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Arcosanti is an experimental town that began construction in 1970 in central Arizona, 70 mi (110 km) north of Phoenix, at an elevation of 3,732 feet (1,130 meters). Architect Paolo Soleri, using a concept he calls arcology, started the town to demonstrate how urban conditions could be improved while minimizing the destructive impact on the earth.
The goal of Arcosanti is to explore the concept of arcology, which combines architecture and ecology. The town aims to combine the social interaction and accessibility of an urban environment with sound environmental principles such as minimal resource use and access to the natural environment. To accomplish this, the project is building an experimental town on 25 acres (0.1 km2) of a 4,060 acre (16 km2) land preserve.
Construction broke ground at the site in 1970, and continues at a varying pace through the present. The most recently completed building was finished in 1989. The population varies between 50 and 150 people, based on the number of students and volunteers on the site. Ultimately the town is intended to hold 5,000 people. Currently there are 13 major structures on the site, of at most several stories in height. The latest master plan, designed in 2001, envisions a massive complex, called Arcosanti 5000, that would dwarf the current buildings.
Many features are particular to the design and construction of Arcosanti, for example the use of tilt-up concrete panels that are cast in a bed of silt acquired from the surrounding area, which gives the concrete a unique texture and colour and helps it blend in with the landscape. Many of the panels were cast with embedded art. Most of the buildings are oriented toward the south to capture the sun's light and heat — with roof designs that admit the maximum amount of sun in the winter and a minimal amount during the summer. For example, the bronze-casting apse is built in the form of a quarter sphere or semi-dome. The layout of the buildings is intricate and organic, rather than a North American style city grid, with a goal of maximum accessibility to all of the elements, increased social interaction and bonds, and a sense of privacy for the residents.
Existing structures at Arcosanti have a variety of different purposes to provide for the complete needs of the community. They include a five-story visitors' center/cafe/gift shop, a bronze-casting apse, a ceramics apse, two large barrel vaults, a ring of apartment residences and storefronts around an outdoor amphitheater, a community swimming pool, an office complex, and Soleri's suite. A two-bedroom "Sky Suite" occupies the highest point in the complex and is available for overnight guests. Most of the buildings have accessible roofs.
The Arcosanti site contains a camp area that was built for the original construction crew. It is used today as additional housing and is home to the agricultural department which maintains greenhouses, gardens, and agricultural fields. Additional terraced greenhouses are planned along the slope of the main building site to provide gardening space and collect heat which will be funneled throughout the buildings.
At present, the town is primarily an education center, with students from around the world visiting to attend workshops, classes, and continue construction. It is also a tourist attraction with 40,000 visitors a year. Tourists can take a guided tour of the site or make reservations to stay overnight in guest accommodations.
Some of the funding for Arcosanti comes from the sale of metal and ceramic bells that are made and cast from bronze on site. Additional funding comes from donations and fees for workshops which run up to five weeks long. Much of the present construction at Arcosanti is done by workshop participants and volunteers.
Since 1970, participants from around the world have come to help build Arcosanti by enrolling in workshops. During a standard five-week workshop they receive lectures about Paolo Soleri's background, the principles of Arcology design, and gain hands on learning experience through aiding in on-going construction. Although the program attracts many who are interested in art, architecture and urban planning, it is also pertinent to those who are interested in philosophy, sociology, and agriculture.
For the 2012 year, the five week workshop start dates are as follows: February 5, March 11, April 15, May 20, June 24, July 29, September 2, October 7, and November 11. The workshops are for people age eighteen and older.
1956 - Paolo and Colly Soleri purchased the land upon which the Cosanti Foundation is built. The first office and activities occurred in 1959 at Cosanti, in Paradise Valley, AZ.
1969: Arcosanti - The term Arcology was coined to describe a series of urban designs for ecologically sound human habitats, as elaborated in “The City in the Image of Man,” published by MIT Press. Its thesis outlines the concept of Arcology and its design variations for different settings. Arcosanti was introduced as the last (30th) example of this exercise, and originally planned to house a relatively small population of 1,500 people. The physical construction of Arcosanti began in 1970.
1975-1977: Two Suns Arcosanti - The Xerox Corporation sponsored a major Soleri exhibition featuring a series of new arcology designs that suggested a sustainable urban habitat employing alternative energy sources. The project was call “Two Suns Arcology: The Cities Energized by the Sun.” The Arcosanti master plan went through a major overhaul reflecting this methodology. In the following year, Plant Show venues gave Soleri additional funding to update the Arcosanti design. The projected population was increased to 5,000.
1980: Critical Mass - Ten years into the construction of the first prototype arcology, a developmental adjustment was made in order to gain momentum for the project. The Critical Mass concept was introduced as an incremental phase to house 10 percent of the projected population of 5,000. A series of small-scale structures providing various amenities was designed to support a viable community. This would hopefully function as a springboard to the next major step, the completion of Arcosanti.
2001: Arcosanti 5000 - Developed from the Super Critical Mass in Arcosanti 2000 with the design elements of Nudging Space Arcology added, Arcosanti 5000 features seven phases of truncated super apse structures. It re-establishes the macro nature of this prototype arcology for 5,000 people. This design is still in development, waiting on the architectural and structural resolutions.
2009: Paolo Soleri's 90th Birthday Celebration and Alumni Reunion- Paolo Soleri celebrated his 90th birthday at Arcosanti and about 300 alumni and guests came for the occasion. The official schedule started on June 19 and this first day was entirely devoted to alumni. There were ongoing events including Kundalini Yoga, a morning bell-carving workshop, a Silent Auction, and an exhibition with the newest renderings of Critical Mass. The festivities continued into the night with a bronze pour in the Foundry, followed by a steamy techno party in the Vaults and performances on a stage in the Ceramics Apse.
The birthday celebration for Paolo resumed on Saturday with a gargantuan frugal soup in the Vaults. Documentary film maker Geoffrey Madeja presented a short video. Tomiaki Tamura followed with a visual presentation Paolo’s life and work and a pictograph especially choreographed for Paolo. The final performance of the night was hosted by Flam Chen in a series of exciting acrobatics involving dazzling fire, lights, and extreme heights.
2011: On July 14, 2011 the Cosanti Foundation announced that its founder, internationally renowned architect Paolo Soleri, retired as its President and CEO. "There are other things that I want to accomplish," said the 92-year-old Soleri. "I am ready to leave the management of the Foundation and its primary project – the urban laboratory Arcosanti – to the next generation." That generation will now be led by Boston architect Jeff Stein, AIA, who has been elected the Foundation's new President by its Board of Trustees. Stein, a longtime Soleri collaborator, left his post as dean of the Boston Architectural College to accept the position in Arizona. Stein’s proposals for Arcosanti are: a half-dozen new apartments, a canopy for the amphitheater, a renovated commercial bakery, and a storage unit for Paolo Soleri’s collection of architectural models. Commenting on the disparity in salaries between corporate CEOs and workers in the United States, Stein stated, “The typical American c.e.o. makes 325 times what the company’s average worker earns. I’m two times the average salary.” The average salary at Arcosanti is minimum wage.
TODAY: Arcosanti continues to operate under the Cosanti Foundation, a non-profit 501(c) 3 organization, which runs workshops to spread Paolo Soleri's ideas. To this point in 2012, over 7,000 participants have aided in the construction of Arcosanti by taking five-week workshops. Each workshop includes a Seminar Week which covers Paolo Soleri's background and history as well as the concepts behind the arcology design. They also receive lectures from different departments at Arcosanti to see how Arcosanti operates and then spend the following weeks aiding in whatever is the next priority on site.
Arcosanti is also the home to the bell making enterprise of Cosanti Originals, which sells Paolo Soleri's unique sculptural windbells to support the architectural project at large.
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