Louise Speaks: This attraction has got to be one of Arizona’s best kept secret. Stranger is that it is only 30 miles from our Prescott home. We’ve seen the sign for Arcosanti everytime we leave Prescott and never stopped. We are trying desperately to finish the attractions in Arizona so we can scrapbook the state of Arizona. Today we are finally going to make the time to stop and visit Arcosanti.
Arcosanti is a projected experimental town with a molten bronze bell casting business. Its arcology concept was posited by the Italian-American architect, Paolo Soleri who recently died in 2013. He began construction in 1970, to demonstrate how urban conditions could be improved while minimizing the destructive impact on the earth. He taught and influenced generations of architects and urban designers who studied and worked with him there to build the proposed ‘town. The goal of Arcosanti is to explore the concept of arcology, which combines architecture and ecology. The project has the goals of combining the social interaction and accessibility of an urban environment with sound environmental principles, such as minimal resource use and access to the natural environment. The project has been building an experimental town on 25 acres of a 4,060-acre land preserve.
Ground was broken in 1970 to begin construction on the site, and has continued at a varying pace through the present. The most recently completed building was finished in 1989. The population has tended to vary between 50 and 150 people, many of them students and volunteers. Ultimately, the goal has been for Arcosanti to house a population of 5,000 people. Thirteen major structures have been built on the site to date, some several stories tall. One master plan, designed in 2001, envisions a massive complex, called “Arcosanti 5000”, that would dwarf the current buildings.
Existing structures at Arcosanti are meant to begin to provide for the complete needs of a community. They include: a five-story visitors’ center, cafe, and a gift shop; a bronze casting apse; a ceramics apse; two large barrel vaults; a ring of apartment residences and quasi-public spaces around an outdoor amphitheater; a community swimming pool; an office complex, above which is an apartment that was originally Soleri’s suite. A two-bedroom “Sky Suite” occupies the highest point in the complex; it, as well as a set of rooms below the pool, is available for overnight guests. Most of the buildings have accessible roofs.
The Sky Suite is quite a remarkable unit. We are actually thinking of renting it out for a girls weekend getaway. The patio has wooden patio chairs overlooking the valley below. The swimming pool is available to use if you rent one of the units, but is a quite a walk from the units and down a steep staircase. The Sky Suite has a living room, small kitchenette and a bathroom. One bedroom has a double bed, the second bedroom a single bed. Sleeping pads are available for use in the living area for parties with more than 3 people. Wireless internet is included, although the bandwidth may be limited since shared by others. As I mentioned before there is no air-conditioner for the summer, but the temperatures are 10-15 degrees cooler than Phoenix. Still too hot for the summer months. The Sky Suite is accessible by stairs and a bit of a hike from the main entrance. The cost is $100 per night, including continental breakfast for 2 people.
There are other units available for rent and are extremely affordable. The units have no air conditioning and have minimal amenities, but the views are incredible. Staying in any of the units gives one the opportunity to spend more time exploring Arcosanti. Since you are staying amongst the residents who live here full time you have the opportunity to meet them and hear of their adventures. If that doesn’t interest you can simply enjoy the pristi ne high desert landscape. The Arcosanti Guest Rooms overlook thousands of acres of the Agua Fria National Monument and have a beautiful sunrise view. Simple rooms have Paolo Soleri siltcast designs on the ceiling. Rooms are accessible by an inclining footpath with stairs. Prices include a continental breakfast and wireless internet. Rooms start at $30.00 a night.
Since 1970, participants have come to help build Arcosanti by enrolling in workshops. During a standard five-week workshop, they attend lectures about Paolo Soleri and the principles of Arcology design while gaining hands-on learning experience by aiding construction. Although the program attracts many who are interested in art, crafts, architecture and urban planning, it is also pertinent to those interested in philosophy, sociology, science, and agriculture. Our tour guide told us that the internships are for a year. She told us that all the students are housed together in residential units. You generally don’t know the other residents once the program begins. Everyone has different duties in the complex. For example, the man who ran the gift shop also worked on the construction project. Our tour guide is learning how to make bells but she is also the tour guide and does all the housekeeping for the units that are rented. Others come here to do the arts and paintings, others are here for the architectural learnings. The complex has been built by over 7,000 volunteers since the commencement of the project in 1970. Arcosanti provides various mixed-use buildings and public spaces where people live, work, visit, and participate in educational and cultural programs.
Every year Arcosanti welcomes 50,000 visitors who come and experience firsthand the vision and architecture of this vibrant educational community in the beautiful high desert of central Arizona. If you have a few hours you can enjoy a site tour, a meal in the cafe, and a visit to the gallery which sells the world renowned Soleri Windbells. The Arcosanti Gallery is located on the top floor of the Visitor’s Center. Visitors can purchase not only bronze and ceramic bells, but also books and educational material about the project. Featured resident artists have their work on display or for sale here as well. The proceeds from Soleri windbells and sculptures provide a major source of funding for Arcosanti construction. These pieces are produced in the Arcosanti studios by experienced craftsman-artists and by Soleri himself, who remained active until the age of 93. Each of the bells are unique in color, and the designs are truly amazing and they are well displayed. No two bells are the same. Siltcast Windbells are crafted much in the same way as Soleri’s Siltcast buildings. Bell shapes and one-of-a-kind designs impressed into a bed of sifted, damp silt are transferred to the bell using a slip casting method. The resulting bells, further enhanced with carving, have rough textures and variable color patterns.
The whole complex is an adventure in itself. There is so much to tell and to explore and with construction going on there are always changes going on. It is something you may have to see more than once. This is an Arizona hidden gem and something I would recommend everyone stop by to see. Arcosanti is right off the 17 Freeway so very easy to get to. I would rate Arcocsanti a B. A very interesting and educational stop.