Arcosanti – a “failed” social engineering experiment to address the challenges of future resource limitations?

We continued our road trip across the US’s South West heading towards the desert city of Phoenix, Arizona. En route we decided to make a stop at a place called Arcosanti, an experimental town in the high desert of Arizona, 70 miles north of Phoenix. This place was the brain child of Italian architect and artist Paolo Soleri, who sadly passed away in 2013, his dream unfulfilled. He was ahead of his time in believing that the current way we live is unsustainable; with urban sprawl resulting in high use of energy and creation of pollutants. His idea was to build high density living with efficient circulation of people and resources, multi-use buildings, and solar orientation for lighting, heating and cooling. Soleri called this new lifestyle concept “arcology” (architecture + ecology).

Today, his ideas would fit pretty well with mainstream thought leadership, but at the time his ideas did not resonate with the mindset of everlasting bountiful resources. In 1970, frustrated with the lack of support, he embarked on a privately funded project called Arcosanti. Its’ aim was to house 5000 people on 25 acres of a 4060 acre land preserve.

 

The plan was grand and virtuous but when you visit Arcosanti today, nearly 50 years later, you can see there is a long way to go to achieving the initial goals. For a start much of the planned buildings have not been constructed therefore it only supports a community of less than 100 people. Since its inception, funds to continue the development of Arcosanti have been hard to come by, which has meant very slow progress. The main source of funding comes from manufacturing and selling bells designed by Paolo Soleri, all of which are made on site. They also have a source of income from running workshops, events and offering overnight accommodation. But it is evident that things are not going to plan. Mind you it is a simple and self-contained way of living and perhaps one day we’ll return and become residents rather than visitors!

We decided to take the basic tour of the Arcosanti (there are more in depth tours if you are interested in the architecture.) It was soon evident the place is in need of some TLC. Luckily enough we are there in time to see them pouring the molten brass into the molds for their bell manufacturing. This is small scale manufacture so it is all done manually and not without some risk. Our tour also took in some of the communal areas which are well thought out. What strikes you is that this is a commune – the residents are mostly young and if you had to classify them by sight you would call them hippies. We are not sure this is what Paolo Soleri envisaged when setting up Arcosanti, but to his credit he was still visiting daily until his death when he was well into to his nineties! You wonder what will happen now that he has passed away.

After the tour we went into the cafeteria for a really good and healthy buffet lunch. Arcosanti is an interesting and idealistic concept and we laud its goals and it is a shame that is has not received the funding to complete the project – you never know what the future holds. 

Location: Hours: Fees:
Arcosanti is located one and a half miles (2.5 km of unpaved road) Northeast of Arcosanti Road (exit 263) on I-17, near Cordes Junction, 65 miles (100 km) North of Phoenix.

Tours: 1 hour

Start times: 10 am · 11 am · 1 pm · 2 pm· 3 pm · 4 pm

Suggested donation: $15 or $10 per student

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