History of Arcosanti


From blending the Italian words “cosa” and “anti,” meaning “against things,” Soleri named both his architectural design studio and the nonprofit foundation he founded “Cosanti,” as a deliberate critique of the rampant culture of consumerism he saw taking hold in the world. Cosanti – whether as a place of imaginative, provocative architectural experiments or a foundation exploring a built world in balance with the environment – both embody a radically different perspective and aesthetic.

In 1970, The Cosanti Foundation began construction of Arcosanti, a prototype arcology in the higher-elevation Arizona desert that proved to become a testing ground for Soleri’s progressive urban planning concepts. Over the subsequent decades, workshop volunteers, known as Arcosanti Alumni, began to build the iconic architecture of the Arcosanti we know today.

Though the original design of Arcosanti is described in Arcology: The City in the Image of Man, Soleri’s magnum opus on arcology, called for a place where thousands of people would live and work, Arcosanti has never been occupied by more than 100 people. Despite that, it continues to be regarded as an early example of sustainable architecture and vertically-dense building that prioritized live-work spaces and the surrounding natural environment over urban sprawl. Dubbed “the urban laboratory” in the 1970s by famed New York Times architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable, Arcosanti continues to experiment and test its own potential as a working alternative to urban sprawl, erosion of communities, and neglect of the environment while supporting its residents to lead lives that are enriched socially, energetically, and economically.

Arcosanti’s Relevance Today

The Cosanti Foundation believes its mission to be as relevant, if not more so, today than when it began. As the world’s population continues to grow, the effects of urban sprawl are compounded and the earth becomes further challeged to support humankind with limited natural resources and climate change. As a result, the Board has recommitted to continuing the advocacy-based mission of The Cosanti Foundation and to becoming an even more relevant voice in the conversations surrounding sustainable urban development around the world.

“… If you believe that the human spirit deserves and is capable of better than it as gotten environmentally … if you believe in the human spirit at all, go to the Corcoran … ‘The Architectural Vision of Paolo Soleri’ is an important and beautiful show … His philosophical and environmental perceptions offer a sudden, stunning pertinence for today. He does not need the current bandwagon of despair. He has been preaching environment and ecology for a long time … He has been the prophet in the desert and we have not been listening.”

– Ada Louise Huxtable New York Times,1970

“Soleri bases his entire arcology neither on economic, social, or industrial considerations but on a philosophical system. It is so all-embracing in its scope that it relates the arcological city unity to the entire evolution of organic life, from the proto-biological primordial ooze to an as yet unevolved Neo-Matter …. Insisting that nature and human evolution work as vectors or parallel progressions, he ties the future fate of mankind to the same increasing complexification that has marked the rise of our organism from the amoeba.”

– Sibyl Moholy-Nagy, The Architectural Forum, 1970

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