The Home I will Likely Never Build: The Elevator

I have a house in my head. There was a time I even owned a patch of land near Santa Fe I imagined building it on. But things change, and that land now has a completely ordinary home on it, and the home in my head, not constrained by any physical reality, continues to evolve.

This home, from its inception, has had stairs. Elegant stairs, with wood and wrought iron or whatever materials the artisans choose to use.

But not everyone can take the stairs! There has to be another way to move between the levels of this house. So there’s an elevator. But the elevator can’t just be a convenience begrudgingly installed for our less-abled friends; it has to be awesome, and fun, and every much a part of the experience of living here as all the other features.

It has to be a place the kids will ride, just for the fun of it. And while the rest of the house you have seen emphasizes old-world materials and design, the elevator is a place to let technology come to the front.

When you push the call button for the elevator, you realize it is already on its way. The doors slide open, and you step in. You turn to face the closing door, as you have been long-trained to do, and as they slide shut you feel as if the elevator is made of glass. You can see the other people nearby who have decided to take the stairs for some reason. On your other sides you see the walls of the elevator shaft.

It’s obvious this is video, of course, but it’s as immersive as you can get.

For the moment you choose to go up. There is a button to push, or you can just gesture, or you can say “up”. As the elevator starts to rise, the view in the video moves with you.

But in fact, the video is moving much more quickly than you are, and between the actual levels in the house, you catch, and hear, and maybe even feel, a different, in-between level.

Perhaps, on the way up, you pass through the sky domain of Pegasus, or right through the middle of a battle from Lord of the Rings, or just a beautiful beach. When going below ground, it might be Dwarven mines, subterranean lava rivers, or Mario Brothers plumbing as far as the eye can see.

How many different virtual floors will there be? At first, only a few. But I imagine some of the kids that ride that elevator over and over to absorb every detail of those floors will eventually be inspired to add floors of their own. One hundred years after my passing, that elevator will be a hell of a ride. By then, those same kids will have upgraded the hardware and I’m a little afraid of what that elevator might become.

Which makes it very important that you can control what you see. There are probably secret ways to control which thing you see, and absolutely non-secret ways to turn off the whole feature and just get to the damn floor you asked for with minimal fuss. The elevator will remember that you do not appreciate the malarkey.

There is a potential for creepiness here, so let me address it. The elevator recognizes you, and knows if you don’t want the show or if there are particular virtual floors you dislike. The elevator will not, indeed cannot, tell anyone or anything else about you. The house in its entirety shares that philosophy. There will be no Alexa within these walls.

What I love about the elevator is that it can see the future*. It is built to be a project that grows over time, as generations add the software and the hardware to make new levels real. But those first primitive virtual floors will still be there, and the aging great-aunt can smile when a level she made goes by, even if her offspring have eclipsed her with their fancy new tools.

I have thought a great deal about how the people who build this place can leave their marks, but I need to find more ways that the occupants of this place add to that legacy. The elevator is just the first step. This building is an evolving, living monument to the people who interact with it, in particular the people who make it their home. What will you leave behind? And will it be a secret?

I’ve sent you upstairs, but while that is an awesome place, it is not especially ground-breaking. Mini-kitchen, wet bar, dumb waiter from the main kitchen, deer-antler chandelier — the place to shoot pool and get loud and watch the Big Sports Game. The view from the windows, north and south, is breathtaking (terrain allowing). But it’s the stuff any good architect could pull off. From here there is one more level up, onto the roof, closer to the stars.

You will really love it up there; the desert sky is breathtaking, but there’s more of interest if we go down.


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