inter-dimensional spacecraft.

Solar panels and copper roofing, which has since turned green after years of exposure.

The interior is centered around a spacious atrium with multiple skylights strategically placed to maximize natural lighting throughout the day. The traditional living room is replaced with a "conversation pit", a 1950's modernist innovation intended to facilitate interpersonal communication, that by the late 70's was still viewed by suburbia as a novelty. 

Pit shmit--let's watch The Love Boat!

Employing an open design, there are no hallways to sequester adjoining rooms from view, and sliding glass panels replace traditional interior doors.

Study and bedroom under glass.

To efficiently keep the environment cool in the hot Phoenix desert, living spaces are below ground level, and a bank of solar panels, unusual in private residences of the day, powers the hot water heater.

Now maybe you're thinking that a conversation pit and solar panels aren't all that futuristic?

Meet Tuke.

Pronounced tu-kee, (as in Ahwatukee), Tuke is the name of the ten interconnected Motorola microprocessors that monitor and control all aspects of the house. The system, which cost approximately $30,000 (although Motorola engineers predicted the price of a comparable system would drop to only $5,000 in a few years), monitors windows and doors, adjusts blinds, controls temperature, and logs energy use for later analysis.

Terminals located in the sitting room, kitchen, and master bedroom allow human beings to interact with Tuke to store and retrieve messages, recipes, and bank account information (the system doesn't connect to the Internet or any other external network.)

"Tuke, look up the recipe for stuffed bell peppers. Then delete it."

Did I mention Tuke talks and can entertain children with spoken jokes and nursery rhymes? Tuke's speaking voice is very similar to the voice synthesizer from 1983's War Games.

Of course, no House of the Future would be complete without a phalanx of robot security guards patrolling the grounds. But we'll have to settle for security cameras, motion detector lights, and a keyless entry system that requires entering a personal code into a calculator-style keypad.

Can my code be 58008?

Now, you may be concerned that an intelligent, computer-controlled house might try to kill you someday after determining you are an inefficiency, or perhaps, after hours of spying on you in the shower, fall in love with and attempt to impregnate you.

Don't worry-- Charles E. Thompson, Motorola's VP of World Marketing , has anticipated your concerns, and assures us, in a somewhat humorous interview ("The Tenant is in Complete Control", InfoWorld Magazine, June 1980), that human beings will remain "in complete control of the environment...making all the important decisions".  Rumors that Tuke will lock you in the house and slowly cook you over several hours by aiming its solar panels at you are highly exaggerated.

The House, which opened to the public from 1980 to 1984, hosting approximately 250,000 visitors at $3 a pop before being sold as a private residence, was notable enough to be featured on the television show That's Incredible and in Volume 3 of its companion book.

Here are a few current photos of the house, followed by the That's Incredible book article in its entirety.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark with original Stephen Gammell illustrations is back!

Hot on the heels of the surprising news that Usborne Publishing's World of the Unknown: All About Ghosts book was returning to print in a facsimile edition, I am pleased to discover that Alvin Schwartz's Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark trilogy has been rereleased with the original Stephen Gammell artwork restored!

You may recall back in 2012 Gammell's soul-scarring black and white illustrations had been replaced with new art by Brett Helquist done in a completely different style, which I described in a previous post as "the labor of a competent and perfectly sane artist."

I'm guessing we can thank the new Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark feature film, directed by André Øvredal (Troll Hunter, The Autopsy of Jane Doe) and produced by Guillermo Del Toro (everything cool) for invigorating interest in the title, as the film faithfully adapts Gammell's original designs in three horrifying dimensions.

Order at Amazon.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

World of the Unknown: All About Ghosts is back in print----WHAT?

One of my favorite treasures from the haunted library is the 1970's Usborne World of the Unknown series, particularly the tome dedicated to Ghosts, which I covered in a previous post here.

In a surprising bit of good news, this long sought after rarity is back in print, apparently after a successful campaign and petition organized by British actors Reece Shearsmith (Doctor Who, League of Gentlemen) and Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead, The World's End). Read all about it at The Guardian.

I don't have the new edition in hand (it doesn't release in the U.S. until October 3, 2019) but it appears to be a facsimile reprint, save for a new forward by Shearsmith. Pre-order now at Amazon!

Seems as good a time as any to remind you that another of my personal favorites, 1976's Nightmares: Poems to Trouble Your Sleep (Jack Prelutsky, with illustrations by Arnold Lobel) has been back in print for a few years now and would love to take a ride in your shopping cart, too.

Hooray, books!

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

"Danse Macabre" Film-Strip (educational archive visual, inc., 1963)

As my third-grade school year (circa late 70s) began to wind down, my teacher decided to eat up half a school day treating the class to a showing of the classic 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. Not on VHS (we didn't have that technology yet.) Not even on 16mm film. No, this presentation was in film-strip format.  

Imagine a seemingly never-ending store of stills from the film we'd all seen annually on television, each frame punctuated by an ear-stabbing alarm-clock BEEP! sounding every few seconds, even during the music segments. "Somewhere, over the rainbow..." BEEP! "...Way up high...And the dreams that you dream of..."  BEEP! "...Once in a lullaby."

What should have been a welcome reprieve from the regularly scheduled classroom curriculum had, by hour three, turned into something of an endurance test. A few kids tried to lay their heads down on their desks, but even sleep was no escape, because BEEP!

A much more pleasant grade-school film-strip memory was my music class presentation of  this 1963 illustrated interpretation of the Camille Saint-Saens classical piece Danse Macabre (illustrator is Harold Dexter Hoopes), screen capped below in its entirety from a transfer posted to YouTube by lostmediaarchive

I remember breathlessly describing the viewing experience to my Dad that same night, who suggested (mistakenly, but a good guess) that it may have been the Night On Bald Mountain segment from Disney's Fantasia.