Arcosanti and Macro-Cosanti | Paolo Soleri


The first notions of Arcosanti date back to the early 1960s. In 1970, the Cosanti Foundation began building Arcosanti, an experimental town in the high desert of Arizona, 70 miles north of metropolitan Phoenix. When complete, Arcosanti will house 5000 people, demonstrating ways to improve urban conditions and lessen our destructive impact on the earth. The Cosanti Foundation was founded by Paolo Soleri, an Italian-American visionary architect with a life-long commitment to research and experimentation.

Macro-Cosanti was born out of Soleri’s wish to expand Arcosanti and place its facilities well beyond the reach of the rapid suburbanization of Scottsdale. Born as a design for an Arts Village on a south-facing rim of Mesa City, the Macro-Cosanti plans quickly attained a life of their own as Soleri sought after funding, support, and a suitable site. The designs feature a lush, organic architecture, with multiple layers of repeating forms, all designed to create an environment for living and working in the open air year-round. Developing a small town to work as an urban laboratory was, and still is, daunting. No public or private resources were provided with the exception of tax exemption, which means the project benefits from its not-for-profit status, and this remains so after almost forty years of development.



A note on the image: This poster was silkscreened in two separate pieces, which have been overlaid in this photograph. While the same inks were used throughout, the bands of color and intensity of color do not match up between the two halves. The division visible here is thus a part of the work, and not a mistake of photographic lighting or image assembly.

We can read at their web-site:

In 1963, Soleri sent this poster to possible supporters as an initial offering in a series, available for a $14 subscription fee, from the Cosanti Foundation. The design contains three primary elements:
1. The Bowls: the three large oval forms visible in the center of the drawing: huge, in the shape of an inverted bell, creating a second, artificial ‘ground’ on which to build, while allowing light to pass through to the natural ground underneath.
2. The Residence: the long, linear forms connecting the various structures are actually a continuous 5-story building, integrating the functions of roadway, utility conduit, residential space, classroom, and studio.
3. The Apse series at the bottom of the drawing; visible at right in this elevation. These were intended primarily as year-round, outdoor workspaces. Artists and master crafters were to live in Earth Houses at the bases of these studios.


Macro-Cosanti Residence, 1964

Soleri has been always concern about sustainability and energy consumption. He describes part of the Macro-Cosanti project like: “Moving through the gates from one environment, clustered and finite, to the other, open and infinite, should be a momentous experience.” The residences were designed like a train capable of successive ‘extensions’. One single wagon will already make a useful instrument, just like in Constant’s New Babylon or Branzi’s No-Stop-City, the idea of a never-ending city was here mixed up with the sense of “commune”, so common at the 60s and 70s and in some ways so alike to projects like the Drop City and other hippies communes.

Enhanced panorama-filtered
Drop City panoramic image.

The difference lies in the fact that the hippies communes were abandoned by the early 1970s and Soleri, at his 90 years-old, keep on working on his ideas and developing projects at his own personal “commune”: Arcosanti, under construction since 1970.

When he wrote in the book City in the Image of Man [MIT Press, 1969] “The aim of this book is to present an alternative to urban disaster… Because of the physical, cultural, and ethical impasse man has arrived at, I consider this undertaking as necessary, essential, and urgent as any program concerning man…” we can have the feeling that he’s not talking about the late 1960s but maybe talking about the current times.

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