Arcosanti - An Urban Laboratory in the Arizona Desert.

Architecture / Built Environment

In 1970, the Cosanti Foundation began building Arcosanti, an experimental town in the high desert of Arizona, 70 miles north of metropolitan Phoenix. A dozen buildings used for current activities occupy a small fraction of the full 860 acres of Arcosanti property.

Crafts lll

Begun in 1972, Crafts III was built in phases and completed in 1977. A multi-use structure, it is primarily the Visitor's Center and provides housing on the first level, a Cafe on the second level, a Bakery (currently under rennovarion) on the third floor mezzanine, and a Gallery on the fourth level.

This multi-function facility demonstrates one of the characteristics of Soleri's Arcology concept, which integrates living, recreational and working conditions within a single structure. The Cafe is warmed in the winter through the use of warm air, collected by the skylight, blown through a fabric tube into the atrium.


The Cafe at Arcosanti is a busy place around the clock. Lunch is available to visitors here and all the meals for workshop participants are served here. The coffee pot is always on. Dinners preceding concerts in the Colly Soleri Music Center are often served in this bright, airy space. The large walls of glass looking out onto the east and south terraces function as doors. During the summer they are opened to let the desert breezes into the Cafe, in the winter they are closed to take advantage of the Greenhouse Effect. The view of Arcosanti from the east terrace is through the cypress and olive trees prevalent in the landscaping here. Back inside, visitors and residents find indoor seating under a large "Special Assembly" featuring links carved by Paolo Soleri. They are surrounded by beautiful views of the surrounding desert and completely natural lighting flooding in the windows and the skylight during the daylight hours. Looking up, the bells for sale in the Gallery two floors above are visible surrounding the atrium.

The Gallery on the top floor of the Visitors Center features information materials about the Arcosanti project and Paolo Soleri.
Tours of Arcosanti begin in the Gallery and you can pick up a video of a documentary made for public television about Paolo Soleri, a CD featuring the "Bells of Arcosanti," a tote bag, or a T-shirt or sweatshirt to take home. Most dominant displays in the gallery, however,  are Soleri bronze and ceramic windbells.
The central skylight is shaded on the sunny summer days. Fabric shades are used in and on many of the buildings at Arcosanti. Paolo Soleri calls this seasonal shading Garment Architecture. Bells hang all around the atrium under the skylight, many of them "Special Assemblies" featuring sculptural links carved personally by Paolo Soleri.


Ceramics Apse

An apse is an architectural term for a quarter sphere. Built between 1971 and 1973, the Ceramics Apse serves in the production of ceramic wind bells and tiles at Arcosanti.

It is constructed of both poured-in-place and precast concrete. The Apse shell was poured in place utilizing silt on shoring to form the quarter-sphere. The tempered micro-climate created by the Apse Effect, the amphitheater terracing, and the removable stage that can be erected over the slip bins combine to provide an excellent performance space.



Foundry Apse

Excavation for this structure was begun in 1972, and its completion in 1974 facilitated the expansion of bronze bell production and provided additional housing.

Initially designed with one level of housing, site excavation suggested a double level organization and the structure was modified to include an additional ring of housing units encircling the rear of the apse.

Exhaust heat from the foundry furnace, ducted through the living areas and stored in concrete heat sinks, contributes to the heating needs during the winter. Construction of the Foundry is similar to that of the Ceramics Apse. Directly south of the Apse, an extended platform and shades are added.

Residences surround the Foundry, taking advantage of the view through large round windows on the South and smaller rectangular windows looking directly into the Foundry. A south facing apse is a signature form in Paolo Soleri's designs. It takes advantage of the Apse Effect; one of the many passive solar features of the buildings at Arcosanti. The Foundry Apse, like many buildings at Arcosanti, features a colorful siltcast ceiling.



East & West Housing

Begun in 1972 and completed in 1974, East Housing has been used as shared housing. The construction process was a combination of poured-in-place concrete and precast panels. The vaulted ceilings are decorated with large siltcast designs and the bathroom floors are done with ceramic tile murals made on site. The large patio on the south can be enclosed by the 12 foot swinging glass doors, taking advantage of the Greenhouse Effect.

West Housing was constructed in 1973-1974, with methods and floor plan similar to, and mirroring, the earlier East Housing.




The first structure built on the Arcosanti Mesa, the South Vault provides a large open work area protected from the summer sun. Excavation for the footings began in 1971 with the Vault and adjacent rooms completed in 1972. These rooms now serve as a landscaping "shed" on the east side and a convenience store, Arcomart, on the west side. The Vault area serves as a space for large work projects, performances, celebrations, large meetings and as a shaded area for outside summer activities.

The lower portions of the Vault were poured-in-place concrete, and the 12 upper curved panels were precast on silt and lifted into place with a crane. They are connected with weld plates and a concrete beam on the top.

Constructed in 1975, the North Vault is a twin structure to the South Vault. The construction is similar with the exception of the steel beam at the center that replaces the concrete beam used on the South Vault.

The lawn, also referred as "Colly's Garden," named after late Mrs. Soleri, in front of the Vaults is featuring Italian cypress and olive trees. Olives grown on the site are processed each year by the Arcosanti landscaping staff and residents, and occasionally pressed and bottled by an outside company for oil. The top of the Vaults is the place for a perfect 360 degree view of the surrounding countryside.



Lab Building

The need for enclosed work space prompted the design and construction of the Lab Building. Begun in 1975 and completed in 1977, it provides space for a variety of functions. In addition to the storage of construction tools and electrical and plumbing parts, it houses a fully equipped Woodworking Shop, Model Shop, Paint Shop, and Welding Shop and an additional storage space connected to the north side. Some of the upstairs rooms are used as individual studios. Under the staircases are storage areas, Paint Storage on the east side and Electrical Storage on the west. Located north of the storage rooms are two bays, a Community Kitchen and dining room on the west side, and a storage on the east side.

The large glass skylight allows in the sun's warmth in the winter; during the summer it is white-washed to provide shade. With the air channeled through the north and south doors, the building is kept comfortably cool.

The Lab will function as part of the town center upon completion. It may be a marketplace with shops.


Colly Soleri Music Center

The Colly Soleri Music Center, located in the center of the East Crescent, was started in 1980 and opened as part of a festival in the fall of 1981. The outdoor amphitheater seats 500 people for performances, conferences, and activities; there is an intimate backstage lounge inside which has a view of the opposite mesa as a backdrop. The concrete terraces which form the roof are known as the "Sky Theater".




The Colly Soleri Amphitheater was completed in 1989. It hosts a series of public musical events throughout the summer months, and is occasionally rented out for private functions. It is the heart of the East Crescent complex. The fabric structures are currently planned to cover the theater.

From Paolo Soleri's "Arcology International Coalition: the 41 Projects:
"It is one of the edifices which exemplifies and emphasized the mixed-use proposed by the arcological concept. Living, producing, performing, and exhibiting in this case. In its most intense use, the East Crescent will be an enclave where the performing arts and group activities will find ways of producing a variety of events like music, plays, poetry recitals, encounters, conferences and celebrations."
"One can also forsee periodic exhibits and markets taking place in the Amphitheater and spilling over on the semicircular promenade, in the arcades of the dwellings, onto the terraced and stepped areas on the south side, including the Sky Theater. The ground floor of the residences has sufficient area for living and/or working in the atelier mode."



Sky Suite

The Sky Suite at Arcosanti is a two bedroom apartment rented by reservation to overnight guests. The extensive use of glass in the living area takes advantage of the fabulous view this third floor apartment provides. It overlooks the Sky Theater of the Colly Soleri Music Center, a great place for star gazing. The Sky Suite opens onto a roof terrace.

From the terrace you have a great view of the landscape to the south and access to the top of the South Vault for an almost 360 degree view. There's a small kitchen and eating area in the Sky Suite for guests who like to prepare their own meals. One bedroom has a double bed, another a single, but sleeping pads are available for use in the living area.



East Crescent

The East Crescent Complex consists of many structures:

The rest of the crescent consists of ten living and working units, currently under construction, surrounding the Amphitheater. When completed, the East Crescent will provide housing for approximately 60 Residents. Its multi-level units will be used also for studios, offices, overnight guest rooms, a gallery, and possibly a movie theater. All 10 entrances face a central courtyard/market and amphitheater, while the back side is lined with patios and courtyards.

The crescent is being built in phases:


Phase One (I)  began in 1979 with two stories of the first unit completed in 1981. Interior work was not completed until 1987. In 1983 it was decided to add a third story with an apartment, the Sky Suite. Interior work was completed and this apartment is presently used for VIP visitors and rented to the public.
Phase Two (II), the next two units, begun in 1992 and is complete. It consists of 10 living spaces, 8 of which are complete and housing 9 residents, a community kitchen, a meeting room and pool hall, a public laundromat, and studio space which is slated for private leasing.
Phase Three (III), the next two units, begun in the summer of 1993 is also completed. It consists of several apartments, more spacious than the preceding phases, and more studio space for leasing.
Phase Four (IV), utility tunnel (12' wide x 5' to 6' high) is placed along the outer parameter of the East Crescent base to serve as a utility chase and heatduct to channel excessive heat from "Energy Apron (greenhouse)," currently being built on the south slope below the swimming pool..


Phase Five (V), East Half design is currently being finalized. Preliminary excavation of the footing was in the Fall of 1995. The structure of the first two levels has been completed and temporarily occupied. The rest of the phase to be completed includes the third floor apartments and interiors of the first and second floors below.
Phase Six (VI), the Keystone Unit, a single unit in the middle of the crescent, will be the final phase to be built. The current design includes an indoor theater, public amenities and an array of photovoltaic panels on the roof as possible features. We are in the process of re-evaluating this program in accordance with other developmental issues and priorities.



Soleri Office Drafting Unit

Designed to house a variety of functions, the East Crescent was begun in May of 1978 with the poured-in-place footings for the drafting room on the east. The Soleri Office Drafting (S.O.D.) Unit, a three level office, housing and studio complex was completed in 1980. Occupancy of this portion of the Crescent began in 1981. The interior finishing work of the administration and drafting was completed in 1980.

The top floor was used as Soleri's residence and drafting studio, currently occupied by the Cosanti Foundation president, as well as a guest room. The middle level houses our administrative office, drafting and graphics studios, an attached greengouse and a senior staff residence. The bottom level features a meeting room (Red Room) with an attached greenhouse for passive solar heating in the winter and adrnministrative offices.



Swimming Pool

The initial excavation for this facility was done in 1973. However, budget limitations delayed its completion until 1978. Overlooking the Agua Fria River valley and cradled in the basalt cliff, it provides a dramatic setting for summer swimming. The pool is 25 meters long, and is located above the site of the first section of greenhouses to be built, as part of the solar heat and food production resources at Arcosanti.



Greenhouse Guest Rooms

These rooms now exist independently but are eventually planned to be an integral part of the Energy Apron. The building itself consists of 12 rooms and accommodates Special Seminar participants and visitors. The ceiling of each room is decorated with a colored siltcast design. Bathrooms are shared between some adjoining rooms.