In 1956, Paolo Soleri, an Italian urban and architectural planner, founded the Cosanti Foundation. The non-profit was intended to educate students about Soleri’s research and ideology, especially about arcologies (“architecture” + “ecology”). Arcosanti (Arcology + Cosanti Foundation) is the physical realization of Soleri’s ideas, as well as a school for future residents and arcologists. Arcosanti lies in the middle of the desert near Phoenix, Arizona, but at an elevation of 3750 feet, meaning a colder climate for the development than that of Phoenix itself. The arcology is really a compound currently consisting of about 10 main buildings. When it is complete (at an indefinite date), Arcosanti is designed to house up to 5000 people; although the project as it stands today is used mainly for visitors and students, slightly less than 100 people live there full-time.1,4


Arcosanti itself, like all theoretical arcologies, is a mega-structure designed to efficiently use space. Arcologies are built to three dimensions to best make use of land. Essentially, the arcology concept embraces crowding as an ecologically and socially sound concept.2 According to Soleri’s specifications, arcologies use only 2% of the space required to house the same population in a city environment. One concern that comes to mind is that the settlement must therefore lack public space; however, because of its compact size, Arcosanti is surrounded on all sides by vegetated open space, and the compound itself incorporates foliage into its designs. In fact, the main space-saving comes from the elimination of transportation elements such as roads, because automobiles do not exist within the context of Soleri’s arcology. Because of the available space surrounding the compound, agriculture can be located nearby, reducing the necessity to transport food.1,3

Another major emphasis at Arcosanti is the lessening of consumption. Specific architectural elements such as apses (three-dimensional arcs which classically provide shade in summer and light in winter), solar panels, greenhouses, and ‘garment architecture,’ the use of fabric as a temperature regulating membrane, are used as ‘passive’ energy saving devices. These elements primarily address issues of heat and light, and are an attempt at a natural solution to regulating a climate that is currently regulated in cities by highly consumptive electrical systems.

Concrete design elements aimed at natural regulation are present as well. For example, the enclosed “Crafts III” building contains a Heat Tube, inserted through the ceiling, which is intended to bring hot air from the outside in. Similar Light Tubes can be opened or closed to allow more or less natural light. The foliage integrated into the compound also serves to moderate heat.1

Arcosanti is built on what Soleri calls ‘marginal land,’ or in other words, land that would not normally support urban life without major modifications. In nearby Phoenix, for example, almost all residents have electricity-chewing air conditioning systems (although this was not always the case, technologically speaking). Part of the settlement is built on cliff edges that are usually undesirable plots. Soleri asserts that, if a settlement is built efficiently, one can turn marginal land into comfortable living space without the use of ecologically expensive systems. Thus, using many ‘passive’ elements of green design, Soleri is able to create harmony without the harsh adaptations necessary in other cities. It should be noted that Arcosanti was never intended to be self-sufficient, but merely use land on a more moderate ecological basis. Arcosanti has approximately a 20% reduction in energy usage.4

Ecological Green

Although most of Arcosanti’s philosophy has to do with habitation in harmony with its surroundings and passive environmental thinking, one initiative at the compound is to use local, natural resources in construction. This eliminates shipping costs and keeps natural resources in their home environment. Basalt rock is used extensively in construction, and stonecutting, wall construction, paving and sculpture workships are located (or planned) in the compound. Silt from the rock is also useful, and is utilized in the making of concrete for further building projects. Other ecologically sensitive initiatives include water treatment, internal agriculture and greenhouse foods.1,4

Social Green

All of Arcosanti’s smaller green design elements contribute to the main impetus of the project and of Soleri’s ideology: to harmonize people with the land around them while still acknowledging that people must live somewhere. But Soleri emphasizes that this will happen only when people take advantage of ‘the Urban Effect,’ the positive effect of people compressing their living, working playing and learning space into one compact area, a guiding principle used in his work. This, he states, adds social complexity by miniaturization, and is the answer to sprawl. Soleri favours this complexity, but opposes the ‘gigantism’ of current urban centers. The more roads you add, the further apart the buildings will be, and therefore the more likely it is that you will be forced to take a car! Thus, technology can not only facilitate mobility, but often requires it.


Arcosanti mandates that all residents be drug- and alcohol-free. Furthermore, since everyone must walk everywhere they go, a ‘natural’ attitude to sport and fitness pervades. Financially speaking, Arcosanti is largely self-supported by its brand of unique wind chimes, which are produced on-site and sold widely. In terms of violence, logic asserts that this should increase steadily with increasing size of settlement. However, since it does not happen this way in real urban locations, and because the residents are hand-picked, Arcosanti is likely to be a low-violence haven. The disabled will also find a haven in Arcosanti, where mobility is greatly enhanced, and doctors are a few minutes away at most. While some of these fundamentals are social and some technological, the philosophy of ‘effective living’ makes for a very particular brand of utopian vision.4

The Future

Arcosanti is a moderate utopian vision. (Soleri himself would jeer at the notion that arcology theory is utopian; he asserts that it is merely humble dwelling.) Today, because of Arcosanti, arcologies are both a philosophy and an actual practice. However, this arcology has growing to do; Soleri, now about 80 years old, will likely not live to see the start of the Arcosanti Critical Mass phase, when the arcology will house about 500 people in residence. However, his will always be one of the premier utopias to be realized in the physical world. Since frugality, judiciousness and sensibility rather than all-out tree-hugging are key, it makes a much easier leap for people raised in today’s consumerized world.


3. It is interesting to note that despite Soleri’s progressive elimination of pollution-causing cars from his sacred environment, the roads leading to the complex itself are dilapidated and a capital campaign to pave them for incoming vehicles is underway.
4. Soleri, Paolo. Arcosanti: an urban laboratory?. 2nd ed. Santa Monica, CA: VTI Press, 1987.

As you may have noticed, this was homework. Apologies, but I do think it hits on the important points. It was a paper on a location characteristic of Green Design for a public planning class. Please do not plagiarize.

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