Imagine living with six thousand people in the middle of the desert. Your housing unit is stacked on top of another making the building a honeycomb structure.
You would take part in musical performances in the lower levels of the structure. This structure fills up with water during a performance. The water comes from below the surface.
You have a kitchen to prepare your food. The nearest town with a village supermarket is fifteen miles away. The road is not paved and has mud crevices on both sides. Not a place you want to travel after or during a rain. You and your 5,999 neighbors would grow all of the food you need to eat in the middle of the desert and not much grows without an underground water source. A community cafeteria prepares food where you can sit and eat and get along with all of your neighbors. There is only one problem. The cook left because there was no money to pay him and now the cafeteria is empty. There is a coke machine with a few bottles of soda and water.
Paolo Solari, an Italian and an apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright, planned to build a futuristic utopian city. No cars or any other types of public transportation would exist. Volunteers, artists, and concrete people would volunteer to make the place come alive.
It didn’t work out the way Solari planned. He was short on money. The volunteers had no money and were working for a free space to live. They built the walls from concrete, silt dug up from the desert soil. Solari like his teacher and mentor Frank Lloyd Wright built with concrete cast in the earth. They were both organic architects. Solari’s vision was to develop a civilization, Wright’s vision was to develop for urbanization. Solari referred to Wright’s vision as a failure.
Olive and fig trees provide shade for the summer and help to keep the buildings cool. The total land space is 4400 acres. The people who live here are part of an urban experiment. Seventy-five people inhabit the limited living space. Students live in the upper apartments in shared spaces and don’t have cooking facilities in their rooms. They have a bed, a desk, and a lamp and very few personal items. Our tour guide lives in one of the shared spaces. She makes $250 per month from tips that the guests leave with her after the tour. Her rent is free and she works eight hours a day. She lives here because she feels that there is too much stimulation in the outside world. She likes the peacefulness of her living situation. She doesn’t feel lonely because there is always someone to talk too. Every window in the living quarters looks out onto the untouched desert. There is a trail that leads to the bottom of the gorge.
Solari’s idea sprung from “arcology”. Architecture and ecology, a field of creating architectural design principles for densely populated ecologically low impact human habitats. There is shading in summer and a greenhouse effect is used for heat in the winter. The idea is to densify the living space and conserve the natural environment. The place is isolated. There is experimental gardening. The idea is to grow up, not out. There are an amphitheater and performance center. Different activities take place during the year and the public is invited to attend. The idea is that arcology settlements could solve the problems that society deals with. Loneliness, spending too much money, becoming greedy, and only thinking about yourself. The money earned to keep the place up is the sale of Solari’s bells which are made on site.
The occupants of the buildings share in the cleaning of the public spaces. There are no janitors, policemen, doctors, or hospitals. People take care of each other. The people who live here are the CEO, painters, potters, an art instructor who travels to Prescott to teach in a community college. One child lives on campus and is home schooled. The rent and the cost of living are low and the pay is minimal.
The “city” is being built without money or professionals. Failure and success are part of the deal. How can the next step be made more promising than the last?
Solari passed away and left his people to figure out how to proceed without him. His dream and vision live on. There is no foundation to guide everyone. The current CEO has been on the board for less than one year.
The lessons we can learn on the impact of human habitation or any given ecosystem could be self-sustenance to reduce the human impact on natural resources. Pedestrian economies have proven to be difficult to achieve in other ways. Can society move backward?
Arcosanti was established in 1970 and is still a work in progress.
Arcosanti is located on I75 going North. The road leading to Arcosanti is not paved. The entrance fee is a donation of $10 per person. There are no eating or drinking facilities on the campus. You can take your dog on the tour.