Bob Masters was a pioneer of houses made of rigid insulation, who designed and created inflatable balloons to be used in the construction of houses. Inspired by the Kesinger House, designed by Stan Nord Connolly and one of the earliest homes built from insulation. Masters built his first house in 1969 in two-and-a-half days during a snowstorm using the balloon construction method; inflating a large balloon in the shape of each room and spraying polyurethane insulation foam around it. The house was no bigger than a trailer, but according to Masters, didn’t feel confining due to it’s high ceilings.
Masters thought these dome-shapes homes could work for others and decided to build a series of show homes throughout the United States. Tom Gussel, Master’s business partner, chose the name “Xanadu” for the homes, a reference to Mongol Emperor Kublai Khan’s summer residence Xanadu, which is prominently featured in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s famous poem “Kubla Khan”.
He opened the first Xanadu house in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin. Designed by Stewart Gordon and built by Masters in 1979, it was 4,000 square feet in area, about the size of an average home and featured a geodesic greenhouse. 100,000 people visited the attraction in it’s first summer.
A second house was built in Kissimmee, Florida. The house was designed by Roy Mason, an architect who was influenced by other experimental houses and building concepts which emphasized ergonomics, usability, and energy efficiency and some of his work still survives today such as “Star Castle” in New Fairfield, Connecticut and the “Mushroom House” in Bethesda, Maryland. He believed his Xanadu house would alter people’s views of houses as just inanimate, passive shelters and more as an organic system.
Walt Disney opened the Epcot Center on October 1, 1982 which prompted Masons and Masters to open a Xanadu home several miles away. The house used an automated system controlled by Commodore microcomputers in which out of the fifteen rooms the home had, the kitchen, party room, health spa, and bedrooms all used computers and other electronic equipment heavily in their design. It opened in 1983 and was over 6,000 square feet in area, much larger than an average home as it was built as a showcase. At it’s peak in the mid 1980s, the attraction was being advertised as the “home of the future” and was visited by more than 1,000 people a day.
The Xanadu houses were considered a failed experiment. Other architects and designers saw Xanadu as an unprofessional design because of the materials used and the odd use of colors and shapes inside the home. Many others disliked the home for it’s low ceilings, curved walls, and cramped rooms.
By the 1990s, they began to lose popularity as the technology used in their construction became obsolete. The houses in Wisconsin and Tennessee were demolished, but the Kissimmee home continued to operate until it closed in 1996. It was sold in 1997 and used as office and storage space. By 2001, the house had suffered greatly from mold and mildew due to a lack of maintenance and was put up for sale again for $2 million. The house sat for a long time, and during that time, the house suffered even further damages as vandals and vagrants destroyed much of the inside. On October 2005, the house was demolished.
Though the initial houses are gone, the idea lives on. In 1993, the Xanadu of Sedona was built in Arizona, originally designed and modeled after the Xanadu home in Kissimmee. Said to be indestructible, it uses poured concrete for the domes instead of sprayed on insulation and is networked throughout for computer and internet use. The family hopes to open the house to tours sometime in the future.