Arcosanti is an experimental town that has been developed by the Italian-American architect, Paolo Soleri, who began construction in 1970 in central Arizona, 70 mi (110 km) north of Phoenix, at an elevation of 3,732 feet (1,130 meters). Using a concept he called arcology, he started the town to demonstrate how urban conditions could be improved while minimizing the destructive impact on the earth. He taught and influenced generations of architects and urban designers who studied and worked with him there to build the town.
The goal of Arcosanti is to explore the concept of arcology, which combines architecture and ecology. The town has the goals of combining the social interaction and accessibility of an urban environment with sound environmental principles, such as minimal resource use and access to the natural environment. The project is building an experimental town on 25 acres (0.1 km2) of a 4,060 acre (16 km2) land preserve.
Construction broke ground at the site in 1970, and has continued at a varying pace through the present. The most recently completed building was finished in 1989. The population varies between 50 and 150 people, based on the number of students and volunteers on the site. Ultimately the town is planned to have 5,000 people. Thirteen major structures have been built on the site, some several stories tall. The latest master plan, designed in 2001, envisions a massive complex, called 'Arcosanti 5000,' that would dwarf the current buildings.
Many features are particular to the design and construction of Arcosanti. For example, tilt-up concrete panels are cast in a bed of silt acquired from the surrounding area, giving the concrete a unique texture and colour that helps it blend with the landscape. Many panels were cast with embedded art. Most buildings are oriented southward to capture the sun's light and heat — roof designs admit the maximum amount of sun in the winter and a minimal amount during the summer. The bronze-casting apse is built in the form of a quarter sphere or semi-dome. The layout of the buildings is intricate and organic, rather than a city grid, with a goal of maximum accessibility to all elements, and a combination of increased social interaction and bonds, together with privacy for the residents.
Existing structures at Arcosanti provide for the complete needs of the community. They include a five-story visitors' centre/cafe/gift shop, a bronze-casting apse, a ceramics apse, two large barrel vaults, a ring of apartment residences and storefronts around an outdoor amphitheater, a community swimming pool, an office complex, and Soleri's suite. A two-bedroom "Sky Suite" occupies the highest point in the complex and is available for overnight guests. Most of the buildings have accessible roofs.
The Arcosanti site has a camp area built for the original construction crew. It is used today as housing for the people of the agricultural department. They maintain greenhouses, gardens, and agricultural fields. Terraced greenhouses are planned along the slope of the main building site for gardening space and to collect heat to distribute through the buildings.
At present, the town is primarily an education center, with students from around the world visiting to attend workshops, classes, and continue construction. 40,000 tourists visit yearly. Tourists can take a guided tour of the site or make reservations to stay overnight in guest accommodations.
Some Arcosanti funding comes from selling the metal and ceramic bells made and cast from bronze on site. Additional funding comes from donations and fees for workshops, which last up to five weeks. Much of the present construction at Arcosanti has been done by workshop participants and volunteers.
Since 1970, participants have come internationally to help build Arcosanti by enrolling in workshops. During a standard five-week workshop, they receive lectures about Paolo Soleri's background and the principles of Arcology design, and gain hands-on learning experience through aiding construction. Although the program attracts many who are interested in art, architecture and urban planning, it is also pertinent to those interested in philosophy, sociology, and agriculture.
1956 – Paolo and Colly Soleri purchased the land upon which the Cosanti Foundation is built. The first office and activities occurred in 1959 at Cosanti, in Paradise Valley, Arizona.
1969: Arcosanti – Soleria coined the term 'Arcology' to describe his designs for ecologically sound human habitats, as elaborated in The City in the Image of Man, published by MIT Press. Its develops the concept of Arcology and its design variations for different settings. Arcosanti was introduced as the last (30th) example of this exercise, and originally planned to house a relatively small population of 1,500 people. The physical construction of Arcosanti began in 1970.
1975-1977: Two Suns Arcosanti – The Xerox Corporation sponsored a major Soleri exhibition, featuring a series of new arcology designs that suggested a sustainable urban habitat employing alternative energy sources. The project was called Two Suns Arcology: The Cities Energized by the Sun. The Arcosanti master plan went through a major overhaul reflecting this methodology. In the following year, Plant Show venues gave Soleri additional funding to update the Arcosanti design. The projected population was increased to 5,000.
1980: Critical Mass – Ten years into the construction of the first prototype arcology, a developmental adjustment was made to gain momentum for the project. The Critical Mass concept was introduced as an incremental phase to house 10 percent of the projected population of 5,000. A series of small-scale structures, providing various amenities, were designed to support a viable community. This was intended to support the next major step, the completion of Arcosanti.
2001: Arcosanti 5000 – Developed from the Super Critical Mass in 'Arcosanti 2000,' with the design elements of 'Nudging Space Arcology' added, Arcosanti 5000 features seven phases of truncated super-apse structures. It re-establishes the macro nature of this prototype arcology for 5,000 people. This design is in development, awaiting architectural and structural resolutions.
2009: Paolo Soleri's 90th Birthday Celebration and Alumni Reunion – Paolo Soleri celebrated his 90th birthday at Arcosanti, joined by 300 alumni and guests for the occasion. The official schedule started on June 19, and this first day was devoted to alumni. Ongoing events included Kundalini yoga, a morning bell-carving workshop, a Silent Auction, and an exhibition with the newest renderings of Critical Mass. The festivities continued into the night with a bronze pour in the Foundry, followed by a techno party in the Vaults, and performances on a stage in the Ceramics Apse.
The birthday celebration for Soleri resumed on Saturday with attendees enjoying a gargantuan 'frugal soup' in the Vaults. Documentary film maker Geoffrey Madeja presented a short video. Tomiaki Tamura followed with a visual presentation Paolo’s life and work and a pictograph especially choreographed for Paolo. The final performance of the night was hosted by Flam Chen, in a series of acrobatics involving dazzling fire, lights, and extreme heights.
2011: On July 14, 2011, the Cosanti Foundation announced that its founder Soleri retired as its President and CEO. "There are other things that I want to accomplish," said the 92-year-old Soleri. "I am ready to leave the management of the Foundation and its primary project – the urban laboratory Arcosanti – to the next generation." That generation is now led by Boston architect Jeff Stein, AIA. Stein’s proposals for Arcosanti are: a half-dozen new apartment buildings, a canopy for the amphitheater, a renovated commercial bakery, and a storage unit for Paolo Soleri’s collection of architectural models.
Commenting on the disparity in salaries between corporate CEOs and workers in the United States, Stein stated, “The typical American CEO makes 325 times what the company’s average worker earns. I’m two times the average salary.” The average salary at Arcosanti is minimum wage.
TODAY: Arcosanti continues to operate under the Cosanti Foundation, a non-profit 501(c) 3 organization, which runs workshops to teach Paolo Soleri's ideas. As of 2012, more than 7,000 participants had aided in the construction through participation in five-week workshops. Each workshop includes a Seminar Week, which covers Soleri's background and history, as well as his concepts about arcology design. They hear lectures from different departments at Arcosanti to see how Arcosanti operates, and then spend the following weeks working at the priority project of the site.
Arcosanti is the home of the bell-making enterprise of Cosanti Originals, which sells Soleri's sculptural windbells to support the greater architectural project.
Over six years in the making, the (2013) feature length documentary film on the life of Paolo Soleri and the birth of Arcosanti, The Vision Of Paolo Soleri: Prophet In The Desert (2012) features on-camera interviews with journalist Morley Safer, Will Wright, architectural critic Paul Goldberger, Catherine Hardwicke, Will Bruder, Jean-Michel Cousteau, architect Steven Holl, and Eric Lloyd Wright. It is produced by Lisa Scafuro / Mona Lisa Film Productions and Emmy Award winning Sam Shinn, Director of Cinematography. 
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Arcosanti|
- Paolo Soleri Biography, Arcosanti.org
- Construction Timeline
- Arcosanti Project Background, Arcosanti
- Urban design by Jon T. Lang, page 126, Google Books
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- Paolo's 90th Frugal Soup Arcosanti Daily Progress Report
- Paolo's 90th Flam Chen Performanc Arcosanti Daily Progress
- Paolo's 90th Flam Chen Performance pt2 Arcosanti Daily Progress
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- Official Arcosanti website
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- Tortorello, Michael, "An Early Eco-City Faces the Future", New York Times, February 15, 2012