Thursday, January 17, 2008

Everyday life in Arcotopia

At Cordes Junction, a cluster of gas stations and fast food restaurants off of I-17, a tiny, nondescript sign and a winding dirt road mark the passage out of one world and into another. 163 miles north of here is the Grand Canyon; 65 miles south is Phoenix, the fifth-largest city in the U.S., flattening out 1.5 million people over 516 square miles of concrete desert. Arizona's other great architect's utopia, Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West, can be found here, though Scottsdale's encroaching strip malls and all-in-one condominiums have begun to make it seem like just another gated community. At Arcosanti we can still imagine we are somewhere else. The above photo is of the entrance proper to the dream Paolo Soleri built.

The term 'Arcosanti' is a portmanteau -- 'Ar': Arcology -- 'Cos': cosa, the Italian word for material things -- 'Anti': anti-, or, Arcology against material things. Arcosanti is as self-sufficient as a technological society can be in the middle of the desert.

Soleri's ecological commune is not, importantly, a retrogressive or Luddite ideal. For him and his followers, arcologies are the future, and the design of each building reflects that -- and yet, there is something, if not quite medieval, then close to monastic about life here now. Students come to learn Soleri's design and construction techniques; if they wish to stay, their work subsidizes their living expenses. There are around 100 residents at any one time, with perhaps 40 of them permanent. Permanent residents get PPL insurance and six weeks of paid vacations a year. Rent is approximately $160 a month.

This is the main dining hall for visitors and residents. The circle is Soleri's favored design form, and expresses perhaps better than anything else the arcology's assumed relationship between the city and its environment, the past and the future, and the community with itself.

Aside from construction and giving guided tours, the other major responsibility of Arcosanti residents is the crafting of bronze bells. Bell-making has been Arcosanti's most consistent and longest-running source of income.

Public spaces. Inside the ziggurat-like structure on the right are the VIP suites, periodically rented out to musicians the community hires to perform. John Lennon stayed here once.

Arcosanti apartments are all unique, with larger units distributed according to seniority. Interior decorating is the responsibility of the individual resident.

The main office, with Soleri's residence above.

Green design means: passive heating/cooling system 'powered' by the cement structures' heat absorption; adjustable canopies to control sun exposure; material and water recycling; organically grown food; absence of cars.

The projected population of Arcosanti is 5,000 residents, a single node in a worldwide network of arcologies. With its completion status hovering at around 2%, it is a structure that exists primarily in the noosphere. By rejecting external funding for the project Soleri has ensured it will never be finished in his lifetime. What really exists, now, is a very fancy co-op, and the people seem to like it that way. Its function is more that of a school and the home of a grand vision than it is a reality, the physical marker of an imaginary space.