To get to Arcosanti, you must drive 70 miles north of Phoenix — one of the fastest growing (read: sprawling) areas of the country, through gorgeous saguaro-covered desert hills to a 2.5 mile dirt road in the middle of the Arizona wilderness. At the end of that road, you’ll find what has been called one of this century’s most important urban habitat experiments. Yes, urban.
The not-yet-fully realized vision of architect/urban designer/dreamer Paolo Soleri is built according to his philosophy of arcology — an intersection of architecture and ecology that uses sustainable principles like natural lighting, passive solar heating/cooling, and mixed-use space. Once complete, Arcosanti will house 5,000 people on just 25 acres. To put that feat in perspective, housing 5,000 people in your typical suburbia-style development would take about 500 acres.
The thick concrete buildings are shaped into quarter-spheres (called apses in architect-speak) and face southward so that the winter sun, low on the southern horizon, warms them and the hot summer sun is blocked when overhead, providing cool shade. Using smart design tricks like these (as opposed to fancy new tech like wind turbines and solar panels — though they do have both), Arcosanti is able to keep electricity use low and efficient.
Established in 1970, the community is slowly being built by residents and visitors who take part in their multi-week educational seminars. To fund this work, they rely primarily on the sale of goods — the most notable of which are the Soleri Wind Bells, handcrafted on site from ceramics and bronze. More than being unique works of art, these bells served, in part, as inspiration for Arcosanti’s design. When Soleri began making the bells using silt molds he carved in the desert river beds, he realized that he could use a similar method to make buildings on a much larger scale. And thus, Arcosanti was born.
While visiting Arcosanti, we were lucky enough to get a special tour from one of the residents, Erin Jeffries, who also serves as a public relations coordinator for the Cosanti Foundation. In the video below, she explains the vision for Arcosanti and takes us on a tour of the community, stopping along the way to talk about the apse-shaped structures, the bell-making process, and the myriad mixed-use spaces.
Below, more amazing pictures from the Arcosanti tour: