Mesa City | Paolo Soleri


Mesa City first appears in Soleri’s drawings in 1955 as “Project Mesa: quest for an environment in harmony with man.” Over the next five years, Soleri would draw over a thousand feet of scrolls detailing the structures and landscape of this hypothetical city.

Mapped out on an imaginary landmass roughly the size of Manhattan, with a population of 2 million, Mesa City is centered around two nodes of peak density and activity: the theological complex in the north, and the higher learning center in the south, visible in the foreground of this shot. These nodes are connected by highways, underground bus tunnels, and the Axial Parks. Thirty-four villages will be grouped around civic buildings and shopping centers in clusters of five. This city plan begins with the conviction that the city is the most relevant aesthetic phenomenon on the earth. Located on a semiarid plateau and surrounded by grounds for agricultural activities, the ecology is closely controlled by a complex system of watersheds, dams, and canals.


From The Sketchbooks of Paolo Soleri, MIT Press, 1971:

“The high learning complex in some ways the most ‘abstract’ conception of the whole project. Many of the ideas incorporated in the other organisms are here used to the limit: 1) The multiplication of grounds. 2) The definition of many environmental statuses. 3) The visualization of the problem as the coupled activity of a constant reaching from the past and a variable begat from the future needs. Thus, the defining of an indeformable skeleton (the constant) on which to vest the ever-changing functional wants (the variance). . . The average height of each structure is about 250m. A direct implication of such a dimension is that the outdoor volume cut into space by the dendriform structures is hard to visualize in its scale impact. By roofing over the center of Manhattan with sky-lights and suspended gardens topping and spanning between the highest skyscrapers, one would approach the scale of things involved . . ..”



Paolo Soleri is an Italian-American visionary architect with a life-long commitment to research and experimentation in design and town planning. Born in 1919, then in 1956 he settled in Scottsdale, Arizona, establishing the Cosanti Foundation, a non-profit educational foundation. In the same way that Frank Lloyd Wright spent most of his time at Taliesin West constantly adding buildings to the complex, all of which were constructed by students, Soleri’s Arcosanti has been constructed since 1970, and over 6000 people have participated in it’s construction.


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