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.

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