The idea of an arcology, a single hyper-structure that houses an entire town or city, has haunted science-fiction stories like H.G. Wells' The Sleeper Awakes, Judge Dredd comics and Larry Niven novels. But now they're building one in the desert.
Paolo Soleri, who coined the term "arcology" to describe a super-dense hyperstructure that houses tons of people in a sustainable manner, is building Arcosanti, a nascent arcology, out in the Arizona desert between Phoenix and Flagstaff. So far, it's still fairly small, and is supporting itself by making Soleri's ceramic and brass bells — a lot of the cool-looking structures are actually foundries for the bell-making, or casting tons of concrete for more structures.
Journalist Simon Bisson visited Arcosanti, and took a ton of photos. (There are more at his Flickr stream):
The idea of a sprawl-free city seems attractive and smarter for our long-term survival. And the two great barrel vaults look amazing in the middle of the desert, as the sun goes down. But after visiting the site, Bisson has a couple of concerns:
However I'm left with some disconcerting thoughts.
The society that's grown up around Arcosanti reminds me of the guilds that built the great cathedrals of Europe. It's not difficult to see the arcology as a secular cathedral, a project that will take generations to complete and that will never be what Soleri dreamt all those years ago. Perhaps that's not a bad thing.
One thing did seem clear: it's in the wrong place. If arcologies are to replace the urban sprawl of a city with a new, intentional community on a human scale, then the desert (as beautiful as it is) is the wrong place for Arcosanti. It should be in a city, in a Detroit, a LA, a New York, a London, a Moscow, a Hong Kong. It shouldn't be isolated, a new Taliesin for Soleri's architectural disciples. It should be a visible sign of a different way to live, of a new city. Make it La Sagrada Familia, big, vibrant and reaching in the heart of Barcelona, not a hermitage in the desert.