Arcosanti: A Dream Waylaid

Earlier this summer Andi, Sam and I visited Arcosanti in Arizona.  I’d admired Paolo Soleri’s work since undergraduate school in the late 80’s and a business trip to California gave us the opportunity to explore. The physical manifestation of Arcosanti feels a little like a dream hatched in the 60’s, since waylaid.  There’s a dissonance between the ambitions of the original plans and the community’s current state.  The buildings act as placeholders, anchors for huge structures to be built, to house a community of 5,000.

Around 100 people currently occupy and build on the site.  They’re folks who in one form or another have committed themselves to Soleri’s principles of merging architecture and ecology in fundamental and practical ways.  How we today define “Green” architecture - LEEDS certification and all - is a small bore, localized implementation at the architectural level of what Soleri intended, 40 years earlier, at the urban planning level.  Of what use are “green buildings” if they don’t change the way we congregate, work, commute and connect to the earth?

And yet, now when the effects of global warming seem obvious even to the skeptics, one of the most interesting case studies for how to go about things differently percolates quietly at the fringes, unnoticed, the original concrete pours turning to decay.

Soleri died early this year.  There are adherents to his Arcology philosophy that continue his architectural explorations, and they’ve recently published a book: “Lean Linear City: An Arterial Arcology”, that’s worth a read.