Xanadu Story
In Xanadu...
This project concept has been over 40 years in development. Many architectural streams flow into it. This expression of it was catalyzed by an Innovation Center venture that we explored, in 2000, with a team from HP. Nothing came of it but the exercise was worth doing; it caused this concept to re-emerge in its present form. Ideas like Xanadu require “multiple tries over time” and get stronger each try. The design process is in part a morphological process with each iteration, itself, making the idea more a living thing and less an abstraction.
The Xanadu project, as of January 2001,was re-organized as a PatchWorks Design exercise. This launched a long term effort to develop the architectural and technological capability necessary for producing a work of this kind. It also involves searching for a project opportunity that the Xanadu concept will fit. Xanadu is now an architectural R&D project with every expectation of someday becoming a real project. In December of 2002, we got the first nibble indicating interest in Europe. The innovation process is becoming a EEU-wide initiative. A regional-scale Innovation Center is called for.

“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


The teacher’s voice was strong, full and melodious; sunlight lit the room, it was springtime and I was in love... A 200 year old idea sprang to life in my mind - and changed my life. It does not let go. It still burns.
The Coleridge quote captures the essence of the idea. After my time at Taliesin (1958), I took some courses at Orange Coast College, in Costa Mesa, California. I attended a literature course from a wonderful teacher whose name, unfortunately, I have forgotten. I do remember he wrote a book about his Hobo youth in the depression called “9 League Boots.” He was totally dedicated to his work and would walk in each class, already talking. Holding a stack of books, he would read out loud and talk for the whole period while pacing back and fourth - one side of the room to the other. He was always totally absorbed in the material, but strangely, could reach out and make surprisingly intimated contact with his students. At the end of the too short a time, he would keep on talking and just exit out the door. He would always do this, without looking at his watch, a few moments before the bell. We always wondered if he keep talking all the way to the next class but we could never catch up with him - this, at least, explained the 9 League boots.
One day he read the Coleridge poem and the concept hit me like an avalanche.
I was passionately in love at the time, with a girl named Kay, and somehow that made the image even more poignant. Xanadu caused a great deal of stirring round in the head and other places of a 20 year old boy who was fired up about making architecture and making love and completely confusing the two. I could see the poem as a structure in my mind but, of course, I could not set it to paper. Not then. You can’t draw when you are always pacing the floor listening to Bolero at full volume and dreaming of the next moment together. The memory of the poem, the girl and the building has always stayed with me as a totally visceral experience - I can still feel them. I feel like I could turn around and they would be standing there, grinning, asking me what have I been doing?
“Still trying to figure it all out” would be the answer.
I never did draw Xanadu until the HP Team came into KnOwhere in the summer of 2000 and articulated a program that seemed worthy of the idea. This turned out not to be true but it did “pop” the sketch. I don’t think the Team ever got the magic of the building although they were fine with the program of it. Well, the architectural idea sat for 40 years and may sit for a few more - no matter, Coleridge has waited for 200. The image slipped away from him also. He was interrupted by a delivery man. The modern Xanadu waits for a business opportunity not dominated by the soul/body dichotomy. It waits for someone who understands that if you want sustained innovation you have to build a cathedral to it and for it. We are talking soul-stuff here not real estate. You don’t get ideas like Xanadu for free. You don’t get valid industrial and social innovation for free either.
A number of factors have to converge for a creative idea to jell - in fact, the factors gelling is what creativity is. These factors are not incidental. They live in any work that has life. Living a creative life is putting yourself in the path of those factors and not failing when they converge with you (or on you). Frank Lloyd Wright knew this as few did. Making an environment for creativity means making an environment where the density of these factors is greater, where awareness is greater, and the ability to act, when serendipity flashes, is greater than other places. This is the kind of environment that Xanadu has to be. These are the kind of circumstance that will make a Xanadu come to life.
It will take years for this project to come about and a great number of new elements will have to come together - in the right order - for it to happen. When it does, Coleridge - and Kay - and many others, some not yet on the scene, will be as much the architect as myself. What will breath LIFE into the project will be the opium induced dream of an English poet, the almost overwhelming desires of a young lover, the business ideas of a creative design team yet to come along, and many, many other elements too numerous to know before the fact. To build it will also take 45 plus years of accumulated experience, the hard lessons learned, the skills patiently crafted and a memory uncorrupted by any of it.
It is these factors, properly forged into art that will make a living space - a place where creativity blossoms - not destroyed like in typical venues but freed to express and be expressed. Creativity does not live easily in those dried-up prune-like, sterile buildings our society now calls workplaces. It wants out. It needs mandate - and dedication. “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan A stately pleasure-dome decree...” What words! Can you see it? Can you feel it? Can you live without it? Can we afford to let it go?
Don’t forget.
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Matt Taylor
Palo Alto
June 4, 2000

 SolutionBox voice of this document:

posted: June 4, 2000
revised: December 9, 2002

• 20000609.215155.mt • 20000611.776537.mt •
• 20000614.142736.mt • 20000708.615319.mt •
• 20010131.987329.mt • 20010203.563825.mt •
• 20021209.333300.mt •

 note: this document is about 90% finished
Copyright© Matt Taylor 2000, 2001, 2002

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