Xanadu Project

“In Xanadu... did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round:
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge - 1797
There spans 200 years between Coleridge’s concept of Xanadu and my sketch; I took more than 40 years to draw it after I first heard the poem and saw this solution. It is a concept that, once commissioned, will take the better part of a decade to realize. There is a story [link] behind all this - the last, and most significant, chapters of which are still to be written. In terms of my work to create spaces for creativity and innovation, all that I have done [link] is but an exercise - a way of learning - a preparation in order to build Xanadu. If I do not build it, or at least create the means to build it, I will have have failed in the major objective of my life.
This version of the Xanadu concept is built on a 100 meter base with four 50 meter domes around a 70 meter dome with three 100 meter towers. This would account for approximately 50% of the campus facility the rest being scattered throughout the natural landscape.
Plan View
Xanadu is a prototype of a self-contained MegaCity concept. It is the smallest scale that this can be comprehensively tested. Xanadu would require, develop and demonstrate an entirely new generation of materials and structural engineering; it will be build more like an airplane than a traditional structure.
Elevation Looking East
Xanadu is designed to be an Innovation Palace; a modern cathedral built to house and facilitate human creativity and innovation - individual, Group Genius and creativity on the societal scale. The scale of this version is between one thousand and 1500 people in the main building and an equal amount on the extended campus. This number could be halved or doubled within the scaleability of the architectural concept. From a design process and social critical mass point of view, about 2,000 active participants, on site at any given time, is the present working hypothesis of critical mass. This implies an active ValueWeb of about 100,000 employing this one site (HUB). Xanadu, of course, would have satellite and utilize extensive RemotePresence and RemoteCollaboration techniques. Xanadu is conceived as a REGIONAL facility one of about 12 to be built throughout each major continent, each with as many as 20 satellites, serving a total active population of at least 3 million each. The idea is to reach critical mass of the entire population with a hub and spoke architecture which will then lead to a rapid diffusion process and a renaissance of human society and the global economy. Xanadu, then, is both a symbol and tool of a deliberate effort to bring self-awareness and focus to the design of an unpredictable and emergent [link] future. The growing network [link] of Taylor NavCenters is a precursor to, a proof-of-concept of, and an ultimate third tier network member of the ultimate Xanadu configuration.
As an innovation facility, Xanadu is deliberately designed to be an R&D project, itself, pushing the state of the art of materials engineering, infrastructure, knowledge-tooling, transportation, energy, food production and service, computing, multi-media and documentation, rapid-prototyping, work-process and facilities management. As such, the project pays for itself, directly, in the knowledge gained and its direct applicability to the consulting, architecture and construction, hotel, facility management, electronic, education industries, as well as, government and social institutions.
Xanadu is a three to $400,000,000 (US) project to bring the main campus to fully operational status. It will require the economic, intellectual and spiritual resources of an entire biological-economic region. In its own creation, it will have produced the first wave of innovation necessary to launch a transformation of the society it serves.
You know how I hate travel so you can imagine what I was saying (well, I guess you heard me saying some of it) about flying to Italy and the prospect of staying 10 days out in the countryside working with the team. Why not just use the conference center at the home office we spent so much money on last year?
I arrived here three days ago and until now have just not felt like writing the outside world - even you! For that is what this place is - a self contained world. I apologize about the silence but I think you will understand. I will write later about the project and what we are doing, tonight, I just want to give you my impressions about the place. You know I have always thought spending money on buildings, other than enough to keep the rain out and somewhere to put the computer, was a total waste of time and money. You have always disagreed with me on that. Well, I have to say I have changed my mind. I am even thinking we should talk to that crazy architect you keep mentioning and build the home environment you always wanted.
No, I have not lost it - not completely at least. It is just that I have been impressed (that is hardly the right word!) in so many ways I can’t begin to sort it all out. Not yet. The environment does matter - you always said that. Where to begin? I will start at the beginning when we first came upon Xanadu (I thought the name was a bit weird until I read the story behind it).
We were driving down a gently rolling northern Italian countryside - you know, the whole bit: curving narrow roads, small villages that pop up and disappear, a farm house here and there, small villages, an intriguing, abstract landscape. We came around another curve and suddenly there was Xanadu nestled into the rolling landscape. It was dusk and the whole Building (not a good term) - it is more like a small city - was there - glowing; a poem rendered in light.
Don’t laugh at me for talking like this - it is a poem and that matters. I never though that buildings could say so much. I never thought of them as a way to see things. That they actually frame a viewpoint - a paradigm - a concept of the world. Xanadu, in the dusk promised something magical - and it has delivered on this promise all week. The surprising thing is that this is the most practical and productive work place I have ever experienced. I didn’t know that art and work could go together like this but they do. More of that later.
We had only a fleeting view of Xanadu and then lost it again until we were right upon it - I am sure this was deliberate. Then, the scale of the building became apparent. They call this a KNOWLEDGE VILLAGE and that is what it is. A network NODE where inside and outside blend into one another - where human made and Nature merge. This is a technically advanced building but it seems to be alive in a curious sort of human way. I cannot explain it. The technology works but it is never in your face. Transparency they call it here.
We approached through a heavily landscaped area that just entered the building on one side. I am not kidding - the landscape just went in the building! And so did we. I thought this was the front but I discovered it was not the next morning. We spiraled down a ramp into an underground parking area that looked up into the center glass dome (with four smaller intersecting domes) - this dome spans a couple hundred feet across. It was then that the power of the environment struck me - it seemed that in a few short minutes we had been transported into another world. This “otherworldliness” has stayed with me all week and one reason why I have not wanted to communicate. Our team needed a working retreat and that is what we got.
Remember how I always said the perfect software to do financial management would be totally configured for the specific application? Well, that is what Xanadu is - an OS for the team that is using the environment. A different team, a different OS and a different set of support tools. A different theme and expression. I admit I got this last piece from the brochure on the building but it’s true nevertheless. The building - strong as it is - adapts to us; we do not conform to it.
We left the car and walked through this garden-parking area until we came to an angled glass wall that “supported” this large concrete bowl above our head - at least something supported it. When we arrived at the surface of the bowl via escalator, we found ourselves on this indoor-outdoor platform that overlooked the river below. There were various activities going on and there were other platforms above us. The glass wall continued upward until it intersected with the largest center dome - there is really no way to describe this. We registered (outdoors!) on this platform almost totally surrounded by water fountains, landscape and live music. There was an eloquence, playfulness and “just fun” element to this that shifted our mood and somehow focused our attention. It was an entry ritual simply and eloquently done. This, it would turn out, would be the theme of the stay. Everything done for us - even the most routine - happens in a new framework - the process is straight forward and simple, the support technology transparent (and works!) - the environment brings a new way of experiencing whatever is going on.
The net result is demanding. It demands you pay attention. It demands creativity. It demands your best in return for what it is, what it gives and what it represents. Yet, I have never been so rested at one of these working sessions as I have been this trip. This has been an unusual peak experience and restful experience that I can imagine - even the diet is customized for each of us. Of course there is exercise, massage and real entertainment - all done in a way that does not break our focus yet facilitates our energy.
Continuing the saga. We left “registration” for our individual rooms. Bill, Jack and I were given a suite and I thought “all right, here we go.” Not that I don’t like them but the thought of being cooped up with this bunch for a week didn’t set so well. I was thinking that Shangri-La had a price. We went to the elevators - they were in three banks each located in shafts that started in the garage area and pierced the domes. They continued for some stories upward (a total of 34, I was to find out later).
Now we came to the interesting part. Our room key card, it turns out, is a voice activated pda that takes care of all the logistics. You can turn it off and navigate on you own - or use it. It knows who you are and where you are and informs you of locations, schedules and provides other information in a context sensitive way. It also takes care of information requests and billing - everything. It gave the appropriate instructions to the elevator and we were swiftly taken to the appropriate floor. The elevator is very fast and it was quite a sensation when we shot up through the dome to the apartments (rooms, suites - whatever) - above, The view was breathtaking.
The 5 domes are transparent and you can see through them. When the elevator broke out, they looked like glowing bubbles in the night with the two other shafts about 150 feet away. They were supporting clusters of rooms hanging off them like flowers (I can’t think of a better term). It turned out these were the Suites, each one about the size of a small house - each configured to hold teams of various sizes. It became apparent, as the week went on, that the session sponsors selected our housing with great care - as was the case with everything.
I cannot describe our Suite. There is a large common area with everything needed including several niches for being with the group yet having private space. There is sitting, dining, and even a number of small work areas. All the spaces blend together yet each is distinct. There is an outdoor deck which feels like hanging on the edge of the world. In addition, each of us has a private space equipped with full facilities. Our bags, by the way, were here before us and put in the appropriate rooms (You know how I am about this). And, there was a light meal laid out with our favorite foods (the profile I filled out before leaving (remember the grumping) is really used here.
Those are the facts of it. But the facts do not tell the story. The entire Suite feels like it is floating on air - actually, it is. Each unit is cantilevered off the elevator service shaft. It is like having your own little private world. [link] I never knew that a place could be so exciting and restful at the same time. I sat in bed for some time just looking out before drifting off to sleep. I think I was in an altered state of consciousness by the time I got into bed. I have never felt so supported, independent yet part of a community - I will never know how they managed to get all my favorite colors in the room.
In the morning the “why” of the shapes of these rooms (all triangles and hexagons) became evident. From the bed, I watched a world being reborn as it slowly appeared out of the morning mists. From my perch, I could see in three directions - a glass room 300 feet in the air with total privacy. You should see the shower! There are possibilities here that you and I have to talk about!
Every day, I have experienced this same sense of awaking and it has remained fresh each time - it reminds me of when we went camping together when we were in school. I didn’t realize how much I have missed those days and the freedom we had. It has made me wonder about some of the trade offs I have made for position - but, more of that later. In some way, the room has connected me back to the things that really matter in my life. Things, too often, I have forgotten in the day-to-day of work. I wonder, now, how this isolation from nature and ourselves we experience as our “normal” lives effects the decisions we make as a business. At Xanadu, everything seems to fit - there is context. There is meaning. There is life - everywhere
My little room has an interesting mix of prospect and refuge (I have been learning some architectural terms you see). The prospect seems as unlimited as the view, at the same time, the sense of shelter and refuge is very great. You feel anchored to the vertical shafts from which the rooms are cantilevered. The fireplace is a nice touch and usable in the cool mornings. The room - my private place - has everything required for hours - even days - of personal time and work. A few steps and I am in a community of colleagues. A few more steps and a short elevator ride and we can be in a “city” of opportunities and tools. Jane Jacobs was right - you always said that along with the rest. So was Alexander - this is a place of Pattern Language. I have to admit I never thought all that stuff you studied in art school was practical - now I know better and I apologize for putting it off.
In the domes and their various platforms are housed a variety of personal, team, community, public and private spaces. These areas can be quickly and easily set up so that the right combination of exclusion and inclusion is afforded teams as they work. Support tools - of all kinds - are ubiquitous but never intrusive - they never get between you and the work - or your teammates be they with you, in another part of Xanadu or half a world away. It is such a strange combination of high intensity work that feels like a vacation and technology that feels alive, organic and natural. Yes, I remember you rants about a cybernetic forest [link]!
There must be a thousand people here from 10 to 15 organizations plus the several hundered that work here or hotel here for some period of time. It feels like a hot urban space - lots of action. But it is never crowded or unpleasant. I thought it was all terribly elaborate so I dropped into the office and they showed me their utilization records - they are serving more people on a square foot basis than our home office is! You should see their ROC.

Am going to stop here - this is already too long and I have not begun to say it all. I will send another message soon - I promise!


There is no reason for public buildings to lose intimacy. There is no reason for then to become common - to overwhelm nature or human. There is no reason for human scale and detail to be lost. There is no reason for them to be “boxes within boxes” and devoid of shape and spaces that express different modes of thought and activities. No reason for long dull corridors, oppressively low ceilings, distorted light spectrums that make migraines, window walls that look nowhere, materials that lack quality and touch - and, there is no reason to believe that these things do not negatively impact the human creative process.
There is no reason for them to be built of materials that make you sick and destroy nature - no reason.
There is nothing practical about environments that are designed to be only practical.
Xanadu is an idea. An idea to be expressed in every aspect of the built place. It is an idea to actively engage with the people who live and work there. It is not designed to impress or look spectacular, it is designed to provide a different experience. Each action that takes place within Xanadu is provided specific support and and is framed in a way that it becomes a self-aware aspect of an intentional life. Life processes become living Art [link].
Because of the high variety of architecture shapes - due to the complexity, scale and scope of the geometry of the building - problems of logistics, arrangement and engineering can be more easily solved than within the low variety, start-with-a-box school of design. In the case of Xanadu, a myriad of functions have to be incorporated within the structure. Almost every function there is (living, social, work, recreation, etc.) is required short of full scale manufacturing. This has to be done in a transparent way and the interface issues [link] solved so that places within the whole do not become fragmented and isolated. This is why it has to be seen as a Mega-City even though it is smaller in scale than that notion usually implies.
Even as Xanadu is a work of architectural art it is designed to be operated as an engine of creativity and innovation. Not just in an abstract conceptual sense - it is a tool of knowledge production from the concept through the prototype stages. The Village Managers can shape the environment to meet the specific requirements of different groups employing models of creative and production processes. This is a fine-grained discrimination - not done with gross assumptions and folk-wisdom levels of understanding. The exact environment required by a team can be created and adjusted by feedback [link] as the work process proceeds.
Size and shapes of rooms, color, sounds, degrees of privacy, prospect, refuge, access to information and tools - and so on - can be shaped, minute-to-minute, hour-to-hour, day-to-day as required by each group in terms of where they are in the creative process and their own individual and group cognitive profile. Xanadu is designed from the beginning to do this. This is supported by algorithms developed over 25 years of Group Genius facilitation. When you think of the actual psychological and physiological responses of the human organism to the physical environment and the act of creation you can understand why this is a “stately pleasure-dome.”


I will be coming home tomorrow so I will keep this short. Our work here was extraordinarily productive and I will tell you about it when I arrive home. One thing that I did learn here was that it is a good idea for families to come. As you know, we rejected that option and I agreed with that decision. There is another corporation working here that took the opposite tact and reported great success with it. They even had spouses involved in some of the business exercises. I was skeptical about this but they reported spectacular results. It turns out that there are a number of real things to do here for all ages and interests. The sum of it, no matter all the options and various levels of involvement in the business piece, is a common experience for the entire family to share. When we come back, I am going to recommend that we choose this option. There is no doubt that we will come back.

I continue to be intrigued with this environment. Even more so than my last writing. You can tell that Xanadu is impressive - and that it did impress me. What is more unusual (at least for me) it that this effect does not wear off - it grows. It does become “nomal.” I am thinking of my office now as the exception, and in this case, a poor one. Impoverished is a better word. Xanadu now feels like an old friend or like that sweater I love to wear around the house on cold days. Comfortable. At the same time, it is an effecient tool that augments [link] what I am doing.
Let me give you some facts I have found out about the building. It sits on a 300 feet square base that goes into the ground on the high side and projects three stories out of the ground in the low side of the slope - this part of the site is where the outdoor recreational facilities are and access to the river (we had a great team building session sailing one of the boats).
The Towers, as I said before, are 35 stories high and support 30 suites that can house three to 8 people each. There are many “mini” Towers with Suites scattered around the 60 acre site. All together, well over a thousand people can live and work here at a time. As I have mentioned, the accommodations reconfigure for the different sizes and requirements of groups. This is not simply the old typical folding wall that looks like a screen that cuts a big space in half - when a space is configured at Xanadu, it looks like and feels like a permanent space.
Landscaping is a major feature of the environment. We are all used to “interior landscaping,” these days, but it is handled differently here. Planting is ubiquitous. This is more like a structure in a garden than a garden in a structure. It is interesting how this is accomplished in a building of this scale. There are major portions of the structure, on all levels, that are completely devoted too interior and exterior landscaping, sitting and recreational purposes. In fact, no matter where you are, you are only a few paces away form one of these areas. This materially adds to the “naturalness” of the environment. Another thing is the landscaping progresses through several layers - from ornamental to edible to the “natural” terrain. Much of the food used here is actually harvested from the grounds, and in some cases, from the building itself. This migration from “domestic” to “wild” is progressive, and at any given point, you cannot perceive a break in continuity.
The landscaping is actually an active player in the energy, water and temperature management strategy of the complex. This can be as “simple” as shielding the glass from certain sun angles during certain seasons and parts of the day to using the cooler air associated with the heavily landscaped areas to using natural processes that completely filter the water and return it to the building for reuse.
Here is a fact that soothes my accountant’s soul: this complex uses less than 50% of the energy usual for a building of its size, use and class and it generates a great deal of it. It is a marvel of structural, materials and energy innovations. Toxicity from materials is virtually non existent. The building managers say this was a program goal and necessary given the use of the complex as an Innovation Center. “It is a matter of Integrity” is the way they put it. This is actually an active factor in what makes this place work. Compromise does not come easy in this place. You are surrounded by proof that good design, high values, fun, creativity and practical results are possible in one integrated package. The building actually challenges us: “will you do less?” it seems to say. The answer is “hell no!”
You can gather from all this that there is absolutely no distinction between “indoors” and “outdoors” here. One flows into the other by a series of subtle seamless transitions. As impressive and “forceful” the structure is, it is always “in background” to what we are doing in, on and around it. There is also no distinction between creation and re-creation - between work and play. They are seen and managed as the same thing!
Remember my “name tag” that acted as my “navigator.” I have discovered it does more than that. It gives me private access to a documentation of my entire experience here. And I mean literally that. The building is a super-scribe and intelligent agent [link] that augments our work. This is done, I am told, by a patented process. All I have to do is talk to my name tag, ask for the items I want, choose a few options and an entire multimedia “report” of my experience is created - all linked back to detailed source data. Done! They say that the building is approaching full Turing capability and will achieve it in a few years. I am not sure what this means but it is like living in a space that is also your personal assistant. All of us have started to actuality have feelings about the building as if it was our friend who knew us intimately. A bit weird, actually.
Needless to say I have some ideas for our “dream home” and I think it is time for us to get on with it. Attached are a bunch of pictures and video clips the building took for me as I worked and lived here. Use the “personal view” mode and you will get a close recreation of my actual experience. Remember Brin’s book “The Transparent Society?” This entire place is “reciprocal transparency[link] in action.
Going now. See you soon.
There are a number of CRITERIA [link] that have to be fulfilled and Pattern Language [link] values that has to be met for a work of architecture to meet human standards. No matter the scale scope budget or purpose of a building, these criteria and values can be met. Not to met them is a failure that has no excuse. Modern structures - particularly large ones - generally fail to meet these specifications. The results are devastating; yes devastating to the human soul and experience of a benevolent life - all the more so because few know what they are missing unless they have the experience (all too rare!) of an environment that accepts the challenge of truly framing, expressing and facilitating their human experience.
Xanadu can be executed with this level of care. It is within the technical means of today’s building and manufacturing arts - it does require, however, a massive synthesis of many techniques that have never been pulled together in one project and the willingness to take the “next step” in building evolution. Its basic design concept is complex enough to contain the variety implied in the program of the project. Often, the architectural concept is too simple to “hold” the functionality required by the sum-of-the-tasks that are to take place within the environment no matter how good (otherwise) the design and execution is done; this is not the case with this design.
Because the building is somewhat unusual in its form is no reason to reject it out of hand. There are deep reasons for each piece of it. Reasons that cut right to the core of human nature and the requirements of the program. The long held prejudice that a building has to be of simple geometry to be affordable is just that: a prejudice based on ignorance of the building and manufacturing process. These issues are addressed elsewhere in the NASA [link] and Swimming Pool Stories [link].
It is also important to note that a project of this scale, complexity and type should not be attempted in one leap. It should “stand” as a THERE, from which a series of HERE projects can be accomplish though a rapid prototyping process. The BRAND essence of the vision, however, can be built into each of these progressive expressions. By prototype, I do not mean not-useful or prone to mistakes. Each project should and can meet its functional requirements and serve its population very well. The coupling of program, means, concept, technology and business model is extraordinarily tight with this approach to architecture. This is, of course, what Taylor Architecture, AI and SFIA Architects-Master Builders has been doing for 22 years - Getting HERE from THERE. Every project we do, while having total integrity to it’s own purpose and client mission, is a step to Xanadu [link] and, ultimately, a member of the Xanadu ValueWeb.
If Xanadu is attempted in one step, the prototyping process can be accomplished by the design and development of the auxiliary buildings on the site. As example, my Bay Area Studio project explores many Xanadu aspects on a smaller scale.
Xanadu is a serious, practical environment, work process and technology augmentation architecture concept - it is not a fantasy. I am asserting that not to build on this level is a cop-out and a default to the no-longer-adequate status quo. Next time you find yourself bored to tears in a building ask yourself why. And ask yourself why not. Why not go for an environment the supports and expresses the full range of human variety and creativity? Unless, of course, you like “living” in little boxes deriving “solutions” to (parts) problems that do not represent the true challenges we face.
Return To Index
GoTo: IDIAP Presentation 2005
GoTo: THERE - Xanadu ValueWeb
Matt Taylor
Palo Alto
June 4, 2000

SolutionBox voice of this document:


posted June 4, 2000

revised May 12, 2003, 2002
• 20000609.215152.mt • 20000611.653447.mt •
• 20000614.142736.mt • 20000708.615319.mt •
• 20010131.987329.mt • 20010203.563825.mt •
• 20021209.418872.mt • 20021215.408822.mt •
• 20030512.777712.mt •

 note: this document is about 85% finished

Copyright© Matt Taylor 2000, 2001, 2002

Certain aspects described are Patented and Patent Pending by iterations

update to Matt’s Notebook

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The Xanadu Program is based on:

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