Transforming Alviso Adobe House via immersive projections

City of Milpitas

Two people sit in a room, their silhouettes in view against the backdrop of a video being projected onto the walls around them.

The Alviso Adobe House and its surroundings have witnessed extraordinary change. Originally built in 1837 and then renovated in 1853, it is the only surviving original Monterey Colonial-style building in the San Francisco Bay Area. Partnering with the City of Milpitas in collaboration with Gizmo Art Productions, Art Processors created a series of immersive, surface-mapped projections to not only awaken the memories lying within the walls of the house, but to place it within the vast transformations of the surrounding region.

Art Processors worked closely with the Muwekma Ohlone tribe, the Milpitas Historical Society, and descendants of the Cuciz family to construct a flowing narrative of life in and around the house. Original animated artwork, photographs, narration, music, and natural sounds all combine to take visitors on a journey from Indigenous inhabitants to Spanish arrival, Mexican control and ranchero life, construction of the house by the Alviso family, ownership passing to the immigrant Cuciz family, and the Silicon Valley boom of the present day.

The wall-to-wall projections immerse the visitor in an evocative and evolving sense of living memory held within the building, inviting them to reflect on what it means to be Californian throughout different eras of history. 

Instead of simply giving a chronological history lesson, the City of Milpitas wanted to present the house as the narrator of its own story. A key challenge of this project was constructing a fluent, cohesive, and engaging tale that would intertwine three distinct themes—the people who lived and worked on this land, how the Alviso Adobe House was constructed and remodeled over time, and the bigger picture of sweeping changes in the Bay Area and California.

The target audience for the project was identified as school groups of students aged 8-12 learning about California’s history. As such, the characters within the narrative had to be relatable, rather than distant figures of a bygone era. Their work, leisure activities, family life, clothing, and even pets—all through their respective successes and hardships—had to be understood in order to be effectively conveyed. This ultimately provides a more nuanced representation of these individuals and their personalities, brought to life with a touch of humor.

"The Alviso Adobe House project at a room scale, the massive architecture-scale projections for the 50th birthday celebration of the Sydney Opera House, and the upcoming Melbourne Holocaust Museum interactives on a museum scale—these all firmly establish the skill and scalability of Art Processors' projection-mapping capabilities, and hopefully points us in the direction of similarly interesting work in the future."

– Ray Chi,
   Senior Designer, Art Processors

In depicting the Alviso Adobe House as both a memory box and its own storyteller, we were guided by an overarching concept of “If these walls could talk.” To reconstruct the events connected to the house, we conducted extensive research in collaboration with the Muwekma Ohlone tribe to understand life on the land prior to Spanish arrival. Ensuring the presence and accuracy of indigenous voices was a crucial first step in telling the complete story of just how much the Bay Area has changed.

The Milpitas Historical Society provided a wealth of photographs, maps, documents, and other information chronicling changes to the region throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Christine Murray, our Content Director, also tracked down descendants of the Cuciz family, who were able to provide personal photographs, artifacts, and first-hand accounts of three generations of their family’s life in the Alviso Adobe House.

To further emphasize the importance of place in this project, our rich and nuanced sound design included recordings of local bird life and other ambient sounds to draw the visitor into the natural environment of Milpitas throughout the various eras of the story. We consulted the Muwekma Ohlone tribe on the use of their music and language in the soundtrack to ensure this was implemented in an appropriate, accurate, and respectful manner.

Two people sit in a room, their silhouettes in view against the backdrop of a video being projected onto the walls around them.
A video projected onto a wall depicts a small girl in a dress looking over the side of a ship.

Art Processors’ Content Director and Super Sleuth Christine Murray was able to personally obtain a range of family mementos and documents from Dennis Cuciz, the grandson of Lucia and Giuseppe Cuciz, who were the second owners of the Alviso Adobe House. His generosity and enthusiasm for the project enabled us to substantially expand the Cuciz segment of the story, providing first-hand memories of life in the orchards over three generations. These memories have been included in the narration and images, helping to construct a more vibrant picture of the Cuciz family life. A projected illustration of Dennis driving a tractor is based on an actual photo of the once-thriving orchards, with the tractor itself being an spot-on depiction of the farming machinery used in that era.

A woman sits in a small room, moving her hands as she talks.

Upon walking into the old living room, the original heart of the building, visitors are soon enveloped in the projections spreading seamlessly across three walls together with the accompanying soundtrack. The program begins with a spoken welcome by a member of the Muwekma Ohlone tribe, gradually progressing into depictions of indigenous life. Characters move in spotlight from one wall to another, guiding the viewer’s attention from one wall to the next. The projection then expands into a multi-wall landscape of original hand-drawn animations, taking visitors on a journey through time that continues in the adjoining north and south bedrooms.

The blend of highlighted vignettes and wrap-around images interact with architectural features of the physical space, bringing life back into the house once again through our capabilities in projection mapping. The experience transcends  facts and events; it conveys the accomplishments, challenges, celebrations, misfortunes, and whimsies of the very people who made the Bay Area what it is today. 

It is designed to immerse but never overwhelm, and imparts upon the visitor a sense of time beyond that of a human lifespan, weaving them into a thread as old as the land itself. 

A photo of a stately home and a sign stating it is 'Alviso Adobe House'

Acknowledgement of Country

In the spirit of reconciliation, we acknowledge the many Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and honour Elders past, present and emerging. We respect their deep, enduring connection to their lands, waterways and surrounding clan groups since time immemorial. We cherish the richness of First Nations Peoples’ artistic and cultural expressions.