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 Historical Timeline

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.

In 2018 the Cosanti Foundation began an entire reorganization of its educational mission and operations. The transformation began with appointing a new President and CEO to restructure operations of all aspects of The Cosanti Foundation, Arcosanti, Cosanti in Paradise Valley, and Cosanti Originals. Patrick McWhortor, whose decades of experience as a nonprofit leader has been invaluable to The Cosanti Foundation. He has been reorganizing the finances of the multi-facted organization, realigning operations, bringing on new staff with needed skills, and identifying new funding opportunities. McWhortor has also organized strategic alliances to better position The Cosanti Foundation in the world.

Since McWhortor’s arrival, Arcosanti and The Cosanti Foundation have been in a state of rebirth, starting in 2018 and continuing through the 2020 50th Anniversary year, and beyond. There have been many positive changes at Arcosanti under McWhortor’s leadership and there are more yet to come.

“… 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

A Shared Purpose Igniting the Entire Organization

Arcosanti and Cosanti continue to be touchpoints for dialogue on the intersection of the built and natural worlds. Through them, The Cosanti Foundation continues to explore connections to environmentally-conscious initiatives and sustainable building practices beyond the physical footprint of these two unique places. In so doing, The Cosanti Foundation strives to remain visible and relevant in influencing the way the built world is created in balance with the environment.

During the late summer and early fall of 2020, the Cosanti Strategy Group (CSG) has been convening a series of meetings to consider the future strategic direction of The Cosanti Foundation. The CSG was formed at the direction of the Board of Directors in its June 23 meeting, during which members were briefed on the need to address The Cosanti Foundation’s underlying financial and structural issues before the end of 2020.

The members of the Cosanti Strategy Group include:

  • Members of the Board of Directors of The Cosanti Foundation
  • Staff representing both The Cosanti Foundation and Cosanti Originals
  • Community members of Arcosanti
  • Other key stakeholders as required by CSG

Conducted via weekly Zoom video conferences through the end of September, the outcome of the series of CSG meetings are its recommendations which will be examined officially by the Board of Directors for final consideration and decision-making. Depending on whether the Board requires additional work from the CSG, its deliberations could continue after September.

The charter of the Cosanti Strategy Group is to:

  • Explore and discuss options for new strategic directions and restructuring of The Cosanti Foundation, Arcosanti, and subsidiaries of the Foundation.
  • Recommend any revisions to the mission of The Cosanti Foundation flowing from the recommendations regarding strategy and infrastructure.
  • Deliver all recommendations to the Board of Directors by October 1.

Cosanti Strategy Group Members

Nadia Begin, Tim Bell, Kate Bemesderfer, Lance Cope, Matteo DiMichele, Ivan Fritz, Ali Gibbs, Chris Hardy, Rob Jackson, Rob Jameson, Kathy Joyce, Jai Singh Khalsa, Sarah Marino, Patrick McWhortor, Grant Mueller, Steve Ostwinkle, Norm Pratt, Celeste Plitz, Kim Ruggiero, Dan Shilling, Jeff Stein, John Walsh

“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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