Paolo Soleri’s futuristic desert utopia where architecture and ecology intersect.
70 miles north of Phoenix, in central Arizona lies an experimental town created by Paolo Soleri.
Arcosanti is the study of the concept of arcology, which combines architecture and ecology.
The intentions of this community was to form a gestalt that houses the relations and interactions that living organisms have with respect to each other and their natural environment.
Born in 1919 in Turin, Italy, Soleri spent his earliest years absorbing the European landscape, culture, and architecture. He received his Ph.D. in Architecture from Torino Polytechnico in 1946. Soon after graduating, he moved to the United States to attend Frank Lloyd Wright’s apprenticeship program at Taliesin West in Arizona.
He returned to Italy in 1950, where he was commissioned to design a large ceramics factory, Ceramic Artistica Solimene, which is now an Italian historical landmark. During this time he began working as a ceramic artist, acquiring the ceramics knowledge he would later apply to producing wind bells. Over the next fifty years, these ceramic wind bells, along with his explorations in metal casting with bronze wind bells and sculptural commissions, would serve as the major source of funding for the construction that would test his theoretical works.
Arcosanti is located just a few miles off Interstate 17 in central Arizona.
As you drive down the dirt road on your way to this desert utopia, you get a chance to take in the beautiful landscape that Paolo Soleri envisioned to eventually house 5,000 people.
Soleri moved to Scottsdale, Arizona in 1956.
There he established the not-for-profit Cosanti Foundation and began work on the group of buildings that bears the same name, Cosanti. It is at Cosanti where Soleri began his initial architectural experiments with various earth-casting techniques.
Stained glass doorway framing Dr. Soleri’s old office.
In 1970, he embarked on what was his most ambitious work, Arcosanti.
Arcosanti is a materialization of arcology theoretics; the community embodies Soleri’s vision for a sustainable urban alternative. The arcology concept proposes a highly integrated and compact three-dimensional urban form that is the opposite of suburban sprawl, with its inherently wasteful consumption of resources and tendency to isolate people from each other and the community. The miniaturization of the physical environment of the city enables effective conservation of land, energy and resources.
Since its inception in 1970, the development and construction of Arcosanti has been at the center of Soleri’s life and work.
Ceramic and bronze wind bells hang in the ‘Crafts III’ building which houses the dining room, gift shop and Sky Suite.
Traditionally, an arcology is a set of architectural design principles aimed toward the design of hyperstructure habitats with extremely high human population densities.
An arcology is distinguished from a merely large building or habitat in that it is supposed to sustainably supply all or most of the resources for comfortable life: power, climate control, food production air and water purification, sewage treatment, etc. It would also need no connections to municipal or urban infrastructure in order to operate. They were proposed to reduce human impacts on natural resources. Frank Lloyd Wright proposed an early version with his Broadacre City.
Appreciating the view overlooking the foundry’s rooftop.
Similar to Soleri’s Arcosanti, Broadacre City faced critics who said that their proposed solution failed to account for the realistic problems that come with sustaining a habitat of a large population.
“The problem I am confronting is the present design of cities only a few stories high, stretching outward in unwieldy sprawl for miles. As a result of their sprawl, they literally transform the earth, turn farms into parking lots and waste enormous amounts of time and energy transporting people, goods and services over their expanses. My proposition is urban implosion rather than explosion”.
-Paolo Soleri, Earth’s Answer, 1977
In an arcology, automobiles are eliminated from the confines of the city. Its direct proximity to uninhabited land provides the city dweller with immediate and low-impact access to rural space, as well as allowing agriculture to be situated near the city. It also uses passive solar architectural techniques such as the apse effect, greenhouse architecture, and garment architecture to reduce the energy usage of the city, particularly in relation to heating, lighting, and cooling.
Ceramic tiles that were originally made to decorate the outside of a future building project lie on a path along our tour.
Arcosanti’s large, compact structures and large-scale solar greenhouses will occupy only 25 acres of the 4,060-acre land preserve, keeping the natural countryside in close proximity to urban dwellers.
Decorative lighting made in Arcosanti’s on-site foundry.
Currently there are only 43 residents living at Arcosanti, including 2 children.
According to Soleri’s theory of arcology, at Arcosanti many systems work together, with efficient circulation of people and resources, multi-use buildings, and solar orientation for lighting, heating and cooling. In this complex environment, apartments, businesses, production, technology, open space, studios, educational and cultural events are all accessible, even while privacy is paramount in the overall design.
The ‘East Crescent’ complex includes an outdoor amphitheater, administrative offices, a rec room, a handful of residences and the archives of the city’s visionary designer. Arcosanti is an educational center. The five-week workshop program teaches building techniques and arcological philosophy while continuing construction. Volunteers and students come from around the world, experiencing Arcosanti through hands-on participation in its growth and development. Many are design students and some receive university credit for the workshop. However, a design or architecture background is not necessary.
At the present stage of construction, Arcosanti consists of a dozen mixed-use buildings constructed by 7,000 past workshop participants.
This piece will eventually become a part of one of the many wind bells that are made on-site.
The Foundry has some incredible design details using textures and colors…
…to form an incredible workspace which includes an amazing view of the nearby canyon.
You can’t beat the scenery.
Wood & Cement
The ‘Crafts III’ building soaking in the sun during the magic hour.
Visitors are welcome to take a self guided tour along the trail that fronts this utopian community.
Up to 50,000 people visit Arcosanti annually.
Tours are given once an hour between 9am-4pm.
Since my road trip was sort of last minute, I was unable to secure a room in the Sky Suite or any of the other rooms they have available for rent:(
I will definitely have to come back and stay a full weekend in order to fully absorb this incredible place. I did make friends with one of the residents, who invited me to an art opening which included these amazing performers who lived in a nearby town. Sipping on free wine while watching the sunset as they played, was one of the many highlights of my 5-day road trip.
Bye Arcosanti, I’ll be back.