Future Arcosanti?

by Richard Register, Founder

In a distant world, long, long ago…


What’s Arcosanti? Paolo Soleri’s experimental aspiring city in the high Arizona desert, USA.

I love the place. I was there the first day of construction, July 23, 1970, a long time ago. In fact, with one other of Paolo’s students I raised the first vertical structure there, and if you know something about Paolo’s thinking about rising off the flat suburban format, that might mean something. It also makes me something of a fossil. But you can sometimes learn something from fossils, and not even only about the past. They have that much maligned ability to inform about the whole flow of time and thus hint the future as well as report the past. I guess I was a fundamentalist’s apostate since I grew up in the Jewish/Christian/Islamic monotheistic tradition but thought fossils made sense as something that looked a lot like contemporary bones but older. I am a fundamentalist though, but based on fundamental principles about the things that open inquiry might reveal these days about our beautiful universe, rather than what was thought and recorded several thousand years ago on the same subject.

Anyway, back in 1965 when I met him, Soleri was already saying the flat city of cars was wrecking not only the lives of people through serious car accidents but also wrecking the whole damn future by way of creating flat, scattered cities. That seemed to be bizarrely obscure and unwelcome information to Los Angelenos. I was one at the time I met him; but to me it simply made sense.

I’d been interested in his work for five years already when one morning I decided to call him up on what’s now known quaintly as a “land line” – Los Angeles to Phoenix, “dial up” around a little circle with numbers – to see if he was making any progress on starting his “city of the future.” In his case this future city was not sci-fi or tongue-in-cheek but deadly serious. He wanted to build one and he answered the phone at 6433 East Doubletree Ranch Road, Scottsdale, Arizona.

“Hi Paolo, how are you doing?” I asked.


“When are you starting work on your city.”

“Tomorrow at 6:00am.”

What?! I couldn’t believe it! I had to get there. Though carless at the time, almost immediately I found a friend driver crazy enough to say, “Hey, that sounds like fun.” Off we went, arriving about 4:00 in the morning.

Around sunrise Paolo was running around his property with his two Rhodesian ridgeback dogs that appeared to be having a hard time keeping up with him. I found myself waking up to the syncopation of flying feet and paws rippling over the sand. I was next to the swimming pool at Soleri’s Cosanti Foundation in Paradise Valley, which is part of Scottsdale, with my artist/night job taxi cab driver friend, William Brun, at my side. We made it just in time.

Our caravan snaked up the highway and down a dusty, barely existing road to the site. We all got out to survey the cactus-strewn landscape, the meandering canyon below with yellow-green cottonwood trees, and cliffs terminating in flat top bluffs called mesas – tables in Spanish. (If you want to get extra detail here you have to read my book “Ecocities”.)

The most auspicious part for me: one of the 20 people present, named Terry McConnell, joined me in raising a 2 x 4 wood frame structure covered in plastic to protect the first barrels of nails and bags of cement from the rain – and rain it did: a cloud burst let loose shortly after we completed the small shelter. The roof sagged with water and ice, fresh and cloudy white with hail. We skimmed out a couple of cups and drank a toast to the city’s happy future. As the thunderhead broke up toward the east, a rainbow appeared. Nice start.

No invitation but here it comes anyway

Paolo Soleri died on April 9th last year. The architect and often-called Prophet in the Desert left a series of several versions of Arcosanti. Construction there has been slow over the last few years. He died with some resignation and, to all appearances to long time observers like myself, a fair slice of depression about the fact that Arcosanti was very far from completion. Few architects or developers around the world give Paolo credit for his impact on their own works, designs slowly densifying in an intelligently pedestrian-oriented, three-dimensionally linked and ordered way of the sort Paolo was advocating and toward which he was building before anyone else.

So now, what for Arcosanti, the experimental city to reform cities from now into the evolutionary infinite future? I acknowledge right off that no one invited or authorized me in any degree to chime in. But I will because I fancy myself to have learned a lot from Paolo and I think my critique where we differ is also useful. I tried to extract what seemed to me to be the most profound principles at the core of the idea he called “arcology,” a melding of the worlds “architecture” and “ecology.”

First, to whit, cities should be designed and built like complex living organisms, very three-dimensional in form and with all parts well ordered according to the best articulation of internal functions. Think organs of our own bodies and their positioning, eyes up front and high, not down on the knees, for example. I call this the “anatomy analogy.” No complex living organism is flat – two-dimensional like a tortilla – and cities at their best function in many ways like complex living organisms. Therefore, the compact, highly “mixed use” city with its parts arranged well internally and in relation to the local environment (to shed and collect precipitation and absorb or reflect the sun’s rays depending on local environment, for example) and not scattered sprawl, is the way to go.

As a sub heading here, Soleri noted, and most forcefully, that automobiles have played a disastrous role in spreading the city out into that flat, inefficient, land and energy squandering, pollution and climate changing, pedestrian, bicyclist and driver killing machine wracking up over a million fatalities a year. As Soleri liked to say more generally, “Cities are not just in bad shape, they are the wrong shape.”

Second: cities can harmonize with evolution or fight against it. Evolution is a directive to what makes sense in design and functioning. What would that pattern be? What kind of guidance might we look for? Answer: a set of changes over vast time periods and everywhere in the universe toward ever more miniaturization and complexification. The simple early universe of vast volumes of space filled with almost nothing but hydrogen condenses into billions of much smaller in volume points of intensity and complexity called stars. These cook up the heavier elements and blow up in super novas scattering material into space which condenses into planets which are smaller and vastly more complex chemically than stars. These give rise to life which represents a quantum leap in complexity and miniaturization, which gives rise to consciousness both in individual life forms like us and in our collective interactions. To quote Kurt Vonnegut, “And so it goes.”

What does this mean for cities? Is it a stretch to see cities as part of evolution and therefore ought to be informed by its patterns in how they are designed and built? I ask: what is not part of the universe? Of course it’s important. The lesson is simply that scattered, massively redundant streets, separate walls, floors, and ceilings (almost never shared in car-created suburbia) are massively wasteful and destructive. There are also hundreds of miles of scattered wires and pipes for electricity, phone, optical fiber, water, sewerage, gas… Car enabled and assisted sprawl is a gigantic and not miniaturized enterprise. Plus the sheer scale of paving farmland and natural environments is fighting against biodiversity, climate dynamic stability and other of the natural patterns of evolution.

Those two principles are as basic as we can get. 1) The form we are looking for in our collective habitat is 3-D not 2-D, and 2) its correct relationship to the all and everything of matter and energy, space and time is part-of not antagonistic to miniaturization/complexification through time. Soleri was never one to think small except in this conclusion that we need miniaturization along with complexification – and that cities should be the physical meta-technologies facilitating such harmonious flowing into the unknown but oh-so-proper future.

What spirit and hard structure to build?

From September 19 through 22, 2013, five months after Paolo’s death, there was a celebration of life gathering at Arcosanti. Part of the gathering took place also at Cosanti, the cluster of buildings where Paolo spent most of his life. At Cosanti, too, is the pool beside which William and I slept in the wee hours before we all drove up to the high desert and started building Arcosanti way back in 1970. At the celebration many kind words were said of the Master and many thoughts about how Soleri’s work could be perpetuated and hopefully expanded were contemplated and discussed. I won’t review other people’s views but will express my own now.

I’ll start with a bit of historic context. I’ll say that, though construction has lagged and few people so far realize the founding influence of this project, Arcosanti nonetheless has priority as the first historic place to focus attention and practical effort on the work to reshape cities according to the natural patterns of the universe. If that isn’t a crucial part of nature and evolution, I don’t know what is. Insofar as humans are exercising the God-like powers of positive creativity along this mortal thread into the future, this effort for building “the city of the future,” this particular kind of “city of the future,” is as profound as it gets. The healthy future of life on this planet depends on such efforts and this one nails it for the urban realities almost all of us are involved in now and probably forever if we as a species are to survive and thrive. After all, our collective home, the city, town and village, is rather crucial to ordering so much that is essential to our “long now.”

We can identify the basics of what Paolo originated in relationship to other architects and city planners, and to philosophers and scientific cosmologists. There was much of the theologian in Paolo too. The religious perspectives he respectfully critiqued came to dominate a large part of his mental attention. But I’ll stick with what might be possible at Arcosanti and what I think would be best to attempt in that project at that location.

I’ll say at the outset though that I don’t expect such counsel will produce action. This is not just given the dynamics at Arcosanti and in the Cosanti Foundation which Paolo founded to further his work. This bleak and discouraging advance assessment is not an unkind commentary on their situation and ways there on the Arizona mesa, but more an observation that society is presently very resistant to getting with the ecocity program. Yes some trends are in the right direction and look much like what we could interpolate from the above-mentioned principles. But things are not moving with clarity and resolve, much less a sense of destiny of the sort we saw launched by John Kennedy proclaiming in 1962 we’d walk on the moon before the decade was out, or Paolo when he launched Arcosanti on August 23, 1970.

But I’ll speak anyway. I did notice at the various meetings at Paolo’s memorial events that among those most dedicated to the enterprise of physically building the new city, my ideas did have some traction. That was especially so with Tony Brown who for a decade or two was the construction director at Arcosanti. Our perspectives were firmly seconded by his wife Pam, the first mother with child living long-term at Arcosanti. Jeff Stein, current president of the Cosanti Foundation, also seemed reasonably warm to my line of reasoning.

Here’s what I suggest:

First, assess the several designs Paolo offered in his career. Then decide what to present to the world as a vision for next steps in the construction of Arcosanti – and go for it fresh all over again.

There is a tendency to honor most the latest versions, the ones that in theory had learned something from the earlier versions. There were at least three very basic and very different design ideas for a “complete arcology.” These designs came forward from the mid 1960s into the early 2000s. In addition, there are designs for the very next small increment of construction waiting to happen, in this case, a greenhouse skirt on the south slopes of the town that is planned to gather the sun’s heat and help warm the structures there by channeling hot air convection currents up through some of the existing buildings.

The three larger patterns for the “complete” Arcosanti I will submit here in drawings and photographs constitute part of the record at the Cosanti Foundation. Then I’ll add some of my own drawings representing two approaches to my suggested possible futures there.

First, there was a structure that looks something like a medieval castle reworked for modern times, built largely around half domes called, in European cathedral tradition, apses. This design makes its debut in Soleri’s 1969 book “Arcology – the City in the Image of Man,” MIT press. In version number one (Figure 1.) these half domes are facing outward: south, north, west and east. Towers and slabs are interlaced into the apses. The apses facing south let the low-angled winter sun warm the area on the ground sheltered partially by the structure from cold breezes. This amounts to a larger version of the common “solar passive” designs seen these days that help warm structures in the cold months of mid-range distances between the equator and poles of the Earth. The apses facing east and west in Arizona, not so much. The apses facing north would tend to cool the ground area embraced by the partially surrounding edifice. This form provides useful cooling for the buildings at the Cosanti Foundation in Scottsdale where temperatures are generally about 15 degrees hotter than at Arcosanti.

Thinking this through in the first years of the 1970s, Soleri took a radical departure and designed a structure dedicated to his usual higher density, 3-D form and at the same time sloping the entire city structure into the sun. Imagine the whole city as a single structure shaped something like an equator-facing apse (south-facing in the northern hemisphere). That would be appropriate for solar heating at the cooler Arcosanti high-desert location. This second design looks something like a pair of “V”s or two boomerang shapes in plan, one angled form nestled inside the other. The arms of the V spreading outward toward the south would act rather like a pair of apses in gathering warmth from the sun in the cooler half of the year. I heard Paolo himself say he thought the design looked somewhat pinched in the middle where the upward slopes angling south converged in the higher stories. He said, “I was away at the time,” implying also that he wasn’t paying enough attention to his design – and he wasn’t smiling while looking at some of the plans. But his basic design idea and the essential three-dimensionality of it all was moving along with its own momentum. (Figure 2.)

Paolo went back to the earlier more rounded, south-facing half domes in a third set of designs, this time overlapping them so that some worked with the sun’s warmth while blocking others also facing south. (Figure 3.) The result was a kind of unidirectional city and to many, including myself, a design looking somewhat monotonous. As a glance will reveal, there is little attention paid to the micro zones where us small humans could find cozy nooks and crannies and little sign of a variety of uses in higher places where in more conventional downtowns we often find rooftop restaurants, housing with penthouse features, business offices, health clubs, pools and simple viewing perches. Instead the philosophy of consistent design dominates Paolo’s style throughout.

In the diverse ecocity mode these high places could be even more varied than in present-day cities, with shops for tourists and locals, schools (such as I have seen in Berlin behind high roof top fences), basketball and tennis courts, and all manner of gardens, likely sheltered by windscreens, producing a little food and a lot of education while hosting native species of birds and butterflies. None of this kind of detail is in evidence in the most recent Arcosanti “complete” visions.

Building the spirit

My notion now is that with interest in the project at a fairly low ebb it would pay to try to come up with a vision for the most lively, people-friendly design possible that also adheres powerfully to the basic principles of compact, complex, three-dimensional “like a living organism” design. Perhaps a new spirit can be kindled, a Renaissance or rebirth, as compared to the Naissance that happened in 1970, both powerfully addressing the issue of the best “City of the Future” in the action of building of and commitment to working hard for the enterprise. “Come to Arcosanti. Be an important part of the best of the future” is the message.

It might also add greatly to the experience of being at Arcosanti to create a sense of the “urban inside,” that is, to plan to build soon such that an inner pedestrian street system begins to take shape. There is nothing wrong with having nature and agriculture close at hand; this is one of the most intriguing aspects of Soleri’s single structure arcology-type structures. At the same time, to have the sense somewhere at Arcosanti that you are in a town, with no view to the outside – that would create a new and very elemental level of variety there. Call it in Soleri’s terms, complexity.

Presently there is only one place where the outside doesn’t present at all as something of a street environment, and that is in a very narrow hallway between the performance area and the two large vaults to the west (structures shaped like barrels split top to bottom and placed on their sides, cut edges down, like arches in a way but more like proportionally short half tubes).

If this street environment notion amounts to something, then planning new structures as soon as possible to create an urban interior – a street or two with perhaps a couple small shops as a start and a space or two that function like a mini-plaza – is a very good idea. It seems to me all-important to declare this as the fastest practical track in an incremental strategy to illustrate ecologically tuned and human scaled design within the enlarging “arcology” that would be a growing Arcosanti.

My notion here in trying to build the spirit of Arcosanti would be to put forward the kind of founders’ vision that launched the project and once upon a time inspired enthusiastic support with the words ringing at its center like bells:  “We are building the city of the future.” If we hope to make such a declaration a reality, though, we need something of a plan or at least direction consistent with the crucial principles showing how and in what sequence such highly ambitious words could be taken not just seriously but irresistibly so.

It is therefore crucial that the city aspires to be a leading model; that the project that claims the “first” actually is. It wants to be a city to spawn a commanding next generation of ecologically informed cities because cities need a radical redo if we are to solve our many crucial environmental, energy, economic and social problems. It is the first city-building project to make such a declaration, followed by Curitiba a mere two or three years later. Arcosanti took a very different approach than Curitiba, the latter modifying an existing city as it grows rather than founding a whole new city. Thirty-five years after the Arcosanti launch, in 2005, Dongtan, China was announced as the world’s first “eco-city” but failed to even break ground. Nonetheless, the design exhibited some excellent concepts at its core. Tianjin Eco-city, also in China, and Masdar in Abu Dhabi both strongly headed in the right direction starting at about the same time.

The Arcosanti project, form the start, sought to influence a radical change in all future cities, not just one generation of them. Taking such a challenge seriously, exhibiting as soon as possible the element of three-dimensionality, is crucial, especially for generating excitement of the sort I had four decades ago. Now still and once again we need the excitement to supply happy worker-residents and forward-thinking investors for such a venture.

Building the buildings

But there is a bit of a problem here if we are trying to emphasize three-dimensionality. The present Arcosanti, with its perhaps a little slavishly south-facing orientation, has spread east-west along a plateau surmounting a steep south-facing slope. The three-dimensionality of the physical community is the crucial factor; solar passive energy is important but not as fundamentally important as the form and function of the whole entity.

At Arcosanti’s west end is the tallest structure that houses the guest center, sales facilities for Soleri’s books, and wind bells which are manufactured both at Arcosanti and Cosanti, a restaurant with kitchen, and some residential units. This structure is the equivalent of six conventional stories high but drops down those six stories along a steep slope from just slightly higher than the top of the mesa. Viewing the whole extent of Arcosanti from the photogenic opposite mesa top across a small valley, the slowly growing town looks decidedly rather linear, about ten times horizontally to vertical dimension.

I’d always thought it something of a mistake that the opportunity of building on the top of the mesa behind and slightly to the east of the six story building, Crafts Three by name, was not explored. If the idea of arcology is largely to embody a 3-D mode of building and living, constructing another, say, five stories on the mesa top would take advantage of eleven stories of vertical relief and provide a much stronger image of the potential of the whole arcology/ecocity idea.

Another issue relates to this sequence that emphasizes sequentially building a more vertical edifice and earlier on, and that has to do with the severe mismatch of the “Old Arcosanti” which we see now with the visions of the later much larger Arcosanti so far embraced by Paolo and the Cosanti Foundation leaders – to date anyway. Not only is the scale like a midget standing next to a giant but there is no transition envisioned linking the two, no mid-sized structure to provide some continuity. (Figure 4.). My solution here is to plan for mid-sized structure that in addition to embodying that scale, to also show much of the fine grain detailing of the sort already built and much enjoyed as special to Arcosanti as it is now. Also, to raise some of the detail up into the higher floors enabling better views – both from the structure and of the structure. Think skyline.

The use of terracing and rooftops to elevate people and structures and plantings of some real variety and to provide quite intentionally some of the complexity for mixed uses could solve this problem. There would then be variety and consistency at the same time. Regarding building the spirit for further progress down the road that Arcosanti seemed to be blazing back in the 1970s and 1980s, this seems to me to respect its early history and intent and its ecocity potential and longed for destiny.

I should make a brief aside note here. I see ecocities as ecologically healthy cities, towns and villages, period. And as such they need to follow the basically three-dimensional pattern Paolo describes as essential – the anatomy analogy. But Soleri also portrays in theory the literally three-dimensional single-structure city as his “arcology.” I think that’s a good idea to build something like that and see how it works, something like a ship on the land. But I don’t believe an ecologically healthy city has to necessarily be a single-structure. Adding to the ship example, there is also the example of southwest American Indian towns like Pueblo Bonito in Western New Mexico. Thus I see arcology-style single-structure cities as a sub class of ecocities, with both functioning essentially in a three-dimensional mode.

“Well now,” many have pointed out rather casually taking a tour there, “Arcosanti as it is now is a cluster of separate, sometimes joined buildings connected almost exclusively by pathways at ground level. It certainly is not a single structure town.”

What’s missing that would functionally unite separate building is not just a little more vertical dimension but also the presence of bridges above ground level. On such a small scale pedestrian bridges at Arcosanti might seem excessive but to illustrate dramatically and simply to add to the fun and inspiration for the project, a few bridges forecasting more and better of the same in the future would be an enormous contribution. So too would be the presence at an early stage of an elevator or two – also helping with the accessibility issue which is pretty bad there. I’d recommend exterior glass elevators – again for excitement, drama, fun and let’s not forget, news coverage and the cultivation of the myth becoming reality of the city of the future rocketing forth from there.

A brief discussion about what three-dimensionality does for us is in order. Three-dimensionality makes everything close together. The reverse of the discouraging admonition, “you can’t get there from here” applies: “You can get anywhere from here – at least in town and to many country places immediately outside.” And more to the point, with least effort: quickly, easily and mostly on foot. Why buy a car, spend your money, waste your time, risk your life and others’, pollute the environment, etc., etc.?

If the convenient virtues of three-dimensional communities is really such a powerful lesson and enabler of far healthier ways of living for all concerned, human, plants, animal and the planet’s slow changing dynamic stability of seasons, ocean levels, currents and the like, then who knows at what scale Arcosanti should consider its structure “complete,” its lessons to the world sufficient to change the way we think about design, build and live in cities?

Let the “final” city emerge from the process. I suspect its best possible form and minimal density and population for breakthrough awareness coming to those visiting, viewing and thinking about it, would be something like the illustrations I’m providing. I’m trying to illustrate the smallest scale to suggest a continuum all the way up to larger cities and new “conurbations” that I suggest calling the “ecotropolis.” An ecotropolis is a clusters of ecocities, ecotowns and ecovillages nestled into their bioregions busily building soil and supporting both sustainable agriculture and highest level of biodiversity. Different types of styles and somewhat altered texture of diversity of forms for complementary functions will no doubt be natural to this new art form of building ecocities. Arcosanti’s real contribution might best be prototyping best ecocity basics in a comprehensible, indeed very highly convincing, set of structures, connectors (like bridges, elevators and foot paths) and complementary functions arranged to best placement advantage. I think that would be sufficient, if built, to launch in fact what we tried to launch in 1970, and in the same location. If tried (as in the victim of trying times) by years of painfully slow uptake for the idea with the opposition – the car city – cruising out of control like a bull in the china shop of our recent urban/environmental reality, maybe now victorious, the idea might finally arise in concrete, steel, wood, glass and people delighted to be part of something very, very important.

Outlines of a Plan

So what can be done to further the building of Arcosanti toward its goal of transforming cities in harmony with all of earthly ecology and evolution? Again, I’m authorized by no one and just trying to think through what I think might work.

First, as all those supporting social justice insist, it starts with people. We need people supporting a vision, and of course, a vision at all. That is provided mostly by the whole notion of the compact, pedestrian, ecologically healthy city, while at the same time noting the many powerful solutions such cities could provide for all manner of crucial problems humanity faces. Arcosanti needs the equivalent of a declaration. Declarations are common, for good reason, at the launch of enterprises, such as the United States Declaration of Independence. Somehow, to gather up enthusiasm and energy – and commitment – we need Arcosanti to declare that it started, before anyone else, down this path and it reminds people that it remains committed to getting to the goal: ecocities (arcology in Soleri’s terminology) forever, just as Thomas Jefferson included in the US declaration that the rights and responsibilities of all human beings to be free are “self-evident” in the very nature of nature itself and in the nature of human beings capable of reason, understanding and mutual respect.

Later men of insight, including Abrahan Lincoln, noted that Jefferson didn’t need to broaden his rationale, mandate, constituency to all humanity, the immediate case being American colonists vs British monarchists. But he did. Said Lincoln, as recorded in “Thomas Jefferson – The Art of Power by Jon Meacham,” “All honor to Jefferson, to the man who, in the concrete pressure of a struggle for national independence by a single people, had the coolness, forecast, and capacity to introduce into a merely revolutionary document, an abstract truth applicable to all men and all times.”

Appropriately so should Arcosanti presume its larger context and solutions for all of humanity.

Next, what should it look like at Arcosanti, what should it physically be? If this can’t be provided as part of the “visions” the people can’t materialize either: students, builders, volunteers, professionals, investors… nada. I’m suggesting we need to, and as soon as possible, state clearly the commitment to build the kind of urban vitality in the mold of something earth-shaking in the history of cities. Specifically, to flesh out the all-important “city like a living organism” or “anatomy analogy” that has to be essentially three-dimensional.

Then, the sooner we can get to the urban features the better. The most essential: 1.) very highly mixed uses (present there in rudimentary form right now), 2.) street and plaza experience as well as experience of “the building.” In this a key aid is awareness that terrace and rooftop accessibility and design inviting people into such spaces is very important. But the devils (and the angels) are in the details: 3.) the connectors for people on foot are crucial: bridges and elevators, as well as foot paths and stairs.

A last point needs to be made, an admonition to both respect styles there already and adding to such styles with creative new design detailing. In my talks I frequently say that ecocities can come in many different styles – modern, Victorian, Santa Fe, European old town, traditional with dragon motifs old and even big building and big block recent Chinese styles and so on. The essential is to build such that the functioning of urban structure restores soils while operating on small areas of land, demanding little mineral and biomass support, maximizing recycling and requiring conservative amounts of energy with as close to all of it as possible from renewable sources not in competition with food for people and with the objective of maintenance of highest levels of biodiversity. All this has a peculiar and actually beautiful relevance in a way at Arcosanti.

When Ecocity Builders held a board meeting there in the spring of 2013 we rolled out some of the famous city drawings Soleri produced, some stretching across several tables and at that much longer than the room with the tables, most of the drawings rolled up at one or both ends as we perused them. They were absolutely gorgeous as art pieces and of course quiet unbuildable as drawn but not as implied in their general form. The style was stunning and powerful Paolo.

Would others want to reproduce exactly Paolo? Or live in an environment of such uniform style, even if among the most striking, even historic? My notion here is to respect much of the style but imagine how to apply it with some flexibility, which is what architects do most of the time anyway. The admonition is not to get overly hung up on whether Paolo would have liked it as if his. As mentioned earlier in discussing Arcosanti model #2, he wasn’t always that satisfied but design and building went on if as acknowledged at a much slower pace than desired.

And so I have tried to apply some of this thinking to the offerings I’m providing here in my drawings while reminding all that this is just my interpretation and that many other interpretations are possible. The essence is to provide the healthy functioning of the city in relation to its people, local nature, and if evolution is important and real, all of evolution. I’ll let the captions speak for me from this point on. But I’ll add this: good luck to us all in reshaping cities… for all of us and into the deep future. It appears we will need luck, but the foundation must be some serious knowledge, insight and commitment. That much, beyond the reach if not influence of luck, is in our power.

Richard Register can be reached at ecocity@igc.org 



Figure 1.

Figure 1

Paolo’s earliest version of Arcosanti, about 1967, first published in “The City in the Image of Man,” 1969, MIT Press.

Figure 2.

Figure 2

The nestled pair of boomerangs footprint plan for Arcosanti. This is a model unveiled at Bill Graham’s World of Plants in 1976, a “retail market for plants, flowers and garden projects” held at San Francisco’s Cow Palace. Rock ‘n Roll impresario Graham took a strong interest in Arcosanti as a beautiful place for young people to work and get a sense of involvement with and commitment to a healthy future. In this photo, the sun is positioned to the left sending it’s warmth into the sheltering south side of the structure and angling down into its interior. Photo credit: Richard Register, 1976.

Figure 3.

Figure 3

The concentric several apses design.  This amounts to two clusters of structures, one in the foreground and one in the upper left and a pair of apses in the upper right, a small one embraced by a larger one. All structures are oriented toward the sun.

Figure 4.

Figure 4

Here we see the existing buildings in gray. Many people have at a glance criticized this juxtaposition of the new and much larger scale with the smaller scale as an awkward mismatch.

Figure 5, a.

Figure 5, a

We can start out “photo sketching” what is there now in 2014.

Figure 5, b.

Figure 5, b

Adding the beginning of a layout that provides an experience of interior streets might look like this, an apse respecting past building styles rises up to create a set of interior pedestrian streets as well as sheltered volume for various “uses”: residential, office… whatever makes sense for a balance of activity close at hand.

Figure 5, c.

Figure 5, c

What we are seeing in the previous image that is new is represented here as the footprint of the building added behind the Ceramics Apse and the beginning of a real street experience shown in blue stippling. The pink oval surrounds the only very small existing place where one can feel something of an interior street experience – strictly city interior and not flanked or surrounded by open spaces. Yellow dashes represent the first story of the new building. Yellow dots represent bridges linking new building at the third story level, and, linking with a later building just north. That one has an apse facing north. That’s the building we see in the elevation drawings coming up added behind the first new one in figure 5, d, next image. The two new buildings together would define essentially five streets. The random orange dots represent places where a strong plaza-like experience can be felt, the three lower areas in the image already exist in 2014. The ovals of blue dots represent a more vague notion of where future buildings in the following sepia/gray photo/drawings might be located.

Figure 5, d.

Figure 5, d

Here we see the second new building added. We can see right through a partial apse of the second and through a notch in the first building’s apse creating an opening in the shape of an eye. The rooftop trees are protected partially by a windscreen that looks here something like a crown. The building with the windscreen has apses facing both south which we see here and one facing north that we don’t see. In Soleri’s first version of Arcosanti he features apses facing in all four directions. Only later he orients all present apses toward the sun to assist in warming the structure in colder seasons.

Figure 5, e.

Figure 5, e

Adding a third new building, only hinted at with the blue dot ovals in the plan view (map). It is cantilevered out somewhat to preserve the view through the existing Vault. The Vault, by the way, presently and into the future, serves as something like a plaza with a view toward the mesa cliffs to the south.

Figure 5, f.

Figure 5, f

Now we add a tower on the west (left) connected by a bridge and the lower portion of a building on the east (right) also connected by a bridge to earlier structures. The three-dimensional connections are very important to understanding basic pedestrian dynamics in the truly complete ecocity design.

Figure 5, g.

Figure 5, g

We next add a small pair of apses on the extreme west (left) in an area greeting visitors (on the side facing the regional highway) and finish the east (right) building, which has two apses, one facing south that we see, and one facing north, which we don’t see, with an opening connecting the two. Here we can see through the opening to the sky beyond. Another bridge is built linking two buildings about 9 stories up. And remember, these structures are providing an interior street experience determined by their relationship at ground level.

Figure 5, h.

Figure 5, h

After that we add another tower, plus an exterior glass elevator linking three buildings, one of which is linked onward toward the east by more bridges. Another elevator or two already are assumed to exist by now but they are not visible in these drawings.

Figure 5, i.

Figure 5, i

And one more tower with a rooftop garden of trees sheltered by decorative wind screens. This ends this much of a build out and might be enough physical infrastructure to house a small but very lively community with small hotel and small college, perhaps designed specifically to study ecocity design, policy, construction and maintenance.

Figure 6, a.

Figure 6, a.

Arcosanti in about 2010. Now we look at another version, this one in color…

Figure 6, b.

Figure 6, b.

Moving density from the east part of East Crescent (right side of the image) to behind and above Crafts 3 and apses, West Housing. Massing illustrated – I know the brackets for around the performance space now make no sense – this drawing is just “massing” to get the feel of maximum variety and nice micro zones in the structure. Some new higher density behind the west part of East Crescent and East Housing is also provided. This is a conceptual shifting of density to create a little more 3-dimensionality; obviously can’t actually shift the buildings that exist. In an arrangement like this an interior street system of a very small scale becomes possible. The object here is to better illustrate the potential of three-dimensional design.

Figure 6, c.

Figure 6, c.

Considerably more density emphasizing verticality – about  16 stories from mesa top grade, plus Crafts 3 makes apparent relief of about 20 stories. Note the red exterior glass elevators moving up and down, picture to picture. A solar electric power plant appears in the distance.

Figure 6, d.

Figure 6, d.

Adding gardens and a pair of small orchards.

Figure 6, e.

Figure 6, e

Fall comes, windscreens are added for cooler weather, colors of the trees change…

Figure 6, f.

Figure 6, f.

Winter. Gardens under “shake-able” thin plastic greenhouse film for shedding the occasional thin snows in that location.

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