Arcosanti is a projected experimental town with a bronze bell casting business in Yavapai County, central Arizona, United States, 70 mi (110 km) north of Phoenix, at an elevation of 3,732 feet (1,138 m). Its arcology concept was proposed by Italian-American architect Paolo Soleri (1919–2013). He began construction in 1970 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 proposed town.
The goal of Arcosanti is to explore the concept of arcology, which combines architecture and ecology. The project 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 has been building an experimental town on 25 acres (10 ha) of a 4,060-acre (1,640 ha) land preserve, 860 acres (350 hectares) of which are owned by the Cosanti Foundation, with the remainder leased from the state.
Ground was broken in 1970 to begin construction on the site and has continued at a varying pace through the present. The most recently completed building was finished in 1989. The population has varied between 50 and 150 people, many of them students and volunteers. The goal was for Arcosanti to house a population of 5,000 people. Thirteen major structures were built on the site, some several stories tall. One master plan, designed in 2001, envisioned 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 color 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 maximal amount of sunlight in the winter and a minimal amount during the summer. The structure built to shelter bronze casting is built in the form of an apse, a quarter-sphere or semi-dome. The layout of all the buildings is intricate and organic, rather than the grid typical of most US cities, with the goals of maximal accessibility to all elements, a combination of increased social interaction and bonds, together with privacy for the residents.. Not all of the grounds are wheelchair accessible.
Existing structures at Arcosanti are meant to begin to provide for the complete needs of a community. They include: a five-story visitors' center/cafe/gift shop; a bronze-casting apse; a ceramics apse; two large barrel vaults; a ring of apartment residences and quasi-public spaces around an outdoor amphitheater; a community swimming pool; an office complex, above which is an apartment that was originally Soleri's suite. A two-bedroom "Sky Suite" occupies the highest point in the complex; it, as well as a set of rooms below the pool, is available to overnight guests. Most of the buildings have accessible roofs.
Arcosanti has a Camp area, built by and for the original construction crew. It is used today as housing for approximately one fourth of the Arcosanti population. Camp has a small greenhouse, with easy access to gardens and large agricultural fields that, as of March 2017, were not being cultivated. Terraced greenhouses are planned along the slope of the main building site for winter plant and garden space, and to collect heat to distribute through the buildings.
Arcosanti was conceived of and remains primarily an education center, with students from around the world visiting to attend workshops, classes, and to assist with the continuing construction. Forty thousand tourists visit yearly. Tourists can take a guided tour of the site or stay overnight in guest accommodations.
Some Arcosanti funding comes from sales of bells made and cast from clay and bronze on site. Additional funding comes from donations and fees for workshops. Much of the present construction at Arcosanti has been done by workshop participants and volunteers. The average salary at Arcosanti for much of its history was barely above minimum wage.
Starting in 1970, participants have come to help build Arcosanti by enrolling in workshops. During the traditional five- or six-week workshop, they attend lectures about Paolo Soleri and the principles of Arcology design while gaining hands-on learning experience by aiding construction. Although the program attracts many who are interested in art, crafts, architecture and urban planning, it is also pertinent to those interested in philosophy, sociology, science, and agriculture. Today, workshops are shorter in duration, one week or less, and focus on learning, including experiential learning. Workshops are offered in glass blowing, siltcasting, photography and other hands-on activities.
As of 2023, more than 8,000 participants had aided in the construction through participation in five-week workshops.
- 1956: Paolo and Colly Soleri purchased the land in Paradise Valley, Arizona, upon which the Cosanti studios were built. Their first official activities began there in 1959.
- 1969: Arcosanti – Soleri 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 to accompany a 1970 exhibition of the same name at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, DC. The book develops the concept of Arcology and its design variations for different settings. Arcosanti, introduced as the last (30th) example of this exercise, was 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.
- 1978: During a festival held at the site on 7 October, a grass fire ignited in the area being used as a parking lot and over 180 cars were damaged or destroyed. This had the practical effect of ending the possibility of future music festivals at the site, due to the massive cost in damage payouts.
- 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.
- 1988: Nightfall – The science fiction film Nightfall was filmed at Arcosanti. Residents served as extras.
- 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; 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 partaking in a gargantuan "frugal soup" gathering in the Vaults. Documentary film maker Geoffrey Madeja presented a short video. Tomiaki Tamura followed with a visual presentation of Paolo's life and work and a pictograph especially choreographed for Soleri. 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 had 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 was to be led by Boston architect Jeff Stein, AIA. Stein's proposals for Arcosanti began with: 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.
- 2021: Elizabeth Martin-Malikian became the CEO of the Cosanti Foundation. She commented at the time that "Phoenix and Arizona are at the epicenter of climate change, and global studies are a big focus. There is potential to provide forums and host educational conferences on site and we are already working on that."
Arcosanti operates under aegis of the Cosanti Foundation, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. Arcosanti is the home of the bell-making enterprise of Cosanti Originals, which sells Soleri's sculptural wind bells to support the greater architectural project.
In popular culture
- 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.
- In February 2022, Arizona hip-hop group Injury Reserve released a music video for their song "Outside", shot on location at Arcosanti.
- "About Paolo Soleri". arcosanti.org. Archived from the original on 25 April 2017.
- "Relevance Today & The Future". History and Origins of Arcosanti. 2 January 2020. Retrieved 11 August 2020.
- Kunzelman, Jeffrey. "Arcosanti : Project : Background : Timeline". arcosanti.org. Archived from the original on 9 March 2012.
- Kunzelman, Jeffrey. "Arcosanti : Project : Background : History". arcosanti.org. Archived from the original on 7 January 2012.
- Urban design by Jon T. Lang, p. 126. Google Books.
- "Stay Overnight at Arcosanti". Arcosanti. 3 January 2020. Retrieved 11 August 2020.
- Tortorello, Michael (15 February 2012). "An Early Eco-City Faces the Future". New York Times.
- Schillaci, Trevor (2022-09-27). "Three shelters designed by students at The School of Architecture". The Architect’s Newspaper. Retrieved 2023-03-29.
- "Hands-On Workshops | The Original Arcosanti Experience". Arcosanti. Archived from the original on Nov 30, 2022. Retrieved 2023-03-29.
- "Arcosanti and Music". Retrieved 28 February 2021.
- "Arcosanti '78: Music Under Fire" Archived 15 August 2014 at the Wayback Machine, The AZEdge, 20 October 2011
- Google News Archive The Prescott Courier, 12 September 1979
- "Arcosanti car fire photograph", Flickr
- "Paolo's 90th Bronze Pour" Arcosanti Daily Progress Report
- Paolo's 90th Frugal Soup Arcosanti Daily Progress Report
- Paolo's 90th Flam Chen Performance Arcosanti Daily Progress
- Paolo's 90th Flam Chen Performance pt2 Arcosanti Daily Progress
- "The Cosanti Foundation's New CEO Plans to Preserve the Past, But Embrace the Future". Phoenix Home & Garden. 2022-02-01. Retrieved 2023-03-29.
- "The Vision of Paolo Soleri: Prophet in the Desert". IMDb. Retrieved 19 December 2012.
- Corcoran, Nina (2022-02-10). "Watch Injury Reserve's New Video for "Outside"". Pitchfork. Retrieved 2022-08-12.
- Official Arcosanti website
- Arcosanti alumni address book
- Lonely Planet Travel Guide Description of Arcosanti
- The Arcosanti Work Song (c)1972
- Andrea Sachs, "Arcosanti: A 'City' Grows Green in the Arizona Desert", Washington Post, April 20, 2008
- Bishop, Snowden, "The Genius of Arcology: The Sustainable Theories of Paolo Soleri, AZ Green Magazine, February 6, 2011
- Chris Colin, "Sipping From a Utopian Well in the Desert", New York Times, September 16, 2007
- Duncan Geere, "Five real-world arcologies under construction", Wired.co.uk, June 21, 2011
- Tortorello, Michael, "An Early Eco-City Faces the Future", New York Times, February 15, 2012