There are some things in life that you never forget, they stay with you, imprinted on your mind and in your heart. Arcosanti, Arizona is one of them and for me will always be a very special place on this earth. This was one man’s dream of the future, Paolo’s dream. Arcosanti is an experimental urban design project created by Italian architect Paolo Soleri (1919 – 2013).
I have had a fascination with Arcosanti since discovering it in grade school in the early 1970’s, just after the construction started. Arcosanti, an urban laboratory made a big splash in the media in its first three years. I was about 12 years of age when my teacher shared a News Week magazine with the headline: As urban Architecture, Arcosanti is Probably the Most Important Experiment Undertaken in Our time!. The cover featured a beautiful photograph of a concrete arch pictured at sunset in the Arizona desert. The article within News Week included illustrations of amazing organic futuristic buildings that showed what a self contained city of the future may look like. I was inspired by this article and something inside of me was ignited. I declared to my teacher that I wanted to go there someday or perhaps even live there! It would be another 11 years before I would have the opportunity to visit Arcosanti. My first experience proved very enlightening and therefore I traveled back to Arcosanti numerous times. Arcocanti is one of my favorite places to visits for some sort of quiet and calm refuge.
In October of 2011, with the intention of writing this story, I visited Arcosanti. On arrival I could feel the anticipation of something different in my spirit. The warm desert breeze blew with soothing calmness and the wind bells of Arcosanti that began to sing in the air. In the distance the sun started to set on the desert horizon. Before me the futuristic cityscape of concrete, glass, steel and dome like structures majestically glowed in the late afternoon light. Dusk is my very favorite time of day with that magical light that no photographer or artist can resist. Arcosanti is a different kind of desert oasis with architecture, ecology, art, and music, creating a futuristic city by design.
On this trip I attended the Different Skies concert held annually in October with the idea of accumulating more photos and hopefully interviewing the architect and creator of this masterpiece, Paolo Soleri for a future article. The concert of electronic music is played by a group of musicians gathered together from all parts of the world for just one night, hence the name “Different Skies”. The experience was mesmerizing. As an artist and photojournalist, this visit to Arcosanti and the concert of “Different Skies” performance all created by Paolo Soleri, was still as mesmerizing as the first time I experienced it. It was as though nothing had stopped the dream of this man who created it all.
This trip was particularly significant as I had the opportunity to meet Paolo Soleri and discuss his work and life in the Arizona desert just north of Phoenix. This magical place really got some notice by the entire world! Soleri dreamed of architecture, people, and ecology becoming one in enlightenment for all on our planet earth as an example for hope that the human race would consider a change in their currant ways. Ultimately Paolo Soleri had high hopes of Arcosanti becoming a completed reality someday with a city of 5,000 people living and working together.
Paolo Soleri’s Arcosanti, urban laboratory, was his dream of beautiful buildings and people interacting as highly evolved beings in a society that would promote good health and kind living. Paolo Soleri’s artistic ways from his human touch surrounds Arcosanti and his studios at Cosanti. To experience it all in person I think is the only way to understand and appreciate the momental impact that Arcosanti and Cosanti has on a person’s soul and spirt in exotic creative design. Arcosanti is a concept still in the works, realized only by 3% complete and 97% incomplete, after 43 years of Paolo’s labor of love and slow construction. Putting it’s slow growth aside, one realizes that Arcosanti is a great model of an environmentally sensitive concept of a future city where ecology could rule and be truly self sufficient.
Acrosant’s concept of future living is a city where everything you could possibly need is within walking distance. Imagine a life without cars and in their place fast moving elevators and escalators transporting people vertically. In this concept, working and living spaces would be one in a environmentally friendly architecture embodied in a linear city that grows upward instead of outward. This in turn does not consume all the natural surrounding land, as Soleri’s vision was meant to be, the land would then remain intact for wildlife preserves. The buildings could soar into the sky vertically while taking up just a small footprint of the land. These super structures would be multi-use buildings combining retail and residential spaces of solar orientation using only natural materials from the earth. The dream was and still is a good one of a city organic and natural, peaceful in mind, body, and soul, that would enhance the lifestyle of the population as it grows.
by Mark G. Picascio
Special thanks to Annalisa Capurro, Design Educator
Read more about Arcosanti: PART TWO: “Arcosanti, Paolo Soleri’s Dream Continues”