Martha and I joined dear friends at Arcosanti in late January for an absolutely spectacular afternoon tour of Paolo Soleri’s so-called “urban laboratory” located about an hour’s drive north of the Phoenix metropolitan area.
This first image, (below), offers clues as to why Paolo Soleri found this region of the state to be so special – a seemingly endless horizon, clear blue skies, desert peaks in every direction and sufficient space to conduct his social experiment.
Closer to the visitor center, Martha captured this image of the globe – in abstract – resting near sizable fragments of stone common to the surrounding lands with desert scrub creeping steadily in to surround it all.
After a brief orientation, our guide led us outside, then we wound down underneath the tower where I managed to capture this fantastic piece of sculpture. Yup, more corten steel – what can I say, I’m a fan…
…and speaking of the tower, there is a remarkable fabric cylinder that stretches up about three stories with a fan at the top. The warm air is drawn up through the cylinder and cycles back down into the space below – a clever example of leveraging the natural convection cycle made possible by the shape, scale and materials of the tower itself.
Dwellings are as unique as the individuals who choose to call Arcosanti home. Thermal gain in the summer months is a primary concern – a southern exposure necessitates the use of thick walls and roofs, but the northern exposure contains many more openings, (both glazed and screened), and the shady outdoor space benefits from the thermal mass, (the retaining wall), capturing sunlight all day long.
The gentle color palette and the abstracted leaf form are as appealing today as when they were cast nearly forty years ago. Did you catch the subtle decoration that resembles a young fiddlehead? It’s repeated three times in this image.
The next two images were taken near each of the foundries – one for bronze bells, the other for ceramic bells. The lower image is of the top edge of a rather large vat, (yes, it’s covered), containing the cocktail used to give Soleri bells their unique patina.
We were lucky to have bright blue skies punctuated by puffy, white clouds the day of our visit. Martha captured this image, (below), as we were about halfway through our guided tour, and about to see an example of a typical residential unit.
There is a full roster of performances at Acrosanti, and this image captures one of the spaces – the largest in fact – where those performances are held. Even when it’s completely empty, there is something poetic about the rhythmic patterns depicted in the photograph.
Our guide said these square panels are the lids for yet-to-be-placed “time capsules” at Arcosanti. Martha and I were both struck by the creativeness demonstrated on each and every one of the panels we happened upon.
Construction never stops at Arcosanti – this image captures a new pavilion being created on the northern edge of the project. I think it’s Martha’s composition that really caught my eye – the symmetry of the slopes to either side, (in the background), the spots of color carefully placed in the photograph and especially the repeated patterns scattered about!
This last image seemed appropriate to conclude with. I was drawn to the cast letters initially, then I stepped back and thought for a moment about the perspective – the word is drifting off from left to right toward some infinity point well outside the frame of the photograph. In some respects, it seemed – at least to me – to capture the essence of Arcosanti – a crystal clear vision – in this case, Soleri’s, (clarity of the letters in the foreground), a path stretching from the past to the present to the future, (a vanishing perspective), and a sense of endless possibility, (i.e. “what’s just out of frame?”).
So why ‘connections’? Will Bruder spent time early in his career working with Paolo Soleri, describing Soleri as a primary influence. Similarities? Design intended to promote social interaction. Design intended to maximize the (re)use of resources, while minimizing waste. Design intended to be sensitive to local/environmental conditions. Yup, I’d say there was definitely a connection there…