By Maggie Bell 

The visionary “urban laboratory” known as Arcosanti was founded in Arizona in 1970 by Italian architect Paolo Soleri (1919-2013).  Soleri graduated from the Politecnico di Torino in 1946 with a master’s in architecture, after which he moved to Arizona to study with Frank Lloyd Wright.  In 1950 Soleri returned to Italy to build, among other large-scale projects, the Ceramica Artistica Solimene, a ceramics factory in Vietri.  

During this period Soleri became increasingly interested in urban design, and developed his concept of archology, or architecture coherent with ecology.  He felt that American sprawl was destroying the environment, and in an effort to demonstrate a more efficient urban design he returned to Arizona to found Arcosanti on the outskirts of Phoenix.  The development was planned to house 5000 people in compact and multifunctional spaces that reduced the human impact on the surrounding environment.  The domed structures were made using a slip-casting process Soleri developed while building the ceramics factory in Vietri.  This same process was used to make bells and wind chimes that Soleri designed, and which are still made and sold at Arcosanti today.

Drawing on his experience with Wright, Soleri created an internship program that has provided the primary labor force since 1970. Currently the site houses between 50 and 150 volunteers who stay for varying lengths of time and continue to work on construction projects and bell-making.  While this is a much smaller permanent population than Soleri originally intended, Arcosanti sees thousands of visitors each year, who can receive guided tours of the site or eat with the volunteers in the communal kitchen. 

Further Reading

Soleri, Paolo, and John Strohmeier. 2001. The urban ideal: conversations with Paolo Soleri. Berkeley, Calif: Berkeley Hills Books.

Soleri, Paolo. 1973. The bridge between matter & spirit is matter becoming spirit; the arcology of Paolo Soleri. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Books.

Soleri, Paolo. 1993. Arcosanti: an urban laboratory? Scottsdale, AZ: Cosanti Press.

Glenn, Jerome C. 1979. Linking the future: Findhorn, Auroville, Arcosanti. Cambridge, Mass: Hexiad Project, Center on Technology and Society.

View of Arcosanti, Yavapai County, Arizona, 2017

The Arcosanti Vaults, Yavapai County Arizona, 2017

The Arcosanti Welcome Sign, Yavapai County Arizona, 2017

Photograph of architect Paolo Soleri at Arcosanti, Architect Magazine, April 9, 2013

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