One architect’s vision of a future society, realized

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If Bedrock had flourished during the groovy ’70s, it might have looked like Arizona’s Arcosanti — a highly unusual oasis of clustered, sand-colored buildings amid 4,060 acres of preserved, uninhabited desert, about 70 miles north of Scottsdale. The experimental village and educational community — it is alive and well today — was founded in 1970 by the Italian architect, ceramic artist and urban innovator Paolo Soleri, and supporters of his nonprofit Cosanti Foundation, a gallery and studio in Scottsdale that Soleri founded in 1956. It is most known for its handmade ceramic bells, sold to support the foundation and still made today.

Architect Paolo Soleri at Cosanti with a scroll drawing, 1960s

An experiment in the architecture-meets-ecology philosophy that Soleri dubbed “arcology,” Arcosanti was established with hopes of alleviating urban problems and lessening societies’ impact on the earth, all while maintaining a heightened attention to design. Soleri was, after all, a pupil in Frank Lloyd Wright’s apprentice program at Taliesin West. Soleri’s theory? Eliminate the popular sprawling urban plan by creating a pedestrian-only lifestyle, utilizing solar orientation for lighting, heating and cooling, and incorporating sustainable agriculture. “Elegant frugality” is a mantra here, with 13 multistory buildings and up to 150 residents currently, with grand plans for more — 5,000 dwellers ultimately.

Arcosanti today

More than 40 years later, Arcosanti’s compound of extraterrestrial buildings remains a destination for those longing to escape the bustle of polluted, congested cities. There are five-week-long workshops that give in-depth instruction in Soleri’s arcological theory, but it also offers unconventional overnight accommodations in its guestrooms, with Soleri siltcast designs on the ceilings and reasonable tariffs of $30 to $50 nightly, or its more luxurious Sky Suite, at $100 per night, with a living room, kitchenette and expansive desert views. Fifty thousand people flock to Arcosanti yearly to study the community’s utopian ideals and design aesthetic, and to participate in its alternative, eco-friendly lifestyle. Is Paolo Soleri, at 93, and a resident of Cosanti himself, still ahead of his time? Is a retreat to Arcosanti the new ashram for enlightened urbanites? One could argue yes to both. Information 928-632-6222, arcosanti.org. Cosanti Originals bells at cosanti.com.  

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