Building Califia: A Model Arcology with Michael Gosney

In late January Michael Gosney, former board member and long time contributor to the Cosanti Foundation and Arcosanti, gave a talk at the Berkely Sierra Club Dinner. The subject of the talk was a project called Califia, which has its origins in the early 2000s when “the San Francisco-based Green Century Institute on sustainable communities explored the development of Califia, a model arcology in Northern California. The idea was (and still is) to learn from Arcosanti and related projects, and tap into the substantial cultural and business resources of the Bay Area to create something truly extraordinary: a model community that the rest of the world can participate in, learn from and build upon.”

Michael Gosney served on the Board of Arcosanti in the 90s where he co-produced the Paradox Conference series with Paolo Soleri, and co-founded the Green Century Institute on sustainable communities in San Francisco. Michael is a longtime technology pioneer, environmental thought leader and online and on-the-ground community builder. He has authored 17 books, and has worked with both festival culture (Burning Man, Earthdance International) and intentional communities (Arcosanti, Auroville, Damanhur).

You can watch the presentation blow, or click through to read the related blog post on

50th Anniversary edition of Arcology: City in the Image of Man


Help us publish the 50th Anniversary edition of Arcology: City in the Image of Man

2019 is a significant year for the Cosanti Foundation. We will kick off the 50th Anniversary of Arcosanti, culminating in several events throughout 2020. An important part of that celebration is publishing a new edition of Arcology: The City in the Image of Man, originally released by MIT Press in 1969. This is the book that started it all!

Arcology: The City in the Image of Man is legendary among scholars, architects, artists, and librarians around the world. It established Soleri as one of the most innovative minds of our time, and inspired over 8,000 volunteers to dedicate their time to building Arcosanti. The concept of Arcology is illustrated with outstanding graphics that place Paolo Soleri alongside such visionary artists as Piranesi, Boullée, and Ledoux.

The most current edition of Arcology, published in 2006, is now out of print and not available for purchase. In 2019, Cosanti Press will publish the 50th Anniversary edition of this seminal work so it can continue to inspire and influence students, scholars, and visitors to Arcosanti for many more years to come.

But we can’t do this without your help! The Cosanti Foundation is a charitable nonprofit, and relies upon the generosity of its supporters to do our work. In order to publish Arcology: The City in the Image of Man, we need your support! Your contribution to this campaign will guarantee that we can continue empowering the world to imagine a more sustainable and connected future for our urban environments.

Don’t miss out on this exciting opportunity to be a part of Arcosanti’s history and continued legacy!



“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.

Arcosanti and Performance

In a recent ARCHITECTURE magazine, Aaron Betsky described a series of magnificent new performing arts centers in Europe and in the US, each one built out on the edge of a metropolis. Their location means, of course, that these things pull civic life right out of the city, and also, they are not for poor people, i.e. not for anyone who cannot drive a nice car to a performance.

Meantime, at Arcosanti (where, we know, you have to drive a car to get to the place) our East Crescent amphitheatre, right in the middle of a residential neighborhood, has been busy! A couple years ago, someone attending a concert here said this: “The level of immersion of the performing arts in this community surpasses anything else in America.” He was correct, and at our annual FORM Arcosanti festival of music, art and ideas, we demonstrated just what that immersion means.

Here’s how we introduced the wonderful Hundred Waters at FORM Arcosanti a couple Sunday evenings ago, right in the middle of our community…


“I want to be ready
I want to be ready
I want to be ready
To put on in heaven those long white robes…”

“I’m Jeff Stein, a president of the Cosanti Foundation, the urban research institution that – with its founder the late architect Paolo Soleri – invented this place, Arcosanti. I live right over there. So, Welcome to my neighborhood.

“I’m here, onstage for just a minute tonight, to give an introduction to Hundred Waters, so I thought I’d sing. That’s quite a song too, looking ahead to the next life. I want to get that sentiment out of the way, cuz while a lot of people feel like that these days, that’s not what we’re doing here.

“We are getting ready for something, alright, all of us gathered round this amphitheatre; but were not getting ready for heaven. We are not getting ready for the next life; Instead, what we’re doing everyday here at Arcosanti, that Hundred Waters is doing everyday all ‘round the world, we’re trying to make things happen…in the present…in this life. Our lives.

“This is our time, not some far-off future. Right here. Right now. And we want to make the most of it, to do the best work we can. Work as my colleague Mary Hoadley said on a panel discussion yesterday morning, work is LOVE MADE VISIBLE. That is what Arcosanti is. That is what FORM Arcosanti is right here in this amphitheatre tonight: we are LOVE MADE VISIBLE.

“That love needs to connect us, profoundly, the way this architecture has connected us all these past three days. The way Gregory Bateson has described it. Yes, anthropologist Gregory Bateson. Syllogistic Reasoning. You know, Aristotle: A Major premise;  Minor premise;  Conclusion

“Each subject is the object of the next statement. That’s how, historically, we have divided our world: into subjects and objects. Actors (us) and acted upon (everything else!). Life and not life. Man and environment.  Separate.
Here’s Aristotle:

Men Die.
Socrates is a man.
Socrates will die.

“No word about the tens of millions of other species – besides men — on the planet; and this is the very basis of Western Civilization: men DIS-connected from anything else. A way of thinking that has led to science, cars, tall buildings made out of completely dead materials….

But what if we reasoned this way? Still the syllogism, but not Aristotle, instead, the way Gregory Bateson suggests:

Men Die.
Grass Dies.
Men are grass.

“Sounds funny, but on the molecular level, on the level of carbon atoms, this is actually the case. It’s a case made for connection: of people, places, things. There’s no us and them in Bateson’s logic. It’s only us, life. And it is what this place, Arcosanti, and what Zach, Tre, Nicole, Hundred Waters is all about.
“These are people for whom making things – making music –  allows them to connect to something larger than themselves, allows them to connect to us, to these surroundings, to what it means to be fully human. They are doing as much as they can – as we all are at this place – to make this world a more beautiful, a more connected place today.

“And as Gregory Bateson expresses it: Everything is connected.
If you leave here having experienced this, through the universal language of architecture, through the universal language of music, believing it, ready to live your lives as if this is true, some things are going to change in the world.

Let me stop now with a story by Italo Calvino from his book INVISIBLE CITIES.  (It might seem familiar.)
“Those who finally arrive can see little of the city, beyond the plank fences, the sackcloth screens, the scaffoldings, the metal armatures, the wooden catwalks hanging from ropes or supported by sawhorses, the ladders, the trestles.  If you ask, “Why is construction taking such a long time?” the inhabitants continue hoisting sacks, lowering leaded strings, moving long brushes up and down, as they answer, “So that its destruction cannot begin.” And if asked whether they fear, once the scaffoldings are removed, the city may begin to crumble and fall to pieces, they add hastily, in a whisper, “Not only the city.”

“If dissatisfied with the answers, someone puts his eye to a crack in a fence, he sees cranes pulling up other cranes, scaffoldings that embrace other scaffoldings, beams that prop up other beams. “What meaning does your construction have?” he asks. “What is the aim of a city under construction unless it is a city? Where is the plan you are following, the blueprint?”

“We will show it to you as soon as the working day is over; we cannot interrupt our work now,” they answer.  Work stops at sunset. Darkness falls over the building site. The sky is filled with stars. ‘There is the blueprint,’ they say.”

“So. Ready?
Ladies and Gentlemen, HUNDRED WATERS.”

Lauridsen, Copley, Arcosanti: The Colly Concert

To honor the legacy of Corolyn Woods Soleri, Paolo Soleri’s late wife, the 34th annual Colly Concert at Arcosanti this year provided an extraordinary evening of choral music by the composer Morten Lauridsen. An audience of 250 filled the East Crescent Amphitheatre to hear combined choirs of 240 voices performing an integrated program of music, poetry, dance, projected imagery, devised by artistic director, pianist Lynne Haeseler. You really had to be there….

But the single most powerful moment of the weekend with Morten Lauridsen at Arcosanti presented itself earlier in the day, on Saturday afternoon, 3:37PM, prior to the concert itself, in the process of a Choral Workshop. The great NAU Shrine of the Ages choir was stationed on its curving riser, its members dressed in jewel tones, shining in the angular desert sunlight, a perfect visual counterpoint to architect Paolo Soleri’s soaring, vaulted arches at Arcosanti. Conductor Edie Copley stood relaxed on the podium.

Following his generous custom, Morten Lauridsen addressed the afternoon audience, explaining a piece from his Madrigali that NAU’s choir was about to sing, a difficult unaccompanied composition entitled, “Ov’e, lass’, is bel viso?” At the end of his explanation, Dr. Lauridsen glanced at Edie and then at the choir as his hands gently struck the opening chord of the song on an electronic piano, giving the young choir its keynote.

That beautiful chord reminded Lauridsen of something more to say to prepare the audience; and he took the next few minutes to say it. When he stopped speaking, in courtesy he raised his eyes again to Edie Copley, his hands perched, about to strike the chord a second time.

Instead, “They have it!” the conductor whispered.

Lauridsen settled back in peace. Then, Copley inhaled, drew herself up, suddenly becoming inches taller, moving only her deep eyes to look intently at each choir member, every one of whom was already concentrating only on her, holding their collective breath in their lungs, their collective keynote in their minds.

Copley’s arms were crossed, hands folded almost in prayer, held close to her body, when suddenly her arms straightened, her clenched fingers flew open, and the choir exploded with music and emotion! ILLUMINATION!! No one witnessing this had ever experienced anything like it before. It was the Big Bang, the opening of a new universe, an amazing, dizzying moment in which even the composer, Lauridsen, was overwhelmed by the power and beauty of his own music.

At the end of the piece, as the choir whispered a final “…lass…” the whole of Arcosanti fell silent; the audience could barely speak, could hardly breathe. The entire experience lasted only a few minutes, yet those minutes – experienced so deeply by everyone who was there — will be carried and remembered for the rest of their lives.

There are conductors who command the stage, who understand a composer’s work and the needs of an audience; conductors whose gestures are grand, and who thus keep the attention of their choristers on the music. That’s one way: managing. It works.

There’s another way, one that is more rare: unfolding. On Saturday afternoon at Arcosanti, Morten Lauridsen’s music bloomed; it unfolded, opened right up through conductor Dr. Edith Copley and her Northern Arizona University choir. Here’s how:

When she conducts, Edie Copley is the music.

The efficiency and power of her minimal gestures seem hold each individual choir member in a kind of suspension. Yet they are all in this suspension together, as one. It’s in the eyes, really. Their eyes meet hers, an electrical connection is made, and for the time that connection lasts, we audience members, we mere witnesses, are all elevated to a realm of human potential, a realm of connection, that is truly extra-ordinary.  Thanks to the genius of Lauridsen and Copley, basking and framed in the spirit of Paolo Soleri’s vaulted arches, this is is how life unfolded at Arcosanti on a Saturday afternoon this past September, 2015.

“A hundred choirs have sung my music,” said Morten Lauridsen that day. “I’ve been in dozens of concerts with them, the music is recorded on 30 CD’s sung by some of the greatest choirs in the world, several of them nominated for a Grammy. The NAU Shrine of the Ages choir’s performance of the first MADRIGALI was the finest I have ever heard in my life. The passion and precision! What a gift.”  What a gift indeed.