Friday, February 26, 2010


In 2007 I made what was, for me, a pilgrimage to place I had studied years ago in architecture school: Arcosanti. One of my professors had been spent a few months working there in the late '60's

and he had told us about the rise of a theoretical city in and of the desert; a place that was a mind meld of architecture and ecology.

Paolo Soleri first envisioned Arcosanti in the late 40's or early 50's. The idea of arcology (architecture+ecology) was born in the heyday of mid 20th century urban sprawl. If you are not familiar with Paolo Soleri's ideas, a good source of information is My overly simplified short version (at least as I understand it) is that Soleri's idea of the city is based in creating extremely dense urban environments, called arcologies, through a complex miniaturization of

infrastructure that would necessarily include both passive and active systems. This results in a city that, theoretically, requires only about 2% of the land area of traditional cities of similar population. This frees vast amounts of land to either remain in its natural state or be cultivated to feed the urban population.

A great theory, but difficult to apply in a practical way given our then and now technologies. Even though there have been tremendous technological advancements in the past 50 years, advances that would seem to help move arcologies from theory to practice, not all apply. For example, advances in wind power generation may not be what Soleri had in mind because of the sizable land area required to generate meaningful amounts of power. However many of the advances in solar energy technology have been in the miniaturization and increased efficiencies of collection devices that would seen to align with the theories of arcologies.

Even more important than the technology, however, is the need for the urban form to be organic, sensitive to nature and in tune with the cycle of the sun and seasons

to afford maximum efficiencies that such densities require. Without the proper orientation to nature and artful manipulation of form and space an arcology would be all but impossible.

At any rate, it's better to read what Soleri himself says at

The photographs here represent what I saw in December of 2007 at Arcosanti. I was impressed by the theory and that people could actually pull off a practical demonstration of such a complex theory. Arcosanti is a real place where people live, make things, build, socialize and they have done so for decades. It seems sustainable, but clearly there is much work to do. I'm looking forward to visiting again to see how both theory and place continue to evolve.

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