Arcosanti Needs Allies

Arcosanti Needs Allies


Timothy Bell

Over this past weekend, Arcosanti hosted the annual Convergence Conference and Festival. During these three days, experts working in the fields of social justice, science, agroecology, permaculture, and beyond, all gathered to exchange ideas and celebrate at the Urban Laboratory.

Our challenge to ourselves this year was to prove that a Festival could be regenerative. The dream was that the attendees would depart from Arcosanti feeling better than when they had arrived. More than that, we hoped they would leave empowered to return to their own communities with the tools in hand to to improve our relationship to the natural world and our fellow humans. The feedback we received throughout the event from our 400 or so attendees was that the Convergence succeeded in doing just that.

Photo Credit: Tyler Bowman                                           Artist Credit: Eileen Bacca

So here we are, a few short months away from the 50th anniversary of Arcosanti. The Cosanti Foundation has a new organizational structure and new leadership. The sense from our Convergence attendees is that we are building something on the mesa these days that has nothing to do with pouring concrete or bending rebar. But what exactly is it we are building?

The answer that I’ve come up with is that what we are doing is building Cultural Capacity.

Speaking for myself here, after 50 years of work and dedication to the dream of a better world I think what the 8,000 hands that contributed to this project have left for this next generation of Arconaut is a platform. We are using this platform to build trust in a new generation of Arcosanti supporter that we are willing to engage both as an organization and a community in the challenging work that lies ahead to get our planet back on track ecologically, socially, and spiritually.

The Burning Man Organization is an interesting case study for how a nonprofit can transform itself. A decade ago, the primary focus of Burning Man was throwing what ultimately added up to the world’s best desert party; today their mission is to spread their culture to the world at large. What with the prevalence of Burning Man art at nearly every major event across the country (including Canal Convergence where we will be showing a piece of our own) and the global obsession with the yearly gathering, I think most people would agree that the effort has largely been a success.

The BMOrg is now undertaking a lengthy process of Cultural Direction Setting for their community. We’re not there yet, but I can tell you from the front lines of engagement with our fans and from those I’ve come to refer to as our “satellite community” that there is a palpable sense here on the mesa that something special is afoot.

So where do we go from here? My instinct is that we keep turning up the flame. We work to get this newfound capacity to a roiling boil, and then we start to cook up something really special.

My sense is also that this isn’t the first time that Arcosanti has felt like it was buzzing with potential. There are plenty of examples of moments in our 50 year history when the wind has been taken out of the sails of our work. The 1978 car fire, the great recession, the founding architect’s destructive behavior towards his own family. Each of these incidents has impacted the Foundation’s ability to fulfill our mission of exploring the experiential and educational benefits of combining architecture with ecology.

The reader will notice I have yet to use Paolo Soleri’s name in this piece. Again, only speaking for myself, if we are to get the idea of Arcology off of this damn mesa then we need to start telling that story instead of the story of a single architect.

Historically speaking, the only way you could get involved with this project was to participate in a 6-week workshop. This is no longer the case. We are in the process of launching a dynamic volunteer program which will engage people from all walks of life in work for the Cosanti Foundation, Arcosanti, Cosanti, and beyond, regardless of their workshop status. The loss of the workshop was an understandable blow to many alumni, of which I am one. But we needed a better way to disseminate our ides than charging people $2000+ dollars to hear them. The world deserves to know what we know, to understand what we have been doing.

It’s time to stop asking the world to come to the prototype arcology, and to start bringing the ideas of arcology to the world.

Which finally brings me to the title of this article: we need allies in this effort. We are a small group of people trying to do some very big work and taking us into the next phase of this thing is going to require a lot of hands.

Whether you are an alumni, a person who has visited our site, or someone who keeps in touch from afar, we need your help spreading the word about our new workshop programs, engaging with our critics on media platforms, contributing time as a volunteer, and more. We’ll need donations and partnerships, expert advice and pro bono assistance. We’ll need things we can’t even anticipate at this moment.

This all might sound urgent, but we live in urgent times. Arcosanti is racing not only to catch up to the modern world, but to leap ahead of it and into the more hopeful future that all of us deserve. We’re seeking to once again be thought of as leaders in the global movement for a sustainable and regenerative world. We hope you’ll join us.

Photo Credit: Tyler Bowman

Allison Arieff Calls Out the Car

Allison Arieff Calls Out the Car
Jeff Stein

Allison Arieff: you know, founder and past editor of DWELL magazine; currently editorial director for the urban planning and policy think tank, SPUR / San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association. She writes about architecture, design, cities and technology for the Opinion section of The New York Times. In the TIMES Sunday OCT 6 edition she points out that we need fewer cars, not smarter ones. See her article here:

“I used to think calling cars “death machines” was kind of extreme. Then my niece was hit by one.” She writes. “She was only 9 years old, out with her family in Los Angeles and running toward an ice cream truck. She was hit with such force that most of her front teeth were knocked out. She is lucky to be alive.

Thinking about my niece made me recall all the other times members of my family had been injured by cars. My husband’s grandmother was killed. My aunt and uncle were seriously injured. I was even involved in a hit-and-run in a crosswalk in front of my school when I was a kid and broke my leg. Most of us have stories like this — a car coming into our lives and unleashing horrendous damage on our loved ones, friends, family and even ourselves.

Cars are death machines. Pedestrian fatalities in the United States have increased 41 percent since 2008; more than 6,000 pedestrians were killed in 2018 alone. More than 4,000 American kids are killed in car crashes every year – I am thankful every day my niece wasn’t one of them.” Including the drivers and their passengers themselves, of course, more than 40,000 people were killed by cars this past year.

But Arieff is focused on urban dwellers, people who aren’t car drivers themselves. Her solution: Rethink urban land use. Oh! That has been our solution, too, at Arcosanti, for the past 50 years. Let’s see what we can do with this idea in the next 50.


Jeff Stein

Now look here, and as you do, please find a couple paragraphs that describe Charles King’s new book about cultural anthropology and the small group of people who, nearly 100 years ago, made it both a discipline and a game changer in western civilization. I send you this, on a perfectly fine end-of-September afternoon, because I think where these people were back then with Franz Boas’ idea of cultural anthropology is where we are today, nearly 50 years on, with Paolo Soleri’s idea of arcology, ie, a group of folks just about ready to (somehow!) double down on an idea that has the potential to change people’s attitudes and behavior. Just in time!

Charles King (Doubleday)

The rise of cultural anthropology is the subject of King’s book. It’s a group biography of Franz Boas, who established cultural anthropology as an academic discipline in the United States, and four of Boas’ many protégés: Ruth Benedict, Zora Neale Hurston, Ella Cara Deloria, and Margaret Mead. King argues that these people “were on the front lines of the greatest moral battle of our time: the struggle to prove that – despite differences of skin color, gender, ability, or custom – humanity is one undivided thing.”

Cultural anthropologists changed people’s attitudes, King believes, and they changed people’s behavior. “If it is now unremarkable for a gay couple to kiss goodbye on a train platform,” he writes, “for a college student to read the Bhagavad Gita in a Great Books class, for racism to be rejected as both morally bankrupt and self-evidently stupid, and for anyone, regardless of their gender expression, to claim workplaces and boardrooms as fully theirs – if all of these things are not innovations or aspirations but the regular, taken-for-granted way of organizing society, then we have the ideas championed by Boas’ circle to thank for it.” They moved the explanation for human differences from biology to culture, from nature to nurture.

And for our part – and I mean you reading this (I’m smiling as I type…) – the work of the Cosanti Foundation, continuing your pioneering work of the past (almost) 50 years, intends to nurture the idea of arcology in the next 50 years to bring it to real fruition in the a world that is rapidly changing to require it.




Johann Haslauer, Landshut, Germany
Arcosanti Alum

What is Paolo Soleri’s philosophy?
What is the philosophy of Arcosanti?

For his investigation Johann Haslauer from Landshut, Germany, tries a kind of “deconstructive” approach: Not through academic analysis of Paolo’s writing but through his very personal encounters with Arcosanti. That means to also interpret the built work as text, and not to see only Paolo Soleri as the author, but also all participants of the Arcosanti project. And it is a “second order observation”, aware of being an observer of itself and the own operations…

Click here for the Rest of the Story.


Jeff Stein



“This is not a pipe”
Rene Magritte




The artist Rene Magritte (1898-1967) worried about his fellow humans misunderstanding the world by experiencing it only through images. “The treachery of imagery” he called it, and made this painting that describes his concern. Of course the issue for Magritte was: it’s a PICTURE of a pipe. An image. Two dimensional. Only experienced by sense of sight. Overly simple. Whereas, an actual pipe is a 3D object, you can hold it in your hand, feel the smoothness of the briar it is made of, feel it warm to the touch as the tobacco in it burns, smell the aroma of that tobacco, taste it as you bring it into your mouth. A real pipe and its relationship to the human body is complex. Plus, of course, there was the physical exertion to make the pipe, to purchase it, to select the tobacco, and even after it is smoked, the pipe is still lying around the house. As for the image of the pipe, you may have just happened upon it accidently; and if you click a mouse / turn the page, it will disappear. All of which brings us to Arcosanti.




“This is not an Arcology”
Paolo Soleri





True, this is a powerful image, yet here online it is just a picture. Striking, but again, 2-dimensional. Colorful, yes, but onscreen, unlike the real place, you are not surrounded by that color. Visually stimulating, perhaps, but the real place stimulates many senses: you can feel the materials, the temperature changes from sun to shade, from day to night; smell the desert after a rain, delight in the aroma of dinner cooking in the café, feel the humidity of a greenhouse, hear the windbells(!), hear the neighbors, and on really good days, hear the sound of performing artists in your midst. And all the while there is the haptic, real physical experience of three-dimensional space itself.

In addition, of course, Soleri had no illusions that what we have built so far is actually an arcology. A kind of laboratory, yes. A series of prototype buildings that, while sustaining a learning community now, point to an arcology in the future, certainly! On its mesa in central Arizona, Arcosanti is an architectural document about the relationship of humans and nature, architecture and ecology, a foundation the next generation can build on, shoulders we can all stand on. But photographs alone do not really convey its complexity, the sensuality of what is there now, and of what is to come.

The difficulty of representing architecture in two-dimensions, through photography, is not limited to Arcosanti. It is endemic, throughout our culture. As a result of learning about architecture through photography, a core understanding is lost. That understanding, strongly evident at Arcosanti, is that architecture is three dimensional, spatial; architecture is about space not surface. The complex, connected, prototype buildings at Arcosanti constructed over time on a really tight budget, embody that three-dimensionality as well as any architecture on earth.

Reading this you should make a note: come to Arcosanti for a visit, experience this architecture, this place with all your senses. Go past the flat screen image to the actual; remind yourself what body-knowing – as opposed to just thinking – is all about, and experience the sort of architecture that we imagine could help all of us realize the fullness of our humanity.