As mentioned in my last blog post I stayed a night at Arcosanti, breaking up the drive between Tucson and Flagstaff, Arizona. I first read about Arcosanti three or so years ago, and was immediately gripped by the theory behind the development of the community. In a way this visit has been quite a bit of time in the making (and very nearly all of that time thinking I wouldn’t ever get the chance to visit), so I’m elated this trip had provided me the opportunity to stop there and see for myself what it’s all about.
In short Arcosanti is a sort of urban laboratory in a very much non-urban setting on several hundred acres of Arizona desert highland about an hour north of Phoenix. It is a community of a few permanent residents and numerous volunteers working together to create a living space that is in harmony with the environment, and within which the members of the community themselves live in harmony.
Arcosanti was first begun in 1970, the brainchild of the architect Paolo Soleri. It is the physical manifestation of the philosophy that is ‘arcology’—a portmanteau of architecture and ecology—the idea that all urban development should be created as harmoniously with its environment as possible.
For a shockingly low price one can choose from a few various sized rooms, from the “Sky Suite” which comes equipped with a living room, kitchenette, and private bath, to their small standard rooms with writing desk and shared toilet and shower. As I’m mainly a pretty low budget traveler I opted for a standard room, all of which are located in one area on the south side of the community. The twelve or thirteen rooms sunk into the hillside all lie in a row, sharing walls, and utilize the earth as a temperature stabilizer. The single exposed side facing south is an enormous window providing for spectacular views over the landscape from anywhere within. I could not have been more shocked and delighted as I walked up to my room then stood there mentally open-mouthed as I peered through the glass. As I mentioned, there is a writing desk, another great surprise for me, though, I did any writing in bed, as often seems to be my custom. Still, from an aesthetic perspective it was absolutely darling and, I thought, extremely thoughtful. The third and final thing that truly made me smile was the plaid, flannel throw at the end of the bed. The whole room and everything in it being white or off-white, the poured concrete floor brown, everything in neutral tones but for that single piece of brilliant red and black. It truly felt extraordinary to me, and lent the space character and comfort. It seemed to me to be saying about Arcosanti, “See? We care. And it’s details like me that prove it.”
The following morning I walked up to the main complex for breakfast (a continental not worth writing about, but considering the cost of a night quite excusable. Dinner on the other hand, which I did pay $10 for, was outstanding and well worth the additional cost.), and afterward packed up before heading out for a tour of the complex. The guided tour which was supposed to last an hour, though ours went on for nearly two since there was no one behind us, covered everything about Arcosanti and Paolo Soleri anyone could wish it to: from the life of Paolo Soleri himself, who only died three years ago, to the first inklings of his ideas which were put into practice at Cosanti, his home and art studio in Paradise Valley, to information about volunteering and/or becoming a resident of Arcosanti, to the philosophy behind the development and community, to information about the environment Arcosanti is located within, to what many of the volunteers and staff do with their free time, etc. It was a wealth of information. Our tour guide, Mark (I think that was his name), was the most excellent person. Answered every question, was patient and kind, extremely knowledgeable, and enthusiastic. Enthusiastic! It was quite obvious that that enthusiasm quickly grasped hold of the group and, for me, didn’t relinquish its grip for days. Quite obviously he loved living there, and, frankly, it was easy for me to see why.
If you’re a resident of Arizona, or someone who’s road tripping through there is absolutely no excuse not to visit this place for a day, a night, a few nights, a week…. A) it’s a most enjoyable, comfortable stay at a budget price and, B) if you’re unfamiliar with urban development will provide a fascinating introduction to it, especially with regards to what ought to be changed about the way much of our country is currently being developed. Hell, I’ll say it’s worth a flight if you’re out of driving range since it is close to Phoenix and Flagstaff.