Arcosanti, Arizona with Photographer Jamie Street

An experimental micro city oozing with art and design...have you heard of Acrosanti?

“In nature, as an organism evolves it increases in complexity and it also becomes a more compact or miniaturized system. Similarly a city should function as a living system. Arcology, architecture and ecology as one integral process, is capable of demonstrating positive response to the many problems of urban civilization, population, pollution, energy and natural resource depletion, food scarcity and quality of life. Arcology recognizes the necessity of the radical reorganization of the sprawling urban landscape into dense, integrated, three-dimensional cities in order to support the complex activities that sustain human culture. The city is the necessary instrument for the evolution of humankind.”  Paolo Soleri


Arcosanti is, essentially, an experimental city in the desert. Well, a very very micro city. In the high desert of Arizona, it sits on over 800 acres, and occupies only a very small fraction of that. Founded in 1970’s by Italian architect Paolo Soleri, it is a place to build and test Soleri’s theories in arcology. (Architecture + Ecology).  The “urban laboratory” is under a constant state of construction, and houses permanent residents, those visiting for workshops in design/construction, or those just passing through like us. Having studied architecture, and written a thesis on the very subject of complex natural systems as a model for architectural development, and long harbored a love for design, visiting Arcosanti was like returning to a home I had never been to before. The complex of 12 buildings houses several “crafts” buildings, a foundry apse and a ceramics apse , multiple housing units, an amphitheater, guest rooms, a cafe and gallery, a music center, a lab for enclosed work, and more.

Shortly after exiting the freeway the road is dirt and the cows are on either side of the road. We rolled down the windows and breathed deep the smell of the desert with a storm brewing in the distance. (The smell of my childhood, someone please bottle this.) We pulled the kids out of the car seats and let them up front, probably one of the most exciting moments of the whole trip for them. Arcosanti is built into the ground away from the freeway (wonderfully so), so as you approach you don’t see much, and this was our own kind of anticipation building fun.


We arrived very late in the afternoon. Everyone was finished with work for the day, the visitor center was closed, there didn’t seem to be any other “visitors” around. We found our map and key and wandered around the grounds. When we entered the “vaults” (a covered archway for large projects, meetings, gatherings, performances, ect) my heart just swelled with the possibility of it all. Though the space was entirely empty my mind was flooded with visions of the space as a lively town and bustling open space in a micro-city, people coming and going and stopping to chat. It was like a vintage sci fi movie scene of the future, but the set was a real place, right in front of me.

My mind also flooded with alternate paths my own life could have taken, as I peeked evidence of people’s daily lives on porches and through windows. Having a degree in architecture and an incredible passion for design and ecology, I couldn’t stop imagining a life as a young recent college graduate living and working along side others in Arcosanti. With two school age children, a thriving business, and any number of other projects going on, I don’t see myself up and moving to arcosanti to study the theories of Paolo Soleri  anytime soon. But like a choose your own adventure book, it’s fun to sometimes imagine where the other pages might have led.


Exploring. In addition to covering every inch of the built environment the boys found trove of wildlife including a tarantula and a centipede.

The cafe, with it’s sweeping views and generous height, is a gathering space for residents, work-shoppers, and visitors.


Through the keyhole doorway. Endless inspiring forms.


The famous Soleri windbells are a major source of funding for development and conctrution at Arcosanti.


Headed back to our sky suite after a swim. The desert heat is always tolerable if there is cool water to dip your body in.


Looking down from our patio at the East Crescent Complex and a sliver of the amphitheater.


The lodging available for visitors is very simple, and definetly not fancy. Many of the options are communual, or have shared bathrooms. One small two bedroom apartment is available, however, the Skye suite. The views are epic. Inhabiting one of the spaces and making slow realizations about how design choices might affect function (the raised platform here lets light into the untit below) was an absolute treasure.


Our view looking out from our patio at sunset at the  Agua Fria National Monument surrounded by the Prescott National Forest. One goal of Arcosanti and Arcology is to sit lightly on the land without sprawl, and to house a micro city and it’s inhabitants.

We were set to stay at Arcosanti on the first night of a week long road trip to Arizona. Instead, as we were ten miles from our exit, the highway was closed to to a brushfire. After a long, hot day of driving (our AC had broken mid way, too!) we had to turn around and stay at the nearest motel with a pool. That evening, as I watched the kids swim against the gorgeous sunset and tried not to be too disappointed (because of how our plans were laid out, I didn’t think that we would be able to stay at Arcosanti on our way back), I thought about how they didn’t know the difference at all. Henry (6) hardly registered that this (kind of crappy) hotel was not our intended destination. They were having a ball.

In the end I am SO glad to have made our way back through Arcosanti, not just for my own sake, but theirs, even if they don’t know the difference just yet. I like to think taking them to such inspiring places is leaving some kind of fingerprint in their memory. Even if it is just a soft, dreamy water color of a memory deep down in their subconscious (especially Townes, who is only two), that must count for some part of who they grow up to be, right?

See more through Jamie’s eyes HERE


+ Add Comment

Leave a Reply