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Updated on April 16, 2018
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Michelle Jackson has studied art and interior design since 1983. She attended design school and has worked as an artist/visual artist.

Arizona's Art Community

Arizona is home to many great wonders, the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, and Lake Powell just to name a few. One of the truly great things about Arizona is its inspirational art communities. People of all cultures gather in artistic expression. Art is a way of life in Arizona. Nowhere is that more true than at Arcosanti. We took a day to tour Arcosanti and learn of one man’s vision for the future of communities.

Arcosanti  main entrance.
Arcosanti main entrance. | Source

Influences in Design

When we think of pioneers of American Architecture no name stands out like Frank Lloyd Wright. . Famous for creating designs such as falling waters where he built a house on top of a waterfall, Frank Lloyd Wright created designs that worked with nature. Wright used materials that were not normally seen as part of the architectural field, materials such as canvas or cement block. His experimental architecture spurred an entire movement of “modern” architecture. As Wrights apprentice Paolo Soleri was intrigued by sustainable design. He learned how to use different materials to build, as well as practical applications for those designs.

The Vision

Paolo Soleri studied under Frank Lloyd Wright and then left to pursue a greater dream; creating a city that would be self-sustainable and environmentally friendly. Soleri settled on a piece of land in the middle of Arizona’s Aqua Fria area. This area was specifically chosen because it sits on a water table that could sustain an entire city for 100 years. Soleri built cement buildings designed to take advantage of the sun, wind, and water.Technically Soleri did not achieve the creation of an entire city. He began the development and now architects from all over the country come to study and add to Arcosanti.

An entire structure.
An entire structure. | Source

Environment and Practicality

The size of Arcosanti is deceptive because many of the buildings intertwine or serve dual purposes. Concrete is the primary building material. The rooms are sparsely decorated but, each room has views that brings the feeling of the outdoors into the space. The designs of the buildings are so artistic that there is no need to have fine furnishings. The spaces are unpretentious and interesting. Benches are built into the concrete, hallways function to catch the breeze, and the cement structure itself maintains a certain temperature with minimal modern intervention. Walking through the space gives a person the urge to chuck it all and live in this peaceful little world that is Arcosanti.

The brilliance of Soleri's designs figures into each building. Every building works with nature using rain collection roofs, wind as air conditioning, and some of the roofs even double as outdoor seating. The down side of Arcosanti is that even though the building continues, it is moving very slowly. Some of agricultural projects are not being utilized as they should. Another issue is that some of the complex is in a state of disrepair. Even with all the negatives you have to admire the design and the ideas that hold Arcosanti together.

Soleri bells
Soleri bells | Source
The half domes that is used as a studio
The half domes that is used as a studio | Source
Inside the dinning room, as you can see the Soleri bells hang through the space
Inside the dinning room, as you can see the Soleri bells hang through the space | Source
This large arch and only half of the roof line to this outdoor structure (the structure is at least two stories tall)
This large arch and only half of the roof line to this outdoor structure (the structure is at least two stories tall) | Source

The tour of Arcosanti is impressive however, you only see the outside of most of the buildings because many of them function as student housing. When we were their even the food in the cafeteria was grown on the property. I was fascinated by both the vision and the sustainability of such as place. While Soleri may have influenced new generations of architects, you will not find anything like Arcosanti anywhere else in the world.

Directions: in between Phoenix and Flagstaff off Interstate 17 Exit 263 (Cordes Junction), there are signs as soon as you get off the highway. Arcosanti is down a maintained dirt road and is not visible from the highway.

Stairway entrance to the dinning room, I found the use of circles fascinating in this space
Stairway entrance to the dinning room, I found the use of circles fascinating in this space | Source

Soleri Bell/chimes

One might wonder how such a project is funded? Let me tell you about the Soleri Bells. As you can see from the pictures bells hang all over the rooms of Arcosanti. These Bells are made by students in the studio on the property. The bells are then sold to tourists and online. Each bell is different and they make a distinct sound almost like a cowbell. Some are more like chimes with several bells together, others are just single bells. They are all made with the same sand casting system Soleri himself used. As you might expect, these one of kind pieces of art are expensive. Just like Arcosanti these bells are unusual and interesting.

© 2011 MD Jackson MSIOP


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