Developing the Desert – (Part 2: Arcology)

In the last post I raised the ‘question of development’ in wondering what would happen if we stopped pushing against nature so much and started developing with it. Many people, groups of people, organizations, and businesses have surely raised this question before, but few, perhaps, as eloquently, or with as much intention, as Paulo Soleri.

Star student of architectural dreamer Frank Lloyd Wright, Soleri believed that our cities are conceived of and built without appropriate concern for where and how we live, and that this is having a detrimental effect on our populations. In short, we’re lazy, stressed, and disconnected with the environment and people around us. This, sure sounds like the majority of cities we’ve traveled to thus far.

His answer: Architecture + Ecology = Arcology.

In the late 1960’s he set off on his first Arcology, called Arcosanti, and in 1970 the ground was broken in the high desert 70 miles north of Phoenix. Currently, between 50 and 150 people reside at the community of Arcosanti, but the plan is to house 5,000 people on less than 25 acres.

Maximize utility and urban space; minimize resource use; increase social interaction and participation.

A tall order to fill? Perhaps, but in his opinion, it’s what we ought to be striving for, and to do otherwise, is unsustainable. They’ve been at it now for more than 40 years, and while it is not the thriving 5,000 person urban reinvention that Soleri had hoped for, they are progressing none the less. Slow and steady has been the name of game, giving extra time and thought to materials, placement, and longevity – a focus that is surprisingly under-appreciated in today’s global development.

In the meantime, while the project continues to grow, Soleri has passed on his remarkable silt-casting sculptural techniques to visiting artists who craft beautiful clay and bronze bells and wind chimes. This musical pieces of art show the colors and materials of the desert and fill the space with the almost magical sound of the wind, vocalized through earthen casts.

With the artistic, intellectual feel of an university or college and the social vibe of a collective; the vision and architectural insight of decades of skilled professional training and state of the art technologies, Arcosanti is one piece of the very large puzzle of global development.

For more on Soleri and Arcosanti see here:

One Response to “Developing the Desert – (Part 2: Arcology)”
  1. Alex Shore says:

    Very cool. . . I’d love to hear those wind chimes someday

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