Arcosanti - An Urban Laboratory in the Arizona Desert.


September 04. 2017

Inspired by the visit of James Graham from Columbia University, last week the Archives Salon was dedicated to 3D Jersey, the single structure, three-dimensional city airport designed by Paolo Soleri in 1968. The project is an example sui generis of an arcology of about one million people to be located in the New York - Philadelphia corridor. The work is realized in collaboration with the Bureau of Conservation and Environmental Science of Rutgers University and the Ford Motor Company's transportation science department. 

(text by Laura Villa Baroncelli, photos by Ivan Pintar, Jeff Stein, Devron Lovick, Cosanti Foundation)

To attempt an answer to the problem of connecting air travel with the city, Soleri imagined to transform a non-place, to use the expression of Marc Augé, into a real arcology. “The city is enveloped by a major system of take off and landing facilities, the air terminal, inherently wrong and parasitic, is eliminated. In its place is the city where the travelers come from and go to”.  “Only by directing our attention to what the future should be, can we begin to feel home with what the future can be and consequently put our energy into its realization”. “Sooner or later this must be accepted, as there is not a really workable alternative for mass air transportation. People must be taken where they want to go and not somewhere in a parking lot, lost in the sticks”.

Extensive drawings and diagrams are made for the project and the giant cardboard model was exhibited at the Corcoran Art Gallery during the Soleri exhibition in 1970, but because of its specificity, the project was not included with the other Arcologies in The City in the Image of Man, published in 1969. 

An interesting point of 3D Jersey is the methodology used. As Soleri himself pointed out  in his proposal, the procedure is an inversion of the usual. “Usually we begin to work on a given topography. In this case the model is the topography that is being molded so that a more favorable landscape may be conceived”. “By the adoption of the verification process (as against the analytical) and the inherent feed back mechanism, the model will be altered, moving it from the abstract to the concrete”.”The original abstract model would change in dimension, proportion, function, denseness, balance, its components would be progressively reoriented as if made of rubber, it would slowly adapt itself to the invisible mold that the analysis of the problem would construct within its pliable structure”. This method was for Soleri a necessity to shift the costs to the end of the project instead at the beginning. It will be the Ford Motor Company contributing computer time, suppling the essential data based on the design and the study of the inner transportation system. The material produced by the Ford Motor Company is at this point not part of the archive collection and we hope to research its availability.

We take the opportunity to question the visual aspect of an Arcology. Soleri himself wrote:“very often it seems that the models present themselves a little too strongly. Which means that people are impressed or depressed by the models and the idea gets lost”.

Did Soleri view the "arcologies simply as “instrumentals” illustrating complexity-miniaturization"? Or, despite the fact he saw them not as blueprints but as conceptual ideas, did he imagine Mega-Soleri structures being built too? Probably both. Donald Wall thinks that if "ever one of the arcologies, not necessary Arcosanti, were built, thereby escaping obsolescence, only then would a formal contribution be made. Failure to explore complexity is in reality a failure to explore the viability aspects of the arcologies". 

What is certain is that Soleri wanted to direct our thoughts to the future of our planet, and the urgency to begin rethinking the American Dream, with its muda, its waste of land, energy and resources. The colonization of marginal land and high density living, will be our future if we don't rethink our way to live. "Frugality, leanness, doing more with less seems to be an imperative for human culture to move itself and the world forward".

Excepts from:

Documenta A, by Donald Wall, 1969

3D Jersey, A Proposal, by Paolo Soleri, 1968

Paolo Soleri correspondence, August 25, 1969

Project Progress III, the metro urban area, Phoenix and Tucson, University of Arizona, June 1973

A conversation with Jeff Stein, by Laura Villa Baroncelli, 2017

December 07. 2016

The Arcosanti gallery is offering a new set of  [5] limited edition [of 100 each] prints, numbered and autographed by Soleri in 2012, impeccably reproduced from Paolo Soleri's original sketches depicting a variety of the Soleri GENESIS series drawn in the 1970's.

image: PSG-I

- Black ink on 12"x12" on acid-free 100# paper

- Limited edition of 100 each

Although the images do not show it, but they are:

- individually numbered (from 1 to 100)

- autographed by Paolo Soleri in 2012

- embossed with Cosanti logo

The prints can be bought as a set or individually. They will also be available on our web-store soon.

Cost of the individual prints is $75 plus shipping.

Cost of the set of 5 prints is $300 plus shipping.

image: PSG-II

image: PSG-III

image: PSG-IV

image: PSG-V

January 06. 2016

Its snowing north and west of us, Flagstaff reports heavy snow. Here it is raining, lots of rain last night, the dry lake bed in front of the repaired dam is slowly filling.

The Soleri archive crew is working in the model storage in one of the upstairs bays in the Lab Building. We are cleaning and cataloging some of the old models.

photo: Archive volunteer Leah-Ann Walker.

This model is part of a set of Arcology designs that were made for a 1993 exhibition at the Scottsdale Center of the Arts in Scottsdale, AZ.

photo: Archive volunteer Hildemar Cruz and archive staff Sue Kirsch.

[photo by Leah-Ann Walker]

The models were made out of foam core and we are dusting them before re-wrapping and putting them into storage.

photo: Leah-Ann and Hildemar.

August 19. 2015

We reported in 2013 about a donation from photographer Orlando Cabanban. Since that time Orlando has sent more photographs and slides.

He visited Arcosanti in August 1972 on assignment from PROGRESSIVE ARCHITECTURE magazine.

Here are a few more photos from that time.

We can see the Ceramics Apse and South Vault with just the beginning of the foundations for the Foundry Apse.

The foundations of the Foundry Apse, walls for some of the work rooms.

Here is the beginning of East Housing.

Perhaps this may give a little perspective to the enormous amount of work that has taken place here at Arcosanti, by close to 7000 volunteers and workshop participants since 1970.

Dear Orlando, thank you so much for sharing these wonderful photos with us!!

August 17. 2015

The Departmental Archives of Hautes-Pyrénées purchased in 2012 the archive of architect Edmond Lay, a very fragmentary collection made up of 3000 plans (tracing paper), 7 wooden models and less than a hundred files. Various and numerous projects were discovered when analysing those documents: hospital centre, university building, bank, tax office, balneology, embassy (the stillborn projects of Abu Dhabi and Koweït), individual or collective residence, etc.

The Departmental Archives put together an exhibition of some of this material to acknowledge EDMOND LAY's contribution in the architectural landscape of Hautes-Pyrénées.

The exhibit is held in Tarbes, France, from July the 1rst to the 15th of November 2015.

The 'biography section' of the exhibition includes several historic black and white photos from the Soleri Archives.

EDMOND LAY was born in 1930 at Lannemezan (Hautes-Pyrénées). He first studied architecture at l’Ecole Supérieurs des Beaux-Arts de Paris, where he met Louis Arretche. 1958 to 1962 is called the “American period”. During that time he taught architecture at  Notre Dame du Lac University (South Bend, Indiana), then at Cornell University (Ithaca, New-York); he also took part into a concept competition at Rice University (Houston, Texas).

Two persons he met during his time in the US were most important for his work. One was architect Frank Lloyd Wright, the other one was architect Paolo Soleri.

Curator Jocelyn LERMÉ: "Edmond Lay and his wife Claudine, both aged of 85 years, keep an unforgettable memory of these two summers (1961 and 1962 ) spent with Colly and Paolo Soleri at Cosanti, including, a storm that swept away the house in which they were to reside, which led them to stay in the home of the mother-in-law of Paolo Soleri, the house of Lenora Woods [the Domehouse].

He came back to France in 1964 and set up his agency around that time in Hautes-Pyrénées. He was awarded the “National great price for Architecture" in 1984.

We send a great big "THANK YOU" to Carole Morris from Phoenix, AZ. Carol came to the Bluegrass Festival last week and brought a collection of gorgeous black and white photographs that her father, Robert E. Morris, took in the early 1970's.

Carol has graciously donated her fathers photographs to the Soleri Archives here at Arcosanti.

November 23. 2011

First, our best wishes for a HAPPY THANKSGIVING to family and friends near and far!!

This continues our report about David DeGomez, the large format art photography specialist in the Soleri Archives at Arcosanti.

David welded together a stand for another custom built rig to hold in place drawings to be photographed. Note the half moon circles at the top of each a-frame.

[photos: Sue]

He fastened the corresponding metal frame to a very sturdy laminated board.

Here we can see the completed photo table in place. The metal frame allows David to adjust the table to any angle desired.

Also note on top of the table is a movable sheet of metal, protected by paper. This allows for a drawing to be kept in place with magnets, then moved along for multiple photos.

Here we can see the table in an upright position. This replaces a very heavy and cumbersome previous set-up.

The Soleri Archives are very fortunate to have a photographer that is inventive, constantly improving his set-up, and dedicated to the highest quality of photography.


[also in the photos is workshop participant Will Redwine].

November 21. 2011

David DeGomez is the large format art photography specialist in the Soleri Archives at Arcosanti. He has been an essential part of the archive team for several years. 

Here David works on a custom built rig to photograph an already framed scroll drawing.


[photos: Sue]

The rig has a metal contraption on the top to hold a camera in place.

It has metal hooks, also custom welded, on each of the four feet, to hold the rig in place.

This 16 feet long original scroll drawing was solidly framed many years ago and has traveled to exhibitions all over the world.

Here we can see the partially completed rig in place.

David attached lighting for even distribution. He took progressive portrait photos with this movable contraption and then stitched the photos together for a complete image of the whole scroll.

October 14. 2011

On July 6. 2011 we posted a plea for help to raise funds for the purchase of a much-needed video camcorder to document the ongoing progress of the world's first prototype arcology.

Due to the breakdown of older equipment, we were unable to document motion video on digital and tape mediums.

Having consulted a number of videographers and archival professionals, we decided on a Canon XH-A1S 3CCD HDV Professional Camcorder. This camera has the ability to record directly to both tape and digital media, providing a perfect archival solution for the long-term preservation of Arcosanti's historic progress.

We were finally able to buy this new camera with generous donations from our alumni. Thank you so very much!! Awesome!

With the new camera we are back in business, recording Paolo Soleri's School of Thought each week, and the important and exciting events at Arcosanti, including music festivals, guest speakers, classes, lectures and construction projects to preserve in the Paolo Soleri Archives. THANK YOU for your generous support to buy this camera.

If you would like to continue to support the work of the Soleri Archives, your donations will be greatly appreciated.

You can send a check, made out to COSANTI FOUNDATION, at HC 74, Box 4136, Mayer, AZ, 86333 or make your donation through PayPal at the button below. Thank you!

? Professional photographer from Japan, Yozo Takada is visiting points of interest in the United states for one year.
His first stop was Tucson, where he worked at UA University of Arizona and explored places like Biosphere 2 in Oracle, close to Tucson. ? Professional photographer from Japan, Yozo Takada is visiting points of interest in the United states for one year.
His first stop was Tucson, where he worked at UA University of Arizona and explored places like Biosphere 2 in Oracle, close to Tucson.
Jozo joined the March 2009 workshop for four weeks and spent two of those weeks in the Soleri Archives.

? During that time he photographed some of the more difficult material, like a whole series of aluminum foil patterns, that Paolo Soleri engraved around 1956.
Paolo Soleri used the patterns to print on very fine tissue paper and Jozo photographed almost all of this very fragile material.
The archives crew thanks Jozo for all of his work and for teaching us some subtle intricacies of photography set-up.

? During his time at Arcosanti, Jozo took a lot of photos all over the site and especially of interiors of many of the residences.
He has returned to Tucson and gave a slideshow of his Arcosanti photos at the University.