Desert Ecological Experiment or Tourist Trap? (Arcosanti)

The I-17 in Arizona connects Phoenix to three notable cities: Flagstaff, Prescott, and Sedona. These three destinations are each incredible in their own right. You experience majestic views of red rock, peaceful pine forests, and hundreds of hiking trails.
On the way North, you pass by an unnoticeable exit, Arcosanti Rd. This leads to Arcosanti itself, an experimental desert community developed by the brains of Paolo Soleri. Soleri was an Italian architect who came to Arizona to study with the famed architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. ASU architecture professor, Jeffrey Cook, describes Soleri as a visionary:

“He was part of a flock of utopian dreamers who designed mega-structure cities in the 1960s, but he had more of a social and ecological agenda than the others.”

The goal of Arcosanti is to “actively pursue lean alternatives to urban sprawl based on Paolo Soleri’s theory of compact city design, Arcology (architecture + ecology).” (

If you read Soleri’s writings, however, you are left with a sense of confusion and bewilderment. It sounds like he’s trying to say something grandiose, but I’m not really sure the relevance. Here’s an excerpt of one of his writings:

Visiting Arcosanti, one gets the feeling that its goal is to sell expensive bells. The walls are lined with them, and they each have a price tag.


Strange bronze castings are up for sale, too.



Tours also come with a price tag. They’re advertised in pamphlets distributed to lodges across the region. Two-week seminars are held at Arcosanti for $1,075. Granted, you also get dormitory accommodation and food, but it’s hard to imagine someone not benefiting financially. In fact, president Jeff Stein was compensated over $60,000 in 2015. Not bad when you combine that with other writing and public speaking gigs, having travel expenses paid, and having your home paid for (he lives at Arcosanti).

Nevertheless, the development is intriguing. One wonders how much waste we could control if ecology was a top priority in architecture. We’re constantly producing garbage, wasting resources, using toxic chemicals, and practicing poor ecological habits in our homes. It’s truly admirable when anyone tries to tackle these issues. Yet there is still only one Arcosanti in the midst of millions of conventional homes across America.




2 thoughts on “Desert Ecological Experiment or Tourist Trap? (Arcosanti)

  1. It has always been a dream of mine to revisit arcosanti some 30 years later and see what has transpired. The vison was and is still relevant, Soleri was a dreamer who put his mind to work setting about creating a new city. He did this with little funding and a bronze factory making bells. My hat is off to him.
    One day when a spaceship lands on a planet and becomes the nucleus of a compact city it will be called arcosanti.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for that input! I imagine it’s changed a lot since then. That is a good point that a lot came from little. I’d be interested in learning a bit more.


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