he forgotten city of the future is the brainchild of the Italian architect Paolo Soleri who passed away in 2013 before completing his dream abode. The unfinished city, Arcosanti, had the most elaborate plans — with hopes of it becoming a revolutionary symbol for modern living. In 1976, Newsweek magazine depicted it as “the most important urban experiment undertaken in our time.”
"If an architect's ego is very small, he is done for, if it is vast then he might make some very important contributions".
Paolo Soleri, Italian Architect
Paolo Soleri's Vision
Soleri conceived Arcosanti to be a vast “multi-leveled concrete megastructure” that was to be home to 5,000 people. The tenants of these super-dense open homes were to live in “self-sufficient harmony.” It was to be an urban existence, with the “residents working together in the production of bells.”
The urban lifestyle of the Arcosanti was to renounce several amenities that the modern world has adopted. None of the 5,000 residents will own cars, and everyone will grow their food. There will be minimal energy needs since the megastructure’s design will function with passive solar principles. The dream Arcosanti will have rooms that get their light from the sun, and the vegetation will provide shade and cooling. While the plans appear to support ideas of eco-friendly design, Soleri only seemed to have been successful as an early proponent of these concepts.
Arcosanti's Unfinished Dream
Forty-seven years later, the construction of the 25-acre site has slowed to a near standstill. Only 5% of the dream urban sprawl is complete. Paolo Soleri wanted the development to be enveloped by an energy apron of greenhouses for his acolytes. Unfortunately, the project can’t hold the attention of enough people.
Soleri purchased the submerged lands in the Arizona desert with a loan. But the buildings of the sanctuaries only happened when volunteers showed up. Volunteers were responsible for building the community after they relocated to the eco-urban city Soleri promised. Although the project started well as a passion call, the growth quickly slowed, mostly due to a lack of funds and a clear direction.
Right now, only 5% of the expected numbers of followers have bought into the idea of the sanatorium. Though dedicated followers provided free labor at first, the expensive plan soon ran out of funding. Creating living spaces became at the expense of volunteers themselves, who, in turn, became discouraged. Most of the original dreamers left and the ones that remained settled into the cozy Soleri-designed futuristic apartments.
A few people still wander in to settle into the eco-friendly life. However, they have to build their structures and residences themselves. Besides, the production of bells seems to have taken a backseat. The remaining 80 residents all work for the Cosanti Foundation and earn a minimum wage. Their work is geared towards on-site improvements such as construction and administration. Sadly, Soleri's plans are far from the realm of possibility right now.
Jeff Stein, as the co-president of Arcosanti, still believes that the urban laboratory will manifest to full strength one day. Plans to finish the Arcosanti are still very much in motion, according to him. Supporters believe that although building the dream city is taking longer than expected, the ideas of solar energy, local food sourcing, and small neighborhoods — formed out of habitats extending outward, upward and deep underground — are still winning relevant ideas to address global warming.
"I do think Arcosanti, even in its current state - a fragment, really, of what it is meant to become - will begin to play a larger role in the international discussion of how we should live on the planet".
Jeff Stein, Co-President of Arcosanti
Soleri envisioned Arcosanti as a city of harmony integrated with the natural environment. But with only 80 people living in the stead of 5,000, it’s hard to see how his dream would be realized anytime soon.