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Paolo Soleri and Arcosanti – an Arizona project | Insight Guides Blog

Paolo Soleri and Arcosanti – an Arizona project

Arcosanti, (photo by Richard Nowitz)

Here at Insight we are sad to hear of the passing of Paolo Soleri, a student who studied under Frank Lloyd Wright and whose life's work was Arcosanti, an experiment in urban living in the heart of the Arizonian wilderness, as featured in this extract from IG Arizona and the Grand Canyon.    

"Unless we reinvent the American dream in terms of the physiology of it, then it’s not going to be a dream, it’s going to be doomsday,” Italian-born architect Paolo Soleri told an interviewer in 1995. Soleri was talking about the pollution, congestion, social isolation, and enormous waste of resources caused by Americans’ pursuit of the good life at the expense of the rest of the planet. Furthermore, states Soleri, “We would be in need of 40 planets by the year 2050, if the American dream becomes the planetary dream.”  

Soleri’s solution? Arcosanti, an experimental city on 25 acres in the high country of Cordes Junction, 70 miles (115km) north of Phoenix. Since 1970, Soleri’s Cosanti Foundation has been building the new community, which incorporates large, siltcast, concrete structures, and solar greenhouses.  It is a strange vision in the midst of sweeping grasslands surrounded by mountains, prompting everything from praise for its far-reaching vision to horror from one critic who labeled it “a social experiment that has more to do with totalitarianism than harmonious living.”  

When complete, Arcosanti will soar 25 stories high, house 7,000 people, and include apartments, businesses, studios, and performance venues in an urban setting that emphasizes privacy linked to accessible public spaces. The complex is designed in accordance with the concept of “arcology” (architecture+ecology) developed by Soleri. In such a system, artificial structures and living things interact as organs do in the human body, with efficient circulation of people and resources, and solar orientation for lighting, heating, and cooling.  

Soleri began developing his arcological concepts after spending 18 months studying with renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesen West in Scottsdale and Taliesen East in Wisconsin. Taking to heart the famous edict, “Form ever follows function,” he returned to Italy and began building large ceramics, using processes that led to the award-winning windbells of ceramic and bronze that are sold to support his experimental work, as well as the siltcast architectural structures at Arcosanti.

Soleri returned to Arizona and began constructing his first experimental village, Cosanti, in Paradise Valley in 1956, which remains his permanent home today. Volunteers and students from around the world, many with no previous design experience, undertake a five-week workshop that teaches building techniques and arcological philosophy, while continuing the city’s construction. Residents are workshop alumni who continue the work of planning, construction, and teaching. They produce the world-famous Soleri Bells as well as hosting 50,000 tourists each year. Daily tours (voluntary donation) introduce visitors to the site, and concerts and other events are held regularly in the Colly Soleri Music Center, named for Soleri’s late wife. Shows include dinner and are often followed by a light show on the opposite mesa. Tours of Cosanti in Paradise Valley are also available.  

For more information visit

Paolo was 93 when he died on the 9th of April. He will be buried in Arcosanti.


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