I Broke My Glasses at Arcosanti

A wintry weekend pilgrimage in the Arizona desert yielded the opportunity to revisit a  site important to my development as a designer.

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I originally discovered Arcosanti wandering the wilderness in 1993 on a spring break road trip and found a compelling project that provided vision for my own work as well as a family connection.

The iconic apse where ceramic bells are crafted

The iconic apse where ceramic bells are crafted

That inspiration also made for trouble with the architecture department faculty, most of whom had never heard of Arcosanti or it’s visionary founder, Paolo Soleri.  They sure weren’t sympathetic to Arcosanti’s mission of sustainable urban planning and design.

Pigment applied to concrete formwork provides lasting, integral color to massive vaults that provide shade in summer months

Pigment applied to concrete formwork provides lasting, integral color to massive vaults that provide shade in summer months

Times have changed during the intervening decades, of course, and now sustainability is foremost in the mind of every planner and designer.

 

Living spaces overlook the amphitheater  

Living spaces overlook the amphitheater 

Arcosanti has changed, too. Recent construction—and new projects—hint at a new purpose, especially since Soleri’s death in 2013. A great conversation with Arcosanti’s new outreach director, Tim Bell, suggests a newfound purpose as a voice in the wilderness.

The wind bells

The wind bells

This would be a perfect role for the project, which is needed more than ever: classroom, forum, and touchstone to focus the ongoing, urgent conversations about environment and humanity. I can’t imagine a better venue for such a dialogue at the confluence of art, design, planning, and policy.

The tower under a winter sky

The tower under a winter sky

Tim’s earnest enthusiasm was so refreshing that I didn’t mind breaking my glasses while we chatted. I was overdue to have my vision checked anyway.