disheah (disheah) wrote in aesthetic_twats,


"Arcosanti" is the name given to the first prototype architectural structure developed by Paolo Soleri, one of the disciples of famed American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Called Arcologies, these building are the ideological meld of architecture and ecology, in theory, allowing humans to live in harmony with the land that they are currently recklessly abusing. Each arcology will be a massive super-structure which will, in essence, be a self-sustaining community (like a mini-city), growing its own food, recycling its own water and wastes, and generating its own energies. Though Arcosanti was designed to be the first of these buildings, at its completion, it will house about 5,000 people, and designs of even million-person arcologies have been made.

At least, that's what they tell you before the tour of the place. I went to visit Arcosanti with my girlfriend last year on our way back from Sedona. From a first-person perspective Arcosanti is both a beauitful dream and a failure of that dream. First off, the road to Arcosanti is now what I would call "easy to find". We got off I-17 at Cordes Junction, proceeded to follow a small road for about half a mile, past a truckstop and a junkyard, where it quickly became a dirt road to the middle of nowhere. There are heavy earth-mover treads in the road that wrecked havoc on my little Sentra's suspension system, and the surrounding desert looked like it would be good for get rid of dead bodies. This was a place where either you were going to have a vision quest or get killed in a drug-deal gone wrong.

Anyway, after about 15 minutes of slow driving and kicking up a 50-foot-high plume of dust behind us, we finally arrived at an array of concrete and metal buildings that looked like a cross between a sci-fi movie set and a commune. The concrete stumps and blocks that stuck out of the dessert ground looked distinctive against the landscape otherwise devoid of human civilization. Yet, up close, you could see that the steel was well rusted, the concrete chipped, and weeds were growing through the cracked walkways. A bearded man wearing only shorts and a old tennis shoes came down the path, ignored us, and walked into a building.

Feeling a bit disconcerted, but figuring that we'd made it all way here already, we decided to wander around a bit and have a look. Following a few sparse hand-written signs, we were eventually led to the main "lobby" area, which featured a collection of custom-made Paolo Soleri bells (windchimes), which was evidently how the foundation made the majority of its income. The bells were all basically of the same new-age-desert-motif theme, though the only ones that I could afford were about the size of a teacup. From here, the tour started hourly, with the guests given a lecture and a video, and then shown around the buildings.

The project had started around 1970, and since then, only about 5% of the total construction had been completed. Understandably, the project is a non-profit organization and survives solely on the basis of donations and corporate investments, but the project was at a similar stage about 10 years ago when I first heard about it. I suspect that since the initial infusion of money in the 70's, the project has more or less stagnated, and as money would have eventually dried up, probably turned its goals to survival rather than the realization of some ultimate purpose. Now, Arcosanti has become the home of eclectic hippies and over-eager Architecture students wanting the prestige of studying with the famous Soleri.

Everywhere there were signs of artistic touch. A metal stair-railing, for example was fashioned in the shape of a gecko. Yet, I also noticed a half-naked child (about 4 years old) riding his tyco tryke through the courtyard. Somewhere, someone was playing what sounded like electronic-feedback overlayed with a live Frank-Zappa concert played backwards. The few native "arcosantians" that we did see seemed to ignore us with the indifference of tourist-wearied citizens of some exotic south-asian city, as if trying to ignore our gawks and pretending that we simply weren't there. All in all, I couldn't quite shake the sense of "strangeness" (as if eccentricity had been taken a little too far) of the whole place. It's as if the denizens of Disneyland had started living there, and you saw Goofy walking around in his bathrobe eating a burrito.

Overall, I would say that it is a place to visit if you are at all interested in architecture, but be prepared that this is no theme park. On the plus side, I think this would an awesome place to hold a Burning Man.
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