The night I dreamed in Sci-Fi began with a serendipitous day trip through the high desert of central Arizona. We were heading for Sedona on the I-17 and, you know how it goes, a turn off here, an intriguing sign there, a dirt road. Then, ahead, perhaps the last thing we expected in the middle of the Sonora, a bell tower.
In its geometric simplicity it was both incongruous and appropriate at the same time, an apt introduction to Arcosanti, the three-dimensional Dream City of Paolo Soleri, Italian born, internationally known architect and designer. Soleri's work has been called "A History of the Future," but his prototype city-to-be is less out of "Star Wars" than "Utopia;" defensive only in its proposed triumph of conservation over waste.
While still in his 20s, Soleri spent 18 months as apprentice to America's most celebrated architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1869-1959) at Taliesin West, 65 milessouth in Scottsdale. The work of the two visionaries is, at first glance, totally opposite: one vertical and one horizontal. The connecting factor is ecology, or, as Solericalls it "arcology" meaning architecture coherent with its environment. Wright said "architecture is... life itself taking form." Soleri says, "...a city should function as aliving system... a more lively container for the social, cultural and spiritual evolution of humankind."
Begun in the 1970s and funded through the not-for-profit Cosanti Foundation in large part by the sale of handcast bronze and ceramic windbells, Arcosanti'scompletion has been delayed by a combination of economics and the short-term attention span of environmentalists. Sixty students live and work here at present;there are concerts, seminars and workshops of various lengths. More than 50,000 tourists visit each year, and among the many workshop programs availableweeklong sessions for Elderhostel, the travel-education program for those over 55, are well subscribed. There is room for more.
We joined one of the hourly tours that begins in the gallery of art and bells with an audio-visual explanation of the ideas for urban planning inherent in theproject. When finished it will provide workplaces, homes, cultural, educational and entertainment facilities for 7000 people. Arcosanti will rise 25 stories high andcover 15 acres. There will be no cars, pollution or garbage. Residents will be 10 minutes from their jobs and able to walk everywhere.
As we followed the guide through the completed phase of the complex we saw that so far the basic shape is not thespire but the semicircle, not the tower but the apse. All structures are multipurpose: the ceramic studio has a descendingstage for performances; heat from the foundry warms the residences above it. The amphitheater where concerts are heldall summer seats 500 not including the "Sky Theater" on the concrete terraces that form the roof. The Colly Soleri MusicCenter, named for Soleri's late wife, presents a season of music and cuisine. There are greenhouses, a large organicvegetable garden, a peach grove, olive trees and a small vineyard. The buildings erected by students and apprentices areexperiments in non-traditional construction methods.
A commission to create a city for 300,000 in Japan fell through when the economy wobbled precipitously a few years ago, but you can see the plans andmourn. Why Japan? You ask. Why not Massachusetts?
Hiking trails lead through the 4000-acre property. A bakery and cafe supply healthful food at reasonable cost. The gift shop sells honey and olive oil as well asprints, handmade ceramic tiles, planters and, of course, bells. Your purchases go to support the Arcosanti projects with one exception--the profits from the sales of"Cause Bells" are designated for specific issues of national or global concern.
The National Endowment for the Arts has awarded a planning grant for "Via Deliziosa," a mile-long art project and roadway to connect Arcosanti with I-17.The theme will be the endangered species. Also planned is "Space for Peace," a display of Soleri's models for outer space habitats. Conferences such as the annual"Minds for History" bring together leading artists, authors, scientists, theologians and philosophers.
The Cosanti Foundation also operates Cosanti, an Arizona State Historic Site in the Paradise Valley section of Scottsdale, where Soleri began his research andstudies in urban planning in 1956. Across town is Taliesin West, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, Archives and School of Architecture, that was Wright's winterresidence for the last 30 years of his life.
Wright was ultimately concerned with working with the earth itself using wind, water and sun as he found them. His buildings hug the earth and incorporate thedesert view in their aesthetics. Soleri sees vertical as more efficient use of renewable energy.
At Arcosanti you can stay overnight for a pittance: $20 for a single with shared bath; $30 for a double with private bath; a 2-bedroom apartment for $75.Including room ad board, a five-week hands-on workshop is only $880 and college credit is possible. A one-week seminar is $400. Silt and earth-castingtechniques are taught along with the fundamentals of urban planning.
Even if you only have a few hours your level of cultural and environmental consciousness will be raised. It doesn't always require dreams in Sci-Fi to show thatpossibility is endless.
IF YOU GO: Central Arizona is hot from May to September, pleasantly warm the rest of the year though freak snows do occur. Bring a sweater for cool evenings.
HOW TO GET THERE: Arcosanti is 65 miles northeast of Phoenix. Take I-17, exit 262 (Cordes Junction) follow signs 2.5 miles. Taliesin West is in northeast Scottsdale at the corner of 114th St. (Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd.) and Cactus Rd. Cosanti, 6433 E. Doubletree Ranch Rd, Paradise Valley.
MORE INFORMATION: Arcosanti, HC 74, Box 4136, Mayer, AZ 86333; 520/632-7135; www.arcosanti.org
Written by: Betty Lowry, member Society of American Travel
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