COSANTI PERSISTS! Remembering the Early Days

Remembering the Early Days


California architect Lamont Langworthy
with Jeff Stein

Not everyone reading this is young enough to have worked on Arcosanti. Some folks sought-out Paolo Soleri’s ideas long before there even WAS an Arcosanti. They came, in the 1950’s and 1960’s, to Cosanti, a very different sort of architectural experiment than Arcosanti, intimate in its scale, intricate in how it’s spaces connect, its 5-acres the basis for all non-profits in Paradise Valley. (It’s true: if you’re a non-profit in what is now Phoenix’s wealthiest suburb, you must have property of at least 5 acres. )

Lew Davis, the great depression-era southwest painter and his wife, a ceramicist, had, bought, in 1936, the pink ranch house and 5 acres that would later become Cosanti. By 1956, although Doubletree Road was a dirt track, and even Scottsdale Road was not paved north of Camelback, and there was only one other house within a mile of Cosanti, it was beginning to feel too crowded for the Davis’s. They sold the place to the Soleris and moved to the mountains.

Lamont Langworthy, architect from Graton, California, remembers it this way:

“Paolo and Colly had settled on a large lot on Doubletree Road when D.K. Taylor, an aspiring architect and my mentor, told me that Paolo could use some help building (excavating really) a below ground concrete house. I was immediately hired for $1.00 an hour and everybody was happy.

“Paolo would build a dirt mound on the ground, form some ribs in it, reinforce it minimally with some chicken wire, pour about 1.5 inches of concrete , then dig out underneath it, occasionally installing a column support or wall as we progressed. Every now and then he took off to sketch up drawings of a city on a dam or cities combined with bridges, all on long rolls of butcher paper. While he was doing that, I learned how to mix concrete in the Italian Method: just make a pile of materials and mix it with water. A little bit of dirt thrown in will provide the right color.
“Then, Paolo started making wind bells, having devised a method to support his giant ideas. Occasionally I would go out in the front yard and dig cone-shaped holes in the sandy soil, then fill each one with ceramic ‘slip’, let it set for a while, then suck out the slip when the walls got to be about ¼” thick. Then I’d set it on a shelf for further drying. Later Paolo would quickly carve his magic scribbles on the exterior of the rough cone. After installing a clapper and hanging wires, we would set it on his shady shelf structure to sell to curious passers-by. All bells for the first few years were ceramic but Paolo did improve his designs by making some molds. This was my great work after graduating from the University of Washington Architecture School.

“Cosanti back then was all by itself with desert all around. Paolo and Colly had bought it with a small house and gutted the living area for a large table where we had wonderful lunches by Colly, then a ½ hour siesta per Italian tradition. I learned from Paolo that creative thinkers have to actually do something in the real world. Later on, I would get my contractors license under the name of “The Master Builder, Inc,” as I had to become a builder since no one in his right mind would bid on some of my hillside houses.”

That was then. Today Cosanti, an Arizona Historic Site, is as vibrant as ever, the center of Soleri windbell operations, hosting daily tours and special events, and undergoing continuous preservation/renovation efforts supervised by longtime Cosanti resident and builder and executive VP Roger Tomalty. Roger and workshoppers have made great strides in solving issues of handicap visitor access, solar protection, and have recently completed the total renovation of Soleri’s first office and drafting space, adjacent to the original pink ranch house.

Come for a visit and experience it for yourself as this architectural treasure, a repository of concrete ideas about how to live in the Sonoran desert moves into the 21st century. And if you were part of building this midcentury-modern icon let us know how it was for you. You’ll make it even more meaningful for us.

Peri-Urban Agriculture at Arcosanti and Beyond

Hello Arconauts and others involved in the Arcosanti project! I am excited and honored to “be” here. Thanks for sharing your time. My name is Julian Lauzzana. I lived and worked at Arcosanti during 2005-2006 and return whenever I can. I consider Arcosanti one of my favorite places on the planet. Though I could delve into many areas, I will here explore my thoughts on food systems and peri-urban space in relationship to arcology.

Arcology preserves land with high density human habitat, but what do we do with the “preserved” land? Globally it has been a story of deforestation and export based monoculture. A more holistic approach necessitates that what has been referred to as “camp” by Arcosanti residents becomes a fully integrated piece of the design process. If we can more effectively integrate the edges (wilderness, food forests, gardens) into arcology planning and design, we will create a more comprehensive and livable global design strategy. John D. Liu and others are working on large scale ecosystem restoration camps (ERCs) with significant prior success in Loess region of China and now beginning in various areas of the globe that have experienced soil depletion and desertification. At all these locations there is a great need for housing in these (largely rural) projects. Can we partner large scale ecosystem restoration with production of new arcologies? The ERCs may be one of the largest global projects before us. As the Urban Laboratory, Arcosanti is a great place to experiment and dedicate to prototyping a working model for human habitat around devastated areas (refugee camps, slums, ERCs, etc.).

Since 2011, I have been stewarding a modest community homestead in rural Southwest Michigan we call Earthen Heart LLC. The impetus here was to address the delusional American Dream which exists in the overly romantic version of a family farm. In essence to do an Arco in a rural area. Many young beginning farmers soon get overwhelmed by the amount of work it takes to run a farm, and the social seclusion can also be oppressive for most new farmers. From what I have seen, the farming lifestyle can be more frantic than working on Wall Street as there is no “punch in/punch out” when you run a farm. Most incentives are to go large-scale, monoculture, export based. It is a hustle as much as any career: paperwork, payroll, long hours, managerial stress, etc. Affordable housing is even harder to find in rural areas than in the city, main street shops in rural America have largely been devastated by big box stores, good labor is hard to find, etc.

So what is the appropriate model and scale for rural communities to thrive in tandem with urban areas? It is my belief that small groups of people sharing land and residing on peri-urban and rural areas can provide surplus food and energy to urban communities while living in close proximity for the benefits to be reciprocated. Those who wish for more solitude and proximity to nature can choose to live in that setting either short or long term, while most can live in the city. Through working and living together on a shared property, we can reduce our ecological footprint, and increase our social interaction. Community Homesteads can thus offer a more holistic approach to human habitat in rural areas. It is my personal goal to continue work with others to generate and strengthen networks of land stewards and communities that are dedicated to permaculture and ecosystem restoration camps. I believe arcology as the urban design component should be partnered with peri-urban communities focused on food/medicine production, fiber, wood, building materials, etc. to supply direct needs of the city. High quality/low impact living is important whether you live in the city or in the country. Aligning the needs of various people and lifestyles is an important part of the planning process. If we find a percentage of people wanting to remain in “camp” they should be willing to do some of the related work. At Arcosanti we have a great opportunity with “camp” and agriculture in connection with the cafe at Arcosanti. There is potential to provide a working model of how to integrate rural and urban culture in one comprehensive design system.

Here are a few related links:
Earthen Heart LLC
EcoSystem Restoration Camps
Greening China’s Loess Plateau

ARCOSANTI AND THE WORLD: Housing Policy and Us


Housing Policy and Us


Jeff Stein

News this week from the NEW YORK TIMES. Their Sunday editorial, “Americans need More Neighbors” is a clear way of restating Arcosanti’s central theme, something we’ve been trying to describe by example in the Arizona desert for two generations. That is, there are all sorts of reasons – from human evolution, to our own mental and physical health, to the health of the rest of life on earth – that we should stop living as hermits in a thin film of single family houses spread-out over miles, miles that can only be traversed by machines. 

As the TIMES states, “That’s why a recent breakthrough in Minneapolis is so important. The city’s political leaders have constructed a broad consensus in favor of more housing. And the centerpiece is both simple and brilliant: Minneapolis is ending single family zoning.” According to Minneapolis (and according to us, too) single family houses contribute to climate change, constrain the economic potential of cities, and they drive up the cost of housing.  

Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey points out that, “cities are in constant evolution,” and single family housing limits that . “Residents – especially younger residents –  want to live in a different kind of city than did their parents,” mayor Frey says. “Dense, diverse, vibrant.” 

And coming next: the Oregon legislature is considering a statewide ban on single-family housing / zoning. Understanding  (rightfully so!) that at the very least duplexes and triplexes are cheaper to build and more sustainable in terms of energy and resource use and sociability. 

After that, of course, someone should be building more neighborhoods like Arcosanti’s East Crescent, designed for a bit more complexity than mere housing can provide.  Segregate the performing arts in so-called Cultural Centers on the edge of a city? Why not integrate the arts in the middle of your own urban neighborhood!

There’s a lot to look forward to, both at Arcosanti and, you know, pretty-much everywhere else, too.  Remember the work you have done here? Do some more, will you, wherever you are! Recall that Hopi saying: “Bloom where you’re planted.” And please, lets hear how you’re doing that.

By the way, we’re listening to the wonderful FORM | Arcosanti performer Julie Byrne right now, and you can, too:




Welcome Neighbor! To the ARCOSANTI ALUMNI BLOG

Welcome Neighbor! 


In Which

We will be publishing , we hope, what’s on your mind. We have heard from a couple of you already, and we look forward to a broad participation of opinion. Please understand that because you are reading this we consider you an integral part of the Global Arcosanti Community, a group several thousand strong that has the power to change not only this project but the world itself for the better.  We want to hear from you, right here on the Arcosanti Alumni Blog. The mechanics of the blog will be overseen by Arcosanti alum and Cosanti board member Jeff Stein, who is providing the first blog entry. Here it is.  Have a look. Send your responses! Submissions can be sent to


“The word itself, automobile… it is a total misnomer, you know, “ said Paolo Soleri. Humans are truly auto-mobile, we can go anywhere, and we can pretty much go there under our own power. But cars can only move around on expensive, specially prepared surfaces – roads – and even then they need a human to drive them, to start and stop them. A believer in truly descriptive language, “Nothing about cars isauto…!” was Soleri’s point.

The road part of that equation still holds true, and of course, we as a species have become really good at making roads for cars, and we continue to make more and more of them. Here in Arizona, we have the sprawl of Phoenix, 60% of which is covered with paved roads; and just recently, at America’s 4th largest city, Houston, a big rainstorm falling on 16,000 lane-miles of impervious pavement laid over swampland has led to disastrous flooding for the third year in a row… an unintended consequence, and a story for another time.

But now: crowding those roads, here come actual auto-mobiles, ready or not. Google’s Waymo is bringing 600 self-driving Chryslers to AZ in the next little while; Tesla, after its big accidents in China and Florida, continues to plow ahead with self-driving cars; Uber self-drivers are moving along in our state, even after a recent accident in Tempe.

And it gets more interesting: Daimler has licensed the first self-driving Freightliner semi-truck in Nevada, and Tesla is currently testing robotic semis in California.Oboy…

None of this is entirely surprising. Senseless, perhaps, to those of us at Arcosanti, working here with ideas of urban containment and complexity; but not really surprising. The Landscape Urbanism pioneer Charles Waldheim, when he was chair of Harvard’s Graduate School of Design just a few years ago, said “If you have a culture that is fundamentally automobile-based, then an urban model that is anti-automobile is counterintuitive at best. There’s a strange precept these days that asserts that people will abandon their cars if we simply build cities that don’t accommodate them.” At Arcosanti we buy into that precept wholeheartedly, but Waldheim may be right. If so, here’s a troubling corollary about driverless cars: we’re likely not going to abandon our cars (or our idea of walkable cities, either) if a few companies simply build cars that drive themselves.

And that’s the interesting situation that we are about to confront in Arizona: not just driverless cars, but roads and streets that are shared by both drivers and robots.

Arthur St. Antoine, an editor at large of AUTOMOBILE, had some worries about this in the magazine’s recent issue. “Self-driving cars? Do we really need them?” was his first worry. There’s no good answer to that, except to say that they are shiny, those in charge seem to have a preference for technology over simplicity, plus we already have roads and driving habits, and a small class of people steering the culture who, separated from the rest of life on earth, could safely get work done on their phones while sitting in traffic.

But while those folks are texting in their robot cars, many of us are still going to be driving our own, and we have different personalities than the robots. For one thing, as drivers, we’re more aggressive than the robots are programmed to be, and that is already making for interesting problems.

For instance, so far in the several accidents involving self-driving cars, the robots themselves have not been found at fault. As St. Antoine points out, self-driving cars are programmed to be polite, to avoid accidents. If one comes up to a 4-way stop intersection, its computer will take note of who was there first, who was second, and so forth. When it is the robot’s turn to proceed, it will do so, unless a driver aggressively pulls out in front. Then the robot will stop to let it pass. Once every aggressive driver starts to do that the driverless car could be sitting for a long time. Or think about driverless cars trying to merge onto bumper-to-bumper freeway traffic. With no clear space to drive into, robots will just stay parked on the ramp.

Welcome to the new world, one with warmer temperatures, stronger storms, higher tides, fewer fish, more people, and more cars of all sorts, even auto-mobiles. And more people than ever living in cities, too, a design issue that driverless cars will not solve, and one that we continue to work on here at Arcosanti. For us, a car-less city is counterintuitive only if you are a car company. Come for a visit, join us here on the edge of the beautiful high Sonoran desert, let us show you what we mean.